Supporting sustainable development twice over - an educational facility in an off-grid community that pays community members to build it


Unfortunately we didn't make our target. As a result of this campaign though we gained a lot more exposure for what we're doing and many many supporters for which we're very grateful. Many have said they would still love to donate, even though we didn't reach our target, so for all those wonderful people and for those who come after, here is a means of doing so.


Quinta do Vale (“Valley Farm”) is a smallholding (homestead) in the mountains of Central Portugal. The farm has a history of cultivation somewhere in the region of 1000 years, but like much of rural Portugal, it was abandoned when I bought it in 2008 for myself and my 3 children. Development of the 2.5ha site began in 2010. As the children have grown up and moved on, I've moved more and more towards evolving the quinta into a demonstration, education and experimentation site for various aspects of sustainable living.

My name is Wendy Howard and for the last 4 years I’ve helped support the growing off-grid community here by giving part-time work to local engineers, trades and crafts people. In this way, the project has been able to fund both its own development and help the emerging community through these crucial early stages, ie. most of the money invested in the project has been invested in sustainable development twice over, doubling its impact.

Quinta crew

I want to continue to do this, but no longer have the personal financial resources. This is why I’m asking for help.



We're in the process of completing the communal building here (kitchen, grey water-processing greenhouse, store room, library and social/classroom space) and I'm asking for help to complete it. It will be the hub of the quinta's activities for interns and volunteers, and an educational facility for workshops and courses in natural building, permaculture, rural crafts and off-grid infrastructure and technology, with particular focus on the latter. It will also exemplify some of the systems we've developed for cooking, heating, waste processing and power generation.

Quinta do Vale

The emphasis is on simple technology that's easy to reproduce; solid, practical systems made from low-cost, recycled and scavenged materials (or local and natural ones) and based mostly on open source or original design. Working examples are the best teaching tools and advertisement for themselves. They're also an opportunity to collect data that demonstrates their practical efficiency.

The work involved in constructing and testing this technology (some, like the hydro electrical generation system, built from scratch) has also opened up the possibility of future self-employment for team members. This is crucially important given the state of the Portuguese economy. None of us want to be taking local jobs from the people who need them. We want to create new opportunities which remain true to our sustainable ethos, and help others make the transition to this lifestyle in the process. For the community to be truly sustainable in all senses of the word, this needs to happen.

Even in these early stages, there’s a steady flow of visitors to the quinta to see what we’ve created and learn from our experience. I document what we do through the project’s website, blog and social media pages and over the last 4 years, these have developed a following. Some members of our growing community even credit the blog as an inspiration and key element in what brought them here.

Quinta buildings



3 months of solid work - or 720 man- or woman-hours - will see the communal building here completed. €10 pays for one hour of a person’s time here. Almost all the necessary materials are already on-site, so I’m only asking for help with the labour so I can continue to employ others.

Quinta crew



With the communal building completed, we will be able to take our work to the next level. Some of the workshops and courses we’ll likely be offering include -

  • building an axial flux alternator for hydro or wind power generation
  • setting up a worm composting system for household sewerage
  • masonry stove design and construction
  • solar water heating
  • grey water processing
  • traditional timber-framing
  • cob construction
  • dry-stone wall and terrace building
  • permaculture design
  • brewing, winemaking and distilling

Many of the people who've worked here are available to help people new to the area, whether that involves installing a solar system, building water storage tanks, devising sewerage solutions, helping out on building projects, or just offering advice.

Cob bathroom



The off-grid community here is the default kind of community - unintentional, haphazard, diverse. People arrive here having followed their own paths and ideals to their own properties. So we have no dogma or shared aims other than to live in a more planet-friendly way.

We’ve come from all over the world, mostly Europe and many from the UK, and there's a wide range of ages. There are many Portuguese too. It’s a truly international community. We come here because land is available and affordable in a way it isn’t in any of the places we’ve come from. Most of us aren’t rich so we’re evolving many ways to help and support each other and the local people here. We exchange goods, labour, skills, services, techniques, plants and seeds, music, knowledge, enthusiasm and (mostly) good humour. We try to reconcile the differences of opinion and outlook that diversity brings, but generally recognise that diversity is the signature of a robust and resilient ecosystem. I could say we're pretty much like community anywhere, but that seems to be becoming something of a rarity in many places.

Quinta crew

We also help ourselves through collaborative self-education, raising the capabilities and options available to the whole community as we increase our levels of self-sufficiency. The quinta’s communal building will also be available for community use to pass on knowledge, specialised trades, and rural crafts.



Check out our great rewards and get more involved in what we're doing!

£5 reward - A Big Thank You!!

£10 reward - Plant a tree!

£20 reward - Take a tour!

£20 reward - Name a chicken!

£20 reward - Win a holiday!

£50 reward - Come dine with us!

£50 reward - Have an online Q&A!

£100 reward - Take a course!

£500 reward - Have a holiday!

£1000 reward - Hire the building!

£1000 reward - Name the building!

See the Rewards column on the right for full details.


All travel to and from Quinta do Vale to take advantage of our on-site rewards is the responsibility of the pledger.


Find out more about the project on the website - Permaculturing in Portugal

And follow the details of our projects via the blog, on Quinta do Vale's Facebook page, or via Twitter.

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