From Carrícola with Love: Sustainability in Action

A couple of months ago a Spanish friend recommended us to visit the town of Carrícola in the province of Valencia, less than an hour by car from Gran Alacant. His recommendation was inspired by the pioneering organic farming that has been taking place in the town as part of a sustainability initiative over the past 40 years.

Intrigued by his description of the town as a hub of regenerative agriculture and progressive social projects we organised a family trip to see for ourselves. We discovered a community with both a fascinating current life as well as a deeper history going back to the mediaeval history of our area.

The town lies at the foot of spectacular cliffs crowned by a defensive tower built in the islamic period as part of the system of defences designed to protect the area against the encroaching forces of the christian reconquest. Following the capture of the tower by christian forces in 1270 the area was settled by a christian population and the current town grew up. However, the ancient islamic history of the area is discernible in the surviving irrigation systems that have been restored and form an enchanting feature of the lower part of the town.

There are signed walking trails which allow one to explore this extraordinary surviving relic from Spain’s early mediaeval history. We had our picnic sitting under trees beside a stunning stone aqueduct dating back to the 12th century. We later drove up the soaring cliffs behind the town to visit the tower now known as Carrícola castle which in reality is a distinctive islamic square form fortress. The views offered from this site are breathtaking and explain the tower’s commanding location.

The town’s recent journey into organic farming and “experiential tourism” is no less interesting than its ancient history. From the 1950s onwards the population declined severely as people left the land to move to cities for work and a better life. The future looked bleak with Carrícola destined to join Spain’s other “empty villages”. However rescue came in the form of a French company who bought the town’s orange production on condition that it turned organic. From that point in the 1980s the town became a pioneer in organic agriculture. Over the last 40 years the town and its citizens have taken a path that has included the development of organic smallholdings, restoration of nature, ecotourism and nature themed arts projects.

The town’s population has grown and now includes new inhabitants drawn by the opportunity to live and work in a community committed to developing a sustainable future that respects nature. Much of Spain’s countryside is now dominated by industrial agriculture with widespread use of plastic sheeting, harsh chemicals and intensive livestock rearing.

While such techniques have greatly increased food production, the long term sustainability of such a model is increasingly questioned as the cumulative effects of degraded soil, contaminated water courses and poisoned wildlife become clear. Communities like Carrícola offer opportunities to challenge industrial agriculture’s orthodoxies and to develop more balanced ways to grow our food without destroying the natural world. Whilst we probably cannot feed the world without large-scale farming, it is right to ask if we need to damage the natural world so much to put food on our plates; especially at a time when we now throw away so much of the food we produce.

A visit to the town can include nature trails, dining on local produce and visits to heritage sites such as the castle and mediaeval irrigation systems. Yet the most compelling feature of the town is its overall atmosphere of optimistic striving for a better, more sustainable future. Carrícola has developed organic waste collection and local water recycling systems. On the day we visited the local Eco Park team were making their weekly visit to the town. A clever mobile wagon was pitched in the town car park taking in all types of items and materials for safe disposal and recycling. Anyone who has struggled to conveniently dispose of furniture, electrical goods and even simple batteries in Gran Alacant will understand our envious longing for such a service in our own community. Perhaps we are expecting too much, as even though rubbish bins have finally been replaced, the brown waste bins for organic matter have once again been forgotten. How is it possible that in the year 2024, we still don’t have these essential bins?

As our own community approaches its 40th birthday, perhaps those who administer our public services in Gran Alacant can learn from the wisdom and experience of much more ancient towns such as Carrícola, whose inhabitants have a longer perspective. We probably cannot yet hope to match their standards but some improvement and new ideas would be welcome!


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