Help straw bale gardening, animal care, building fences and more in Arens de Lledo, Spain

  • Spain
  • Favourited 517 times
  • Last activity: 4 Jun 2023



 Min stay requested: No minimum



  • Description


    We are Robert and Tanja, originally from Holland but after 20 years living and working in Africa and Southeast Asia, we feel rather cosmopolitan. Tanja works in International Development; Robert is a guide to Birdwatchers. In 2004 we bought a Finca (farm) in Arens de Lledo, in the beautiful Matarraña region of Spain. Ever since, we have been slowly developing the property as an eco-friendly homestead and permaculture project. There are many tasks to do as the property is by now 37 hectares of pine forest, old terraces, riverbank and fields where we want to practice straw bale gardening and Huegel culture. We need help in building raised beds, fences, gardening, building stables and a lot of other small projects such as a climbing wall and a zip line! A lot of the work consists of animal care. We now have 16 goats, 4 Guinea fowl, 7 chickens and 8 Indian Runner ducks, Campero our beautiful black horse and Bram our little Shetland pony and of course Bayley our rescue dog, all need love and attention.

    The start of 2022 was still marked by COVID, although it became clear that restrictions were on their way out and at least in our area people were enjoying going out to restaurants and having a drink on the terrace once more. We had 19 volunteers, the majority German, Dutch and American. Our first workawayer of the year did not come via workaway but through our friends from Boodaville. Betsy Reed from Wyoming is not your typical workawayer; she is a leadership mentor, sustainability and resilience expert as well as a yoga teacher. She said she needed a break from her high paced job but was still working online every afternoon;) Anyway she worked very hard preparing the construction and renovation site on the hill on the new Finca.
    In February we received Talea and Leo from Germany. They were the first workawayers we had a zoom interview with ;) They did a lot of work in building a new stable and clearing one of the almond orchards that had been neglected for more than 12 years. Of course, February was marked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and at that time we did not know what a horrible and extended war it would become. In April/May we hosted Julia, again from Germany, and this was her first workaway experience. She enjoyed goat herding, milking, cheese making and especially winning a lot of Monopoly Deal games! We also had our friends Fer and Tineke over at the same time.
    In June we received Natalia from Poland who was aiming to be a professional Go player! This game was a bit too complicated for us and she beat us at Monopoly as well. Great with the animals, using eggs to bake cakes, milking the goats and caring for the horses were all expertly done and she even mentored the next workawayers, Nina and Derek, separate arrivals from the USA. They got along great and enjoyed goat cheese making, (we now made Mozzarella and Kefir as well). We also did a lot of trips to the beautiful villages in the area, Horta de Sant Joan, Miravet, Valderrobres, Tortosa and the Ebro Delta for birdwatching of course. We all enjoyed hiking in Els Ports, climbing Santa Barbara and the Roques de Benets.
    In July, Tanja heard that she had a new job as Gender advisor for EUBAM Libya, one of the EU civilian border assistance missions. She did a similar job in Niger in 2019 so it was not necessary to go on pre-deployment training in Brussels but there was a lot of preparing to do in terms of medical check-ups and briefings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This meant that Tanja only met our 69th and 70th workawayers, Thomas and Mathilde, from France, for three days. They had their own transport so were able to enjoy some of the cities nearby like Taragona. During this time, there was a severe thunderstorm with 70mm of rain, which was badly needed because the summer had been very hot and dry. During the festive weeks in the region, we had Hector over from the States. He helped as well but was out of action for a couple of days because he was hit by a car while cycling back on one of our e-bikes. The car did not stop, probably the driver had sampled the alcoholic drinks at the fiesta.
    We also had Riccardo, an Italian workawayer who arrived with his bike and made us some excellent Italian dishes. In the fall we received Wil from the Netherlands, he enjoyed it so much that he came back twice (once to facilitate Robert to go to Tunisia for over two weeks). Jasmin from Germany arrived, more good baking. And she was good with the goats and horses as well. Unfortunately, there seemed to be a curse on our e-bikes, as she also made a bad fall. It was an one-sided accident. People from the village helped her get up again. For days, many of them asked how the patient was doing. The benefits of a small community. I took her to the Alcañiz hospital to be x-rayed. After that we could tell the villagers that nothing was broken, just badly strained. By the time she left, the accident was nothing more than a bad memory and a good lesson. During the last months of the year our Dutch friend Jessica helped again, taking care of the animals. She even got milk production started again, so in the morning she has goat milk to drink.
    That was also the time that we had to start working on the roof of the little casita on the finca. Removing the roof was dirty work, putting a new one in was hard and wet work. We had hardly removed one half of it when, in just two days, 200 mm of rain fell. That meant 20 buckets per square meter, and a lot dripped into the house. The quality of tarpaulins was not that good. Then Claudia and Felix arrived from Germany in their camper. With their help we made good progress. When Wil came back we covered it with tiles, far enough so that the rain will not enter the house any more. It is drying out inside now.
    These are the volunteers, we really want to thank them a lot, in chronological order: Betsy US, Talea and Leo GER, Julia GER, Fer and Tineke NL, Natalia POL, Magdalena GER, Derek USA, Nina USA, Riccardo ITA, Thomas and Mathilde FRA, Hector USA, Wil NL, Jassi GER, Claudia and Felix GER and Jessica NL. All the cloggies came around for the second and third time. Bravissimo.

