During the last month in Ucieda, Cantabria, I have gotten the chance to know better and closer Matias’s project (my HE). The village is surrounded by mountains and a beautiful river, the air is fresh, and the villagers are warm people that support young farmers. Nevertheless, after spending some time there a hard reality of struggles and untapped potential emerged.

I have been mainly helping with the development of the project, identifying the advantages and disadvantages that starting a farming business would have in the village.  In this regard we have been sharing some time with other livestock farmers. They are inclusive people, willing to share but also to prevent us from going in to such a demanding activity.

It will not only be the production of sustainable food or the economic activity itself. The activity carries with it a whole claim and search for a model that puts the primary sector back at the center, prioritizing extensive farms that generate quality products while being respectful of the territory and its people.

It is evident the passion about their job as farmers, and the love for their animals. Some of them even have it as part time job that they do as a kind of “hobby” after a long day on their formal job. Despite their passion, exhaustion is palpable among them. They express frustration with new policies, citing a lack of support from the administration, burdened by increasing paperwork and restrictions. Challenges also surface when trying to farm sustainably, facing pricing difficulties and intense competition with more intensive farming methods.

They talk very angrily about the wolf and how much they struggle with their attacks. They say, “they are fighting a lost war”.  They do not have enough resources to defend themselves against it and all the administration offers is economical compensation for the death animal in case it can be found. But a death animal is only a small portion of the problem.

As young people in the village who want to support these ancient rural practices, they identify the lack of infrastructure available to be used, the lack of housing for those who would be working on the project as added obstacles.

Regardless of that, we can also see great potential in the foundation of the farm. It is evident that the population and the farm in the area are old, most of them thinking about retirement. There is a very small offer on the product we want to produce. And we can witness the lack of management of the common areas, that only get wilder and less resourceful.

Conversations with experienced farmers are both supportive and enlightening. Through these dialogues, that are more than just questions and answers, and that not always spark the desire to continue further. We start thinking about which is the best way to start the business and many questions arise: When is the best time to get the herd, lambs, or better old sheep? Can we share the ram with the neighbor? Are we able to produce our own fodder? But we do not have land or a tractor. What is the management the people in the area do through the year? Is that the optimal way for us too?  Where are we going to sell it? To whom? And numerous additional questions arise constantly as we place them on a pot on the fire, that begins bubbling away with an exhilarating chup-chup sound.

Our journey is happening around the necessary economic profitability that every business project must have but also on the repercussion and social impact that allocating our time and resources towards this livestock activity can have on the local territory and, thanks to the networks of the association itself, also in a multi-scale way.

It will not only be the production of sustainable food or the economic activity itself. The activity carries with it a whole claim and search for a model that puts the primary sector back at the center, prioritizing extensive farms that generate quality products while being respectful of the territory and its people.

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