Waking Life is an act of eco-communitarian resilience and an experiment in circular worldbuilding.
For 6 days in June, people gather for the festival at Barragem das Nascentes in the heart of Alentejo in Portugal.
For the other 359 days of the year, we are engaged in a land regeneration project that is aiming at turning the festival grounds (35 hectares) into a biodiverse, public park, where flora and fauna grow into vibrant, new ecosystems.
Through our stewardship of the land, we explore how to cultivate the seeds that are sprouting from shared dreams. We organize and are engaged in events, workshops, school & youth initiatives, cultural and academic partnerships, and we have our fingers in various other pies which generate and sow knowledge, attempting to develop and demonstrate that symbiotic futures are achievable and operational – locally and internationally.
This is our landcare project.
fotografia: kieran behan
Over the past three years, we have transitioned from a temporary space to a permanent home on the land, with each passing season tuning into the rhythm of this biome.. As springs follow winters, we plant endemic trees and feed the soil, slowly reviving the starved biodiversity.
As we work towards creating a carbon negative festival (by our direct actions and not by buying carbon offsets), we will document & share all the practices which radically reduce environmental impact of small and medium-sized festivals. We showcase how to reduce to a minimum the negative environmental impacts of large-scale festivals.
The landcare project is a laboratory for figuring out new ways of growing & knowing, consuming & celebrating, transforming & terraforming – it is an experimental garden for sprouting new models of interaction between cultural productions, regenerative practitioners and local communities.
We are building a wide network of local, regional, and international allies which all help us cross-pollinate these ideas for new ways of living. Our biggest challenge is turn apathy & disillusionment into a desire-driven impetus for new, (or ancient) meaningful ways of being alive together.
We respond to global environmental challenges relating to the food system and water shortage through planting techniques that bring back water from degraded land, reintroduce nutrients into the soil, and reduce chances of wildfires spreading.
In essence, the Waking Life landcare project and festival are an intertwined, ever-unfolding collective dream for possible, earthier, healthier, wetter futures.
Waking Life is a non-profit association registered in Portugal, largely operating on a voluntary basis as a multidimensional, earthbound community project with cultural and agricultural initiatives in bloom.
Where is Waking Life located?
We are located in the municipality of Crato in the interior of Alentejo, around a 10 hectare large lake called Barragem das Nascentes. The soil around the lake is a type called cambisol. The structure and high minerals of cambisol have served agriculture for hundreds of years. The land of Alentejo has been exploited in various ways – from hosting the most productive wheat varieties to the biggest monoculture of eucalyptus in Europe.
Since the start of the industrial age, Alentejo has also suffered a mass rural exodus with 80 percent of people moving to urban areas and away from the countryside. Leaving behind extremely charming, