Creating a piece of self-sustainable paradise on a DIY Workaway farm

I've always enjoyed the idea of travelling for a few months in southern Europe and living close to the sea, surrounded by nature, staying with the locals and exploring their culture. So when I had a chance to make this daydream a reality, I decided to apply for my first experience on a farm in Portugal

​​​​​​​The place was technology-oriented which really piqued my interest as an electronics and computer programming major. After a positive reply and a video call with the host, I was convinced and booked my travel ticket!

self sufficient farm living community portugal

Connecting technology with nature

The farm is located a few kilometres from Lagos, far from the city life and nestled in a remote location in the hills. Upon my arrival, my host, Lucio, was happy to show me the different sections of his farm and talked passionately about the various finished and ongoing projects. It was a new concept, as it aimed to be a makerspace on a farm.

The farm was designed around the idea of connecting nature and technology in an eco-friendly way and with a self-sustainable approach. My host, Lucio, is really passionate about the do-it-yourself initiative or maker culture, and it transpires in everything that was built on the farm; from the house which he designed and renovated from a ruin using only natural materials, to the shipping containers converted into an electronic lab... ​​​​​​​

lagos workaway farm makerspace

I was very curious to discover and learn more about the farm and its various installations. The entire property was about 22 hectares and most of it was covered with wild vegetation and cork trees. There was a big chicken enclosure with over a dozen chickens, garden with vegetables and pigpen housing an impressive wild pig!

In contrast with the surrounding natural environment, next to the house, there were several big solar panels and a separate small building which contained the batteries and control boards. At the far end of the property, there were also some shipping containers (!). 

solar panels

Apart from the electricity, water supplies are also completely off-grid. The water is pumped from an on-site well and stored in a tank with a level monitor. The water is additionally filtered for drinking.

converted electronic lab

A safe place to build confidence and let my skills shine...

When my host asked me about my electronics background, I was quick to point out that I had only academic experience with small prototypes, but he was very trusting and encouraged me to work on one of the most important issues on the farm, which was the water well's pump operation. He explained to me that there were often shortages since the water pump had to be activated manually every hour and this could understandably be very inconvenient, especially at night. 

Since the well was the only water source for the entire farm, including the house, it turned out to be a daunting first task for me. I wasn't even sure if I could do it In the beginning, but with my host's encouragement, I gradually made progress and I was able to build a working prototype.

It took me about a week to finish the prototype. Lucio was very excited when we connected the DIY prototype I built to the pump control panel. I was a bit nervous to test out the setup but soon relieved when it was proved to be operating successfully. I still remember the moment when Lucio shook my hand with a big smile and thanked me for solving one of the farm's most enduring problems. With his trust, I got to work on more complex projects afterwards too!

Discovering new things and learning new skills

During my free time, I also dabbled in different projects with my host as well as other volunteers, all while keeping an open-mind to learn something new and help at the same time. 

natural homemade soap

My host and his family make their own soap from all-natural ingredients - and I got to help! This is a freshly-made batch, which still needs a few weeks to cure before they're ready.

kombucha

I also discovered a special and tasty drink made from fermented tea, called kombucha, and in true DIY fashion, it was also homemade.

cutting board art

The farmer's children decided to make a cutting board from a piece of wood, as a birthday gift for their grandfather. But it involved a lot more work than I had imagined - cutting, sanding, hand sculpting and several coatings of some natural mixture consisting of honey, which imbued the cutting board with an amazing smell! 

table saw

Here's a table saw that we (including my host and other volunteers on the farm) designed, cut and assembled together.

chicken coops

Construction of some chicken coops, with the rooftops made from cork tree bark collected off the ground around the property. 

tree house

It was a fulfilling task to fix and help improve the tree house, which was built in a giant eucalyptus tree.

bobcat loader machine

My host also taught me how to operate his Bobcat! Soon enough I was collecting stones from the surrounding hills to help build a wall. 🙌🏽

I had initially only planned to stay for two weeks but I ended up staying for two months. I also had the opportunity to meet and work together with a few other amazing volunteers who were passionate about DIY. We hang out together all the time and I learned so much from their inspiring life and travel experiences.

A rewarding final project 

A few more volunteers arrived towards the end of my stay at the farm, and we decided we finally had enough manpower to work on a bigger project as a team. So, the geodesic dome greenhouse was set to be covered. I actually submitted a photo of this project while work was in progress and it won the first prize for the Workaway photo competition!

And here is the completed geo-dome in all its glory:

geodesic dome greenhouse

My host was really grateful for all my help and made sure my stay has been as amazing as it could be. On the farm we would often eat together with his family, who are originally from Brazil and their traditional food was simply delicious! On my last day, he even surprised me with an invitation to join his family for dinner at their favourite restaurant. I will forever be thankful for their kindness and generosity. 🙏🏼 😍 😍

outdoor meal workaway family friends

Before this volunteering experience, I never thought that my help would be so appreciated and relevant to help others in different countries, cultures and backgrounds. Thanks to Workaway, I realised that I could make a very positive impact in people's lifes by sharing knowledge to build something useful.


​​​If you are hesitating because you don't have any electronics background like me, then here's my personal advice to you--

There is always someone out there who is waiting for help with some project and you might just be the right one. ​​​​​​​

So don't wait for the chance to come, create your own opportunities and start sharing what you have to offer to the world; you might just be the one who is making someone's world a better place!


author workawayer shakeel

How inspiring! Huge thanks to workawayer Shakeel for sharing this experience with us and encouraging us to step out of our comfort zone and try new things, while sharing our skills too! 

Originally from Mauritius, Shakeel is taking a break after a few years of study in Denmark to explore Europe, and hopes to help create a positive impact in his travels. ​​​​​​​You can catch up with him on his Instagram and Facebook ☀️

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