Cavaleiro Farm is one of those places you fall in love with after the first visit.
I’ve met so many people who come up here and, by the end of the day, they’ve made up their mind to get involved with the community or return.
I’d like to think that it’s due to a combination of the beautiful landscape, “real farm” experience, and the spirit injected into the place by the people and animals that make up our farm family.
I work the most closely here with Antonio who manages the farm. He is the “maestro”, “the main farm guy.” But, as he always acknowledges, it takes a whole community to keep this place running.
Saqib — or, as I refer to him, Chief — is his Number Two and has seen the farm grow from its infancy three years ago to what it is now.
When Antonio and his family were looking around at various farm properties to buy, his mother looked at the rolling hills of Cavaleiro Farm and knew they were a good sign.
Rolling hills evoked emotion in people, she said, and an emotional connection to the land was important.
Given that Antonio’s parents had previously lived as farmers in the mountains of Northern Portugal, they knew a thing or two about land.
The farm has 65 acres of those beautiful, rolling hills, open pastures, and woodlots with oak and maple trees that are over 100 years old.
There are two large ponds, as well as some smaller ones that give our ducks great enjoyment.
One of the best parts about living here is being able to call all of this my backyard. Walking over the sun-kissed pastures, past the still ponds, to the far hill is one of the simplest yet most gratifying moments in my day.
I get up to the top of the hill, look back at the expansive view of the fields and the farm, and feel like the luckiest person in the world.
Before Cavaleiro Farm, the farm was run by another family since the 1920’s. They left behind a home (that is no longer livable), a barn that housed cattle but now holds our sheep, and the bird house.
Since coming onto the land in late 2013, Antonio and Saqib, with the help of others, erected a greenhouse, an environmentally-friendly outdoor bathroom, a tiny home trailer, and an outdoor kitchen that makes for a nice communal space in warmer weather.
Aside from raising sheep, we also breed ducks, chicken, and turkeys. We have two pigs who help by turning over soil and uprooting weeds in preparation for new garden beds.
During growing season, we have lots of crops being planted, grown and harvested, including kale, swiss chard, potatoes, garlic, onions, spinach, herbs, and more. Some of it gets sold at the farmer’s market, put towards CSA shares, or eaten by us.
When people ask what the farm does though, I can’t simply say that we raise animals and grow food.
Unlike traditional farms, Cavaleiro Farm is about building a community of members — farmers, growers, food entrepreneurs, techies, among others — who can use the land to build their own businesses or projects.
Sometimes people get lost when I tell them that. That’s likely because it’s at odds with the traditional farming model that most of us understand — the farming family that grows a whole lot of one type of crop, or breeds one type of animal, as their business.
So, the best way to explain Cavaleiro Farm’s farming model is to actually go back in time, to the year 2011.
Antonio had been growing almost a hundred plants inside his tiny loft in the city. Everything from lettuces, onions, edible flowers, peppers, corn, squash, and more.
I remember visiting the loft once and thought I had entered into a little jungle.
All of this indoor growing was made possible by using different technologies, like vertical walls, aquaponics, and small plot intensives.
Before Antonio ever got into farming, he was an engineer. With his background, he could see the enormous potential applications of technology in growing food.
And so, to pursue this further, he incorporated his business Urban Crops, and was joined by Chief as a business partner.
The problem though was that Antonio realized from his loft-growing experience that his plants were too dependent on technology. When his pump broke, half his plants almost died within two hours.
The prevailing idea to use technology to grow food on a grand scale — for example, erecting greenhouses on top of buildings — seemed to be an unsustainable solution, and one only accessible to the wealthy who could afford the necessary resources to maintain such a system.
And so, Antonio determined that working with nature was the better way to go.
At this point, he had been going around visiting different farms, and started to learn about permaculture-type growing — natural systems based on trees and perennials, and more resilient, low-energy processes.
He and Chief also met many farmers who wanted to grow, but kept relaying the same story: “I can’t get on land.” With no capital, it was just too expensive for them to access.
Interestingly though, they also met landowners who had primarily bought land as an investment. Yet, many did nothing with their land for years, because — with no farming background — they had no idea where to even begin.
So, think of Cavaleiro Farm as the middleman. The goal is to provide rich, productive land and create a system that allows farmers without capital to access it.
(While I won’t get into the finer details here, this is largely made possible by a system that focuses on an exchange of services).
Ideally, as this model gets developed and refined here at Cavaleiro Farm, it can serve as a framework for other landowners to implement, so that good, farmable land can be put into the productive hands of those who can only dream of accessing that kind of growing space.
What I will say is that I can’t think of a better place to start my journey living in nature. Every day I am motivated by people who encourage me to learn and grow.
Every day I am surrounded by natural beauty that is both blissfully simple and mysteriously complex. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
>> Read the next post in the #farmlifebestlife series: When Turkeys Attack