    It will be clear that everyone has been affected the whole year by the pandemic. Still, 14 volunteers and two dogs came to the finca to volunteer. With a number of people from Latin America, others from the east and north of Europe, our sons and a sprinkle of French we feel that we are linking up the world, by now for at least 24 different nationalities, that is. Kudos for all who participated.
    What are the projects that were started, finished, needed? Do you know what the Spanish call a GOTA? It is a weather system that moves cold, moist air over a large area. In our part of the world, over two days, in February, Filomena dropped 60 centimeters of snow. Firs, Olive trees and even Oaks cannot carry such loads. The damage to agriculture was massive. The car could not make it onto the road, so it required walking. After the first night of snowfall, it took Tanja, Vinicio and Carina 2.5 hours to reach the animals to feed them and as much time to go back. Robert used part of that time to fruitlessly try to get the car from the parking back up on the roads. The next day Robert and Tanja needed 3 hours each way. A working day just plodding through deep snow. The netting over the chicken run had collapsed, and basically all the fowl could go in and out freely. But we did not lose a single bird. When we finally got the car on the road again, a dozen trees needed to be removed from the forest path. Luckily, all the snow took some time to melt, so the river did not flood. The netting was jury rigged to contain the animals again and after two weeks we put new netting on, with a wider mesh, so that less snow would be caught. Since then, the Bonelli´s Eagle has checked it again, but found it impenetrable. No chicken on the menu for them.
    Another project that needed work was the fencing to keep the goats in. The four-legged Houdini´s showed no respect for the wide mesh that we had bought for them. They went over, under and through. Terse measures had to be taken. It proved a long running effort, as the escape artists kept developing new techniques. With a pony that could add his weight to their brains they made a formidable team. Counter measures: Digging into the soil, moving stones, placing the posts, weighing down the mesh…. To cut a (400 meter) long story short: we have not had any escapes now for some months. And we have three meadows, enabling to do some rotational grazing, letting the grass get some respite. The shelter is being improved. As the goats had moved a lot of the soil the edges became damaged. A couple of tons of stone will have to do the trick of stabilizing everything. A big part of that work has been done by Juliana, Deividas and Aniuta.
    At one moment it became clear that the goats had a project of their own, of the maternal kind. With a little contribution by Kaldi the new buck. On October 9th, Mocca delivered two kids, Espresso and Macchiato. We were lucky that Nienke was there to take expert pictures of the birth. The kids were both males, but they have had a small genital accident since. More girls are pregnant, by the way. For Tanja, having a riding horse was a project with high priority. With the arrival of Campero, a French Trotter horse, that project made a next step. It is our fortune that we have had an ´almost´ vet, on-call and even in-house; she solved some problems with the hooves of Campero and post-partum with Mocca. We are thankful for Jessica´s help.
    In the meantime, all other work goes on relentlessly. Mucking the horse meadow, watering plants, taking the animals out (easy), getting them in again (utterly difficult sometimes), preparing plant beds. These are not the most glorious tasks, but they need to be done. Claire did a lot of horticultural work, she prepared beds and sowed, we have had a good harvest of tomatoes, pumpkin, carrots even. Furthermore, we got introductions to dishes from many different countries. Some volunteers even contacted family for details on recipes. Yummy. To all who helped (Yaroslav for electrics, Guillaume for his boulevard, Thomas and Ninon for cleaning the remains of our truck, Eevastina and Adrian for helping with the roof over the terrace) with all these tasks and chores: a big thank you.
    End of April we had to go to the Netherlands, and two volunteers that had been here before, helped us out by finca-sitting for almost two weeks. By now they have moved from Spain to the US. We will miss Monica and Fernando and their dog Apolo but are happy that they have found a place to fulfil their ambitions.
    In early October we had Nienke over, who is a professional photographer. We have over a hundred pictures now about the village and the finca. With her we also looked down on and photographed our finca from up above, the neighbor’s finca. She also documented the birth of the goats and the quirky behavior of the recently arrived Guineafowl.
    During the year we had two wildcams out during several nights. Some good shots were made while volunteers were here: Wild Boar with 8 piglets, Otter, Badger, Genet, Fox, Beech Marten, Roedeer. The river kept flowing during the whole year, with a peak of 20000 liters per second and a low of 60 liters, still 6 full buckets, every second.
    This year not only the number of animals on the finca has increased. The size of the finca did as well. After more than ten years looking at the half-built house above our finca, without any contact with the owners, we suddenly got an e-mail from one of them, two days after Nienke´s visit. Whether we were interested in buying the finca? Over the years we had seen the asking price going back a little, but still too steep for our wallet. So, we asked for a price and some time to consider. That time we used to contact the townhall and inform about any problems with the illegal construction. They stated that, as the building had been done too long ago and previous councils had not reacted, it would be no problem.
    The seller´s reply had come, asking us to make an offer. We did, just based on the value per hectare. Against our expectations, the offer was accepted within the hour. December 2nd we were at a notary and the sale was legally concluded.
    That all means that, in the near future, more fencing has to be put in around more meadows. Anyone willing to prune several tens of almond and olive trees? Is there someone experienced in building? We are most certainly welcoming any help.
    (Finca 2.0?)

