Sustainable Tourism and the “silent engine”

Its been a little while since I had time to sit down and write, with the event of brexit looming, and our work in conjunction with the Heartland Association in Italy there has been little time.

Europe has been thrown into disarray, for all of us with homes and businesses in the UK the event of brexit seems somewhat plucked out of a horror movie, so we chose this moment to bring a ray of hope into the future. 

We have been busy working out a new model, its sustainable tourism, although some things have been written about it before its largely a new field. Having worked in the the Glamping industry with some of the best campsites in the UK, and after those years of using those methods for rural innovation in marginal areas in central Europe (mainly Italy) we felt its time we bring this into fruition. We have developed a model for sustainable tourism that allows us to develop a small holding together with the owners to create the perfect equilibrium of life in the country.

Working on the European mainland in rural abandoned areas, really made us reinvent glamping into this little gem. The idea is novel because it takes our experience of 15 years, having spoken and worked with over 300 (I just made the number up as its hard to keep track how many campsites and private people we worked with) different enterprises, we now developed a sort of “silent engine”, a model for a small green havens in the country. The focus here is not only to create a sustainable sort of tourism for the client. The idea is to create a lifestyle business that allows one to live in the countryside with a steady flow of income, eating organically grown foods and offering local farms and obviously ones guests a point for cultural meeting, instead of having to run a glamping site that means you are running to keep your business running, we formulated the best investment ratios, the number of tents per site, and the best cultural exchange from our years of experience. 

So how does this work? SIMPLY. This new model is based on allowing one to come back to nature, we have synthesised all the that is good in a glamping business, and tailored it for a small site, offering the guests an unforgettable experience, whilst offering the hosts a lifestyle that is sustainable. The model calls for the cultivation of small organic parcel of land directly on ones site. Sure not every smallholding has that type of terrain that is suitable, but its rare one can not grow anything, even if its in a polytunnel. 

small scale sustainable tourism

Second this small site becomes a small hub for the local community, offering organically grown foods from neighbouring farms. In Italy having to work within the agriturismo system it is actually a law that food served must be locally sourced. We have found out it works as an amazing way to set up small havens of health and good food, allowing the site to become a small farm shop selling products that support the locals growing organic food and animal products. Now this small site is a little hub in the community, and you the potential owner a little local hero, making circular economy that supports what is important, in a sustainable way.

The next phase is opening up that special hospitality that allows people to come out of the city and enjoy your site, to live alongside you for a period. Here, to keep things ticking in the right balance we have used our experience of 15 years working with campsites, we know what business plans are likely to work, which ones are likely to end up as a headache, the idea is not to be running after the business anymore, its about letting it allow you to live that quiet life you chose to begin with. We came up with the right structures that are made either directly by us, or by a small group of selected companies we feel deliver the perfect product.

In Italy because this type of venture is new we enjoy the benefit of working with some of the best names in the business, we are acting as agents for some of those. But now we have decided to open up this program to everyone, to help others moving abroad into the mainland, either as a life choice, or because Brexit may mean being land locked in the UK, not that we think its really an eventuality but who knows, so we run this program now in other countries, focusing on southern and central Europe but not only.

Back in the UK, we want to take all those points to help focus on a new type of rural development, we have seen so  many of our clients try and battle their life style with running a small business, so much so that we decided to take the Heartland Association model and introduce it in the UK too, Glamping in the UK has turned into a monster, its an enormous economy, and while it still does what it says on the can, very often the owners of glamp sites end up losing the initial spark, and the whole industry ends money orientated instead of helping people to live happily in balance, what matters here is size of site, the correct structures used, the exchange with the guests. But more than all the role the site has in the larger scale of things, in the local rural community, we see those work best as small havens of social innovation, with high end quality food farmed directly at km zero, and so each site becomes a local centre for well being, bringing health back into rural areas, supporting a good and healthy lifestyle without the constant headaches for its owners (believe me this is a constant issue) and so it takes going back to nature into every aspect of its operation. Like that we feel we can finally give Glamping as an industry back its role for saving our countryside in a sustainable way.

