The phenomenon of school farms in Spain: 40 years of freethinking and environmental awareness

The origin of the first, La Limpia (Guadalajara, 1978), illustrates well the spirit that drove these projects: a new way of educating as the best tool to combat fascism.

The director of the Huerto Alegre farm school, Mari Luz Díaz poses at the entrance of the school in Granada.

At the end of the 70s, when climate change was not present in the conversations and there were no colored containers to separate garbage, youth movements saw in environmental education the ideal seed to make democracy flourish and created school farms, which have been running for 40 years. “sowing” free-thinking and conscientious citizens.

The origin of the first one that existed in Spain, The Clean (Guadalajara, 1978)illustrates well the spirit that drove these projects: it was set up thanks to a loan from the survivors of the massacre of the Atocha labor lawyers, including the former mayor of Madrid Manuela Carmena, who saw in a new way of educating the best tool for fight fascism.

A way of learning inspired by the Granada colonies promoted by Berta Wilhelmi at the end of the 19th century, in the camps of the Free Institution of Education (ILE) or in the modern school promoted in Catalonia by Francisco Ferrer Guardia (1901).

His goal: “That contact with nature would create spaces for children’s reflectionmotivated them to investigate, to know the natural processes, and to question the social model and unbridled consumption that was beginning to prevail”, explains Mariluz Díaz, founder and current director of another of the pioneer farm schools, Huerto Alegre, created by eight students from the University of Granada in the nearby Sierra de La Almijara in 1982.

Not far from there, in Dúrcal, another group of young people from the Madrid neighborhood of Baztán-Aluche who worked on educational and cultural activities with young people at risk of exclusion found in an old mill in the Sierra Nevada striations, the place where he could develop a new way of teaching that, in his opinion, would not have brought the long-awaited transition to democracy .

“We didn’t get too excited about the transition, our expectations were more demanding. We realized that either we changed the way of teaching or changing society would be difficult”, explains Josechu Ferreras, founder of The Lecrin Mill (1983) and from El Remolino Nature Centerin the Sevillian town of Cazalla de la Sierra (1992).

Farm School Huerto Alegre.  EFE/Juanjo Guillen

Farm School Huerto Alegre. EFE/Juanjo Guillen.

change society

Despite the idealism of the projects, their partners had to learn finance and management to become cooperatives and mortgage to buy and restore the spaces that house them, which were sometimes in a very precarious state. In addition to setting up dining rooms, bedrooms or workshop rooms, they sprouted orchards, created small farms… and gradually opened the doors to Its protagonists: the children.

What do they do, for example, during their stay in Huerto Alegre? “Taking care of animals: graze the goats, milk the cows, feed the chickens and collect eggs; work the garden; go out into the forest and learn how a balanced ecosystem works, participate in science, ecology or product transformation workshops, where they make cheese, butter, jam, preserves, soap, among others,” says Díaz.

Ana Enríquez, who spent a week in El Molino de Lecrín at the end of the 90s, at the age of 12 and with hardly any contact with the rural world until then, remembers it as a life changing experience: “I thought that the bread, the meat or the eggs came from the supermarket –he laughs-; I remember more things that I learned that week than in a year of school.”

Screen Detox

Farm School Huerto Alegre.  EFE/Juanjo GuillenFarm School Huerto Alegre. EFE/Juanjo Guillen.

Asked by how the students have changed In these four decades, Díaz assures that the boys arrive today “much more motivated. When we started there was hardly any environmental awareness, some came and threw stones at the animals”.

Ferreras agrees that “today’s children arrive with a high level”, and now the challenge is that the farms are for them “screen detox centers”. And regarding the parents, “we have gone from seeing these stays as vacations to wanting them to leave as ecologists,” he indicates.

Topics have changed:in the year 83 we did not talk about climate change, nor of plastic pollution or renewables, but of nature conservation. The vision of environmental education was above all naturalistic, whereas now it is more focused on solving environmental problems”, he adds.


However, the main lesson that these centers want to teach future adults has not changed: “Nature is interrelated and nothing is independent. The intervention of man can take into account these fragile processes and protect him with respectful ways of being in the worldor destroy its balance”, summarizes the director of Huerto Alegre.

Neither has one of its historical challenges: reaching all children, not only those who can pay for their stay (in Spain, they agree that there has hardly been aid in this area) and that environmental education is not “a matter of convinced volunteers”, but is included in the educational curriculum.

Ferreras points out that it is also important “to ensure that environmental education is not trivialized: our job is not to train activists, but to empower people to transform their environment and the way they act in their daily lives.

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