    Robert and Tanja

  • Types of help and learning opportunities

    Types of help and learning opportunities

    Help with Eco Projects
    DIY and building projects
    Animal Care
    Farmstay help
  • UN sustainablity goals this host is trying to achieve

    UN sustainablity goals this host is trying to achieve

    UN goals
    No poverty
    Zero hunger
    Good health and well-being
    Quality education
    Gender equality
    Clean water and sanitation
    Affordable and clean energy
    Decent work and economic growth
    Industries, innovation and infrastructure
    Reduce inequality
    Sustainable cities and communities
    Responsible consumption and production
    Climate action
    Life below water
    Life on land
    Peace, justice and strong institutions
    Partnerships for the goals
  • Cultural exchange and learning opportunities

    Cultural exchange and learning opportunities

    We have had workawayers from many different countries which provides for cultural exchange, you can learn about birdwatching, enjoy the historical villages of Horta de Sant Joan (Picasso), Gandesa, Valdesrobles, Cretas visit the archeological sites nearby, but also have practical experience of building, ecological gardening and animal care.

  • Projects involving children

    Projects involving children

    This project could involve children. For more information see our guidelines and tips here.

  • Help


    We would like to get help for 4 to 5 hours a day during the week. We want help reconstructing a ruin of a house, and develop several acres of terraces for e.g. horse meadows, strawbale gardening and fruiting trees.

  • Languages spoken

    English: Fluent
    French: Fluent
    Dutch: Fluent
    German: Intermediate
    Spanish: Intermediate

  • Accommodation


    The accommodation will be in a comfortable double room in our village house or a bit more basic and off grid in the Maset on the Finca, you can also camp out in your own tent, or in your camper. If you only require one hectare, we can still have 20 + campers ;.)

  • What else ...

    What else ...

    As to staying with us, we work on a first come, first served basis and assume that, once you have said that you will come, you will actually show up as well. Depending on your mode of transport (car, public, bus or plane (best via Barcelona)) we have to set up an appointment on where to meet. The village doesn´t have public transport, but we can collect you from Tortosa, Horta de San Juan, Gandesa, Alcañiz or Calaceite. Tortosa also has a train station, the other towns can only be reached by bus. From this you might also conclude that we ask people to stay for at least a week, it simply does not work for all involved.
    You will be lodged in your own room in the house in the village. Every morning we need to go to the finca, which takes just 10 minutes. We expect that you join us at least 5 times per week. After a couple of hours work, we normally have lunch back at the house. If you like to cook lunch or dinner, be our guest. The afternoons are at your disposal.
    Free time and weekends can be spent exploring the Els Ports mountains, the Ebro Delta, the coast and many of the nearby villages like Horta de San Joan or Valderrobres.

  • A little more information

    A little more information

    • Internet access

    • Limited internet access

      Limited internet access

    • We have pets

    • We are smokers

    • Can host families

  • Can host digital nomads

    Can host digital nomads

    We have wifi in the house and several places where people can work. Not a real office space, but people can work alone or while with others

  • Space for parking camper vans

    Space for parking camper vans

    The finca (farm-part) is available, but that doesn't have internet. Nearest place to empty septic liquids is some 30 km away. Toilet and hot shower, however, on the finca.

  • Can possibly accept pets

    Can possibly accept pets

    Dogs, but with some restrictions.

  • How many Workawayers can stay?

    How many Workawayers can stay?

    More than two

  • ...

    Hours expected

    Maximum 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week

Host ref number: 861637923586

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