By James Bryce
THERE are not many farmers who actively encourage rabbits.
But at Finca La Donaira they love the furry mammals hopping about, primarily using them to control weeds.
And that is not all.
At this stunning estate, sitting at around 700 metres above sea level, they refuse to use pesticides, they pick their fruit according to the moon cycle and use only ionised water for irrigation.
One of Spain’s most exciting agricultural projects, the 234-hectare estate, near El Gastor, Cadiz, is based largely on a concept known as ‘regenerative agriculture’.
At the heart of the enterprise is a desire to promote healthy food and develop a model that aims to inspire others to adopt as a means of helping rural economies to be self-supporting.
“It is an exciting time for us,” explains La Donaira’s director Francis Corr.
“Everything we produce is ecological and we use a range of animals to control things naturally so we don’t have to use pesticides.
“We are even planning to replace mechanical systems altogether, and are set to become the largest farm in Europe using draught horses to work the land,” adds the environmental engineer.
Already a vineyard producing its own organic wine, the venture is about to adapt again, when it begins welcoming guests to a rural hotel in the autumn.
Incorporating a school for sustainable farming, guests will be transported around the property only by mule and cart.
The blueprint for the estate was formed eight years ago, with the farm finally adopting a range of innovative methods 18 months ago under the guidance of world leaders in agriculture.
“We are not just an organic producer, we are a regenerative farm that is increasing the fertility of the soil through the processes we use,” explains Corr, who has lived in Spain for seven years.
“We use various different approaches incorporating permaculture, holistic management and integrated farming.”
The plan includes the introduction of a range of rare breeds such as pajuna cattle, merino sheep and lusitano horses, alongside geese, guinea fowl and turkeys.
The farm also produces several varieties of mushroom and will make goats milk and cheese and cows milk available from 2013.
“Guests will be able to get involved by going and collecting their own eggs in the morning or picking ingredients for their meals,” continues the father-of-three.
“But it is not obligatory and we won’t be putting any pressure on people to take part if they don’t want to.
“The experience should be fun and informative, we certainly won’t be forcing any of our ideas on anybody.”
Corr hopes the foundation – owned by the former director of international gaming business Bwin, Manfred Bodner – will provide an example of what can be achieved using different approaches.
“We are trying to show people that they can make a positive difference without making drastic changes to their lifestyle.”
Finca La Donaira is organising a regenerative agriculture conference/workshops on June 22 – 24. It is also looking for innovative, creative staff, in both hotel and agricultural areas. Contact [email protected] for more information.