Working abroad as a non profit we have found a richness we never knew existed, the farmers in Italy have grown ancient wheat grains with us, made organic olive oils, we developed up our own site, learned about working with groups of volunteers and much more, now we have bundled it all up into a package we can offer new or existing sites, from business plans to gardening ideas, we have developed a network of small tent makers that can offer maintenance and support with your structures, but the best part is that we now have small stocks of ancient grains and other products we have come in contact with in Italy, this small producer of top quality foods, and believe me it really is a whole other world of taste and quality, so at this time of fractions, where the UK is thinking of tearing itself apart from Europe, we instead are building a bridge, reminding us all what is important and what is good, the richness that we all have available and how we can all use and enjoy it in a way that builds it further.

The theory of diffusion of innovation as was told to us by one of our recent volunteers maintains that new ideas are hard to bear fruit, we know that, he worked with farmers in Zambia, trying to teach them new ways to farm and commercialise, he says you will see one person take to it, and years later maybe their neighbours would follow but its not really linear. 

So we guess this sort of program isnt everyones cup of tea. people dont really know what they are getting to when they set a glamping site up, people arent really aware of the reality of the dream of living in the country side. This program is our extract of all that is good in sustainable tourism, and we offer it to you as a package in which you get – 

  1. 15 years of experience tailored to your own site. So the perfect ratio of glamping structures to site running ability (so you dont have to be employing staff).
  2. Our experience of structures for Hospitality, be it yurts, safari tents or cabins, we can figure out with you the best return on investment.
  3. Full business plan including a design in setting up your farming or gardening parcel of land to feed yourself and your guests.
  4. A list of social innovation ideas to make sure your site operates as a hub of local transformation, creating circular economy.
  5. Being part of a network we have created of small producers and manufactures offering amazing organic food products, and obviously glamping structure solutions.
  6. A selection of operating possibilities to minimise your need for a big starting investment, things like rent to buy, franchising etc, we have come up with a few possibilities to help new sites into this program. 

There is obviously more, this program is a fruit of our work in promoting sustainable tourism in the mainland, especially in central Italy, with the heartland association we aim to work with new sites on the mainland, but now we are opening this program back in the UK too. because we feel its time we all help the Glamping industry take back a course towards sustainability as we feel it is losing its direction with a greed it developed.

Contact us for more details 

Harvesting ancient grains with a group of volunteers in Abruzzo

 

 

Sustainable development and the real star Grillo

This isn’t a yurt related post – it’s about the rule of sustainable development. As you may be aware we are developing a site in the mountainous region of Abruzzo, the land that God forgot about, but the fact he forgot about it doesn’t mean he didn’t love it when he made it, because Abruzzo has been blessed with it all.

Sustainable Rural development is a key word right now – Italy has been too forgotten: the election earlier on this month has shook the country, in fact it shook the whole of Europe, as more than 50% of the vote went to fringe parties. The power, you may say is going back to the people, Italy has grown so tired of bureaucracy and the biggest winner was the 5 star movement, trying to take down the establishment and start new initiatives like circular government, lower taxes and even to pay each citizen a salary. It is headed by Beppe Grillo the comedian.

The 5 star Grillo

But it’s another Grillo that is the real star of this post and it’s not a person but a machine, a 14 horse power motocoltivatore (as its called in Italy) and this is why we are going to talk about it a little, because alongside everything we are hoping to introduce to Central Italy, like ecotourism, there are some things we think Italy should introduce to the rest of Europe. Italy has become a world leader in small tractors and special terrain machinery, tractors that have been developed to suit a sustainable farming tradition, small plots worked by hand driven tractors, like our famous grillo, and tracked tractors which are suitable for mountain terrain. It’s this small scale production that we believe is the thing that may save Europe.

Those small cultivators are adaptable to a myriad of uses: pumps, small ploughs, grass cutters, they even are coupled to small propelled trailers to transport the old farmers about. It’s this small scale life style that is the real jewel of Central and southern Europe, a lifestyle that is disappearing, but it’s exactly the way we see development. We talk a lot about organic farming with locals, but sometimes driving around the small villages, I’m amazed, because with all the innovation we seek to introduce here, I look at the way they cultivate and realise that they actually have it all: they grow all their own food at times, from olives for oil, grain for pasta and bread, to tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. Each old house has an orchard of fruit trees: figs and mulberry, lemon and orange, grapes for wine. It’s a self sustainable lifestyle driven by our famous Grillo, they don’t need a 5 star movement – their rebellion is a minimalism, their answer to progress, is to use machinery on a mini scale, and keep it small.

