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What's a finca?

In the Spanish countryside, a finca is anything from a field, or an unfenced piece of outlying agricultural land, to a small farm, or even a sizeable hacienda.

Why "El Gallinero"

A gallinero is a poultry house: gallo and gallina are the Spanish names for "cock" and "hen". The land we bought had the stone ruins of a 1960s poultryhouse on it. The logo design comes from an iron scupture by Felipe Hidalgo, stonemason and wrought iron craftsman, from Torre Val de San Pedro near Requijada.

What's a smallholding?

It's a place where a family lives and produces as much food as possible from the small amount of land at their disposal. Usually, produce is not sold, as there isn't a surplus, and money has to come from work done outside the smallholding: it's a case of a mixed economy. In Scotland this is often called a croft. In some places in Spain, it's called a minifundio; in Argentina, a chacra. Where we are, there is no particular name for a smallholding.

How small is small?

That depends on whether you're in Scotland, the Alps, Patagonia, or Requijada! Our house, most outbuildings, dog kennels, tiny salad plot, garden with fruit trees and ornamentals, are all on the 1500 square metres (one third acre) we bought in 1998. Our barn, henhouse and goat paddock are on the neighbouring plot of similar size, which we rent on an annual basis. Our main vegetable garden, of 750 square metres, and various fields for horses, are also rented. As villagers, we also have the use of the village's commonages, which are very extensive areas of rough grazing where we can have the horses and goats throughout the year. Altogether, we have the equivalent of a decent-sized ranch at our disposal.

What's organic?

Growing crops organically means, at the very least, avoiding industrial fertilisers and pesticides. Instead, the land is kept healthy through good tillage and the addition of manure, compost, seaweed or whatever other raw organic material is available locally. Selecting vegetable varieties suited to the climate and soil, and rotating them adequately, are other essential practices of organic gardening.

Raising livestock organically means, at the very least, keeping animals in decent sized fields and not in stalls or cages, letting them eat wild food and supplementing their feed only with organically grown crops, and generally giving them a good life.

More on what's organic

Organic Certifaction LabelOrganic farming from which produce is put on the market, is regulated in the European Union by a Directive, and within member states by local and national oficial agricultural agencies or recognised associations. For personal use, there is no obligation to follow the Directive, but it's guidlines reflect how we go about organic food production.

There are basic organics, as we practice, and then there are variants like biodynamics and permaculture, which have their followers.

Why do it?

To live in the countryside, in a beautiful landscape, rich in wildlife, with a climate that means we can be outdoors most of the time: eating safe, wholesome, tasty food produced with minimal environmental impact and the best possible quality of life for animals. Country living means the best opportunity for contact with wildlife, and organic farming is the least invasive of their habitat. It's the nearest we come to having a religion. It's a way of life.

Who we are, where did we come from and how did we get here?

Geneviève (Genoveva in Spanish): Grew up in a village in a sunny Swiss valley, which is French-speaking, and famous for producing wine, fruit and vegetables, all of which the family still practice. Worked in family orchards and vineyards while at school. Family had various animals, domestic and livestock, and bred dogs. Became a geographer, specialising in what's called periglacial geomorphology - permafrost landscapes in the Alps and the Yukon. Always a keen naturalist, particularly birdwatching. For years in Switzerland, very active locally and nationally in nature conservation, particularly with WWF, the World Wide fund for Nature. Discovered she was a sculptor while travelling in outback Australia. Since 2002, works part-time in a nature reserve, where she is the information officer.

Brian: From Dublin city on the Irish Sea, moved to Galway on the Atlantic coast of Ireland. For a city kid, had lots of country contacts early on, and spent much of adult life living in rural areas, commuting to work and/or study in urban areas. Became a biologist, specialising in what's called plant ecology - woodlands and wetlands. Branched out into IT, working in industry, commerce and science. Went back to school in mid-thirties, qualified in medicince, and since 1999 works with the regional health authority.

More on where did we come from...

Our first joint venture was the restauration of Geneviève's house in Switzerland. Our first smallholding was developed on Brian's small place in Galway, a mighty part of the country! The holding was too small to have large animals, and the land prices, even for agricultural land, were prohibitive. That was probably the deciding factor in coming to Spain, after thinking about a more outdoor climate and a common culture: rural montane Segovia is similar in many ways to Geneviève's native alpine valley, but richer in wildlife; Brian learned Spanish in school, and knew Spain well, through many visits all over the country, and one summer working in Madrid.

...and how did we get here

Visiting a Spanish friend we made through the organic farming organisation WWOOF, we discovered Requijada, in 1996. Property prices in Requijada turned out to be worse than Galway or Switzerland, hence the very small holding! However, villages in the Segovian foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama nearly all have a lot of public land, the use of which is more or less evenly shared among villagers. There are also a lot of unsurfaced roads, with little or no motor traffic, and paths of all sorts through the countryside, so far with little interruption, so that there are many interesting places we can go to, near and far, walking, or with the horses, without the bother of traffic. We don't know where else in Europe there is such freedom of movement over such huge distances.