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Market Gardens in the Algarve: A Marriage of Artichoke and Oyster Mushrooms

Saturday 23rd March 2024.

Market gardening – the worldwide trend of small-scale farming based on the use of organic and regenerative farming techniques has arrived in the Algarve. More and more farms are offering their produce at farmers’ markets from Lagos to Tavira; some even deliver a weekly vegetable box to your doorstep.

If you haven’t come across the term “market gardening” yet, in a nutshell, it’s all about small-scale intensive farms and smallholdings that grow a diversity of vegetable and fruit crops and sell their produce directly to consumers through local farmers’ markets and on-farm stalls, or local grocery stores and restaurants. Market gardens frequently use community supported agriculture (CSA) subscriptions, providing weekly vegetable boxes as a way of covering their expenses. By optimising the cropping system, employing low-tech solutions and intelligent farm design, these farmers strive to offer more ecological solutions and emphasise soil improvement as the key to farming success.

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It is a beautiful sunny winter morning in the fields between Carrapateira and Aljezur and I have an appointment with one of the founders of Fazenda Compadres. Behind the story of Fazenda Compadres is the fascinating account of two idealistic and enthusiastic self-taught farmers who got to know each other in Aljezur as their children were attending the same school. The American Skeets and the Venezuelan Manuel left behind their careers in the States and Barcelona in order to pursue their dream of a more sustainable and healthier lifestyle. And, bonding over their mutual love for music, they soon came up with a winning formula: the cultivation of speciality and functional mushrooms for gastronomic and medicinal use. A flat in Aljezur was converted into a veritable test farm, and soon afterwards this test apartment was expanded into something bigger: Mushroom Compadres. A converted warehouse in Rogil is now home to a mushroom farm, growing Lion’s Mane, Oyster mushrooms, Reishi, Turkey Tail and Maitake, in order to create tinctures and food. providing people with delicious, high-quality products that will improve their physical and mental well-being.

But this is only half of the Compadres story: Skeets’ enthusiasm persuaded his friend to embark on yet another adventure, and so they started to use regenerative agriculture in order to give food back to the people. Fazenda Compadres is all about returning food sovereignty to the local community. while, at the same time, also serving as a model for a new kind of circular economy: bartering food for land. The farmland is leased from an Israeli family in order to grow vegetables and these vegetables are, in turn, processed by the local food truck.

A perfect symbiosis is also established between the mushroom farm and the market garden as the leftover substrate from the mushrooms, which is already rich in mycelia, is used as a fertilizer for all the vegetables on the farm. The substrate is mixed with cork and self-produced worm compost, thus providing the basis for a successful harvest on the farm. Of course, the first two years had their ups and downs, which is quite common in market gardens. There is a lot of trial and error as all locations have their specific local conditions, be they wind, cold, heat or humidity. It is all about adopting the best vegetables for the specific conditions of Aljezur and a frozen potato harvest is just part of a market garden cycle of experimenting and adapting. But now the small crew at Fazenda Compadres, which in winter consists of four people, are in their third year and are getting ready for the new season, improving and extending the garden, seeding, planting, building a chicken tractor and tending the food forest before they open the farm to the public in order to sell vegetables to the local community, individually and in a box. This season, they will also deliver vegetables and fruit all year round to the chefs of local restaurants, such as Cera in Aljezur and Fermento in Sagres.

Once the growing season is in full swing (probably by the end of April), Fazenda Compadres will be open daily from 9 am till 4 pm on weekdays for clients and visitors alike, and the Fala Figo food truck, which is located on the same land, will serve meals using produce from the farm. Fazenda Compadres can be found on the N268 road in Monte Ruivo/Aljezur. The Mushroom Compadres Shop is open in Rogil, Monday to Friday from 9 am to 3 pm at no. 30, Rua Professora Ema Vieira Alvernaz.

Captions for the images:
3486: The seedlings are started in greenhouses
3488: The beds are prepared for the planting season
3494/3495: Gonçalo has been part of the team since the very beginning
3497: The food forest also serves as a windbreak, protecting the garden from the Atlantic breeze
3499: Artichokes waiting to bloom this season
3514: Windbreaks provide essential shelter for the young plants

 

Helge Hübner,

was a playwright in Germany, before moving to Portugal. Aged 50, he has two sons and lives in Serra de Monchique. Traduções: Dina Adão, John Elliot, Rudolfo Martins, Kathleen Becker, Patrícia Lara
Photos:Helge Hübner

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