With the disaster that is modern farming methods, with the health hazard that modern wheat has become (i’m not joking but eating bread from modern wheat is like killing yourself by disintegrating your gut – read here), so this country we have come to sustainably redevelop, has actually taught us its’ old ways, and we hope those will take root elsewhere, as the mainstream for real farming, a sustainable living.

The model is very simple – you don’t need to be successful in a business to buy your dream home to retire in. Your home can be a relationship with the land, you live by cultivating organically grown food with minimum machinery, sure you can do it all be hand, but the marvel of small scale machinery means, that with minimal effort you can grow all your own food easily. So instead of becoming more rich and more removed, we decided to go back to the earth, to let Italy teach us about its farming. We aim to start offering Ancient grain from this region for sale (contact us if this is interesting to you) and I didn’t even start talking about the Olive oil, because the in the immediate locality of our site, is a special olive variety called Intosso, or Olive Grande by the locals. It doesn’t produce the highest percentage of oil per weight, but it produces one of the world’s best quality olive oils, a bottle of which can sell for £18 per litre.

So in this time of change in Italy, with Beppe Grillo leading a revolution in politics, and yes Italy does need an overhaul, but MY vote is for that other Grillo, the real motor behind sustainable development, and its called minimalism, live within your means. 

 

A Yurt Living Adventure by Sara Wheeler (Guest Blogger)

The things that people ask me at first is ‘ Why do you live in a yurt?’ Closely followed by…. ‘What’s it like?’

Well, first let me introduce myself.

I am a 40 year old woman who is Mum to 2 boys ages 8 and 6. My husband is called Mike.

We used to live in a nice house in Bristol, UK and realised that we were missing the children’s childhoods and working too hard to pay for it all.

One day, Mike suggested that we sell the house and travel round the world. I thought he was joking at first. Within a few months we sold the house, took the children out of school and set off with a one-way ticket on the trip of a lifetime.

On 2 October 2015 we flew to Indonesia and made our way around South East Asia, employing a strategy called ‘World schooling’ where children lead their education, sparked by curiosity of the world around them. We climbed mountains in the Himalayas and snorkelled with sharks in Belize. We scaled the Grand Canyon and camped on a beach amongst wild kangaroos in Australia.

Our trip was immense, hard work and awesome in every sense of the word. Increasingly though, our thoughts turned to when- and if, we should return home. We missed our family and friends and being part of a community. Most of all we DIDN’T want to fall back into the trap of working to pay bills again. Old friends of ours had a smallholding in Wales with a few acres to spare. For years they had suggested we come and live on their mountain. We skyped them from our beach hut and apparently they were serious. We’d split utility bills and the field was ours, if we wanted it.

We looked at converting one of their barns, craning in a container… but we had always loved camping and yurt holidays. Having spent over a year living in the same room and out of 2 backpacks, a yurt would feel palatial.

Mike set about researching yurts and we joined some Facebook groups to talk to people and get an idea of what we’d need to live fairly comfortably. With friends in the festival trade, installing infrastructure into our field was no problem so we focussed on what we needed from the yurt:

  • A traditional design
  • as big as possible to fit on the existing platform.
  • To future proof it, we’d need to get a high wall and roof so we could install a mezzanine for the children to sleep on for a bit of privacy.

Oh, and we wanted an ‘indoor’ toilet.

We ordered our 22’ Turkmen Yurt from Spirits Intent and that was our decision made. Updates on their Facebook page were exciting as we could see our new home being built from the other side of the world.

Mike was clever enough to bag himself a job when we were in Guatemala, so we had a deadline for the yurt build. We had to be moved in so he could start work on the 4 December 2017. After a whirlwind of reunions with our friends and family, we took ourselves to mid Wales on the 24 November as the weather forecast was… ok…We had been chasing the sun for 14 months and I think we had forgotten how harsh British weather could be. Anyway, this was Wales and we needed somewhere to live so we had to get on with it.

Nitsan from Spirits Intent arrived at our friends’ house, hungry and serious. He had been building our yurt with some volunteers and had come to stay the night before- sleeping in his van, to brace us for the hard work that was to come on Build Day. I felt sick with nerves as I heard the wind and rain battering at the house windows. I think the weather forecast for an‘ok’ day might have been optimistic. The whole family pitched in. We tried to ignore the hailstorm and Nitsan showed the youngest how to do a sun dance. Oddly, it seemed to work a bit even just to lighten the mood as we got battered by chunks of ice being hurled at us from the sky.

The trellis was up, the doors and rafters tentatively slid into place. We stopped to warm up with soup and I realise I had lost sensation in most of my body due to the numbing cold. We piled on the layers and the children decided to stay indoors after the rest of it (I couldn’t blame them)

We knew we’d start to lose daylight at about 3pm. So we hurriedly put up the felt insulation and lifted the canvas on with the last ounce of strength we had in us. Tying the fabric to the lattice was painfully slow as I had to cling to the edge of raised platform whilst my hands were frozen by the cold. Nitsan’s rallies of positivity were soothing, as our energy fell to its lowest ebb.

Then, all of a sudden, despite every sort of weather that the Welsh mountainside could throw at us, we had a yurt.

We were soaking wet and exhausted but we had a home all of our own. We waved Nitsan an emotional goodbye, as our team disbanded- the hard work cementing a bond between us. 

For the next couple of weeks we worked at sanding the floors, putting in the filtered water, installing a gas boiler, hooking up electric, building a kitchen, digging drainage ditches and laying pathways… lastly we brought in our furniture.

So, what’s life like in the yurt?

The day we moved in our furniture a blizzard came and covered everything in 6 inches of snow. We slept and woke up to a world that was like Narnia.

It looked beautiful but the reality was hard work. The first night the canvas dripped in multiple places as the seams had not had a chance to bed in…. the children were frozen from playing but it was hard to keep them dry and warm. We had no toilet, running water or drainage and icy drops of water falling on our faces when we were in bed.

After the blizzard though, normal Winter feels easy! We have learnt our lessons, dried out, and are enjoying nature as we fall asleep to flicker of the fire, the sound of the river and Barn Owls calling along the valley. 

We have found a rhythm and have learnt that with this life, you can take nothing for granted. We wake and start the fire. We have learnt to shower in the evenings when the yurt is warmest and appreciate that hot running water fresh from a mountain spring is a beautiful kind of sorcery. We keep the woodpile well stocked and keep muddy boots by the door. We have very warm duvets and wear lots of layers. We use ratchet straps to tie down the yurt as 80mph winds are quite common here. We empty the composting toilet every week and we have found that the Ultrasonic pest deterrents really work. Yes, we have found droppings amongst our dinner plates and had whole bags of clothes eaten by mice! Never again.

The horses in the field next door come and bray to tell us when the weather is bad and we all enjoy being connected to our surroundings.

There isn’t a day that we don’t open the yurt door and have our breaths taken away at the sight of the mountains around us. Yes, it would be nice to have conveniences like ‘heating’ but the amount we’d have to sacrifice for that just isn’t a price we want to pay.

At the moment, anyway.

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Thankyou Sara.

For more on this family adventure…see Wheelers on the Bus: Facebook page

And their lovely  Blog

Back to the land – a stewardship/apprenticeship program in Italy 2018

Wow, its been so busy…… I cant remember when I last got to write a blog entry.

Its been a really intense year this last one, working a lot on our site and sustainable rural development project in Italy, making yurts, meetings, events, working with people there has been so much, I felt at times like I was going crazy.

Having spent 3 years working on this Heartland Project, with our Main site in Italy I feel its time to start drawing conclusions, the first is that we want to focus more on real situations, and develop sustainability also on the level of relationship with people, what does that even mean? you ask.

It means we decided to focus less on events that we host, and little less on working with volunteers like we did, but start finding people that can integrate into the project for longer periods, On the Heartland site in the Abruzzen mountains, ive cleared a set of spots, its a place of outstanding beauty of nature so this year instead of pitching the yurts in a circle I want to try something we use to practice a million years ago when I lived in Tipi Valley (its a community in Wales that used to live only in tipis) Namely, pitching each yurt in its own dedicated field.

This way the yurt becomes the centre of a small area in Heartland, a place with its own eco system, and this way the yurt and the person living in it can focus on that special area as their own project, clearing the land planting gardens and herbs, etc.

As part of this project we have started dedicating some of the land plots to people we love, mostly nomads, or people we work with that have no place, so ive been giving them a little piece of heartland, because land with no people, is like people with no land. 

Back to the wild nature

Anyway to get to the main subject of this blog post, what we are aiming to do this year is to start a land stewardship program, through this program we want to invite people who can live for a period in a yurt in Italy, the terms of the exchange can be worked out, for example we can do work exchange, but the focus is sustainability, so we are looking for people who can dedicate over a month at a time and stay in a yurt, and look after the immediate area as their own little garden of eden, this way I feel, clearing the land integrates with a special opportunity that we can offer, for someone to go back to the land.

 

The other part of this program is apprenticeship, a part of the exchange could be that we teach people yurt making, so signing in so to speak for a couple of months or so next year can have an element of that too, where we teach a person to make yurts from a-z, peeling poles, steam bending, making wheels the whole lot. As we are now looking for people to make frames for us because of increased demand, this can also be an opportunity to establish a small self employed business once the person goes back home.

Yurt Making apprenticeship

We will be putting up the yurts in Abruzzo around may time, maybe a little later this year, so this program will open around than.

So many volunteers

Another part of program will be working with volunteers, as those are constant part of our project. We have a constant flow of volunteers, and they need looking after, sometimes they even need to be cooked for, but they are usually a lot of fun, and look after themselves, so although the focus is for people who want to go into pure nature and live there by themselves for a long period, having a constant flow of volunteers means that one isnt really usually alone.

Yurts in the wild

The person we look for needs to be ok with living outside, washing in fire heated baths, or using a heated bucket, because the yurts are going to be set apart probably this year cooking might take place in each yurt (we still need to figure this out). we want to emulate a more nomadic pattern over the site, so its possible also we will shift the yurts to new pastures so to speak. The site is very wild, so its not really Glamping, its more akin to living in a yurt in Mongolia, one has little furniture, sleeps on a bedroll, and nature isnt groomed in his or hers immediate surrounds, so all of that is part of the experience, so we are looking for people who can live at that level for a long period of time.

The amazing Lands of central Italy

The projects we are looking to focus on are mainly yurt making as part of the apprenticeship, Land clearing (this actually works hand in hand with the yurt making as a lot of the stuff we clear is yurt making ash), there will be some small scale farming, pruning and grafting fruit trees, looking after olives and planting of herb all over the site, possibly some building work. Through this program we are mainly looking for people who want to go back to the land, as an experience, that arent afraid of hard work.

I cant really describe the Heartland experience, but its often our volunteers leave here crying, and although we sometime make them cry, I dont mean they cry because of us, they cry because they feel they are leaving the last hold of freedom to go back to their lives, and thats what we want to start opening to a deeper integration. so we invite you to take part, learn how to be a yurt maker, live on the land by yourself without having to worry about bills, if the work exchange is clear we can offer you food too. other wise you will need to support yourself, but we get most of things in Bulk anyway so good organic food is cheap.

Heartland in the News

More and more people are interested in Heartland and our Sustainable Tourism project in Abruzzo, Central Italy – enough that Heartland has been featured in 2 of the UK’s biggest Glamping magazines.

The first was the June/July edition of Open Air Business Magazine. See page 22.

Digital Issues

The next was the September edition of the International Glamping Business Magazine, which coincided with the Glamping Show, an annual event for the Glamping Industry in the UK. It runs a whole feature on Glamping in Italy and we are on page 21 – and strangely there is a story of some other people who came from the UK to Abruzzo to start a glamping project.

Ready for the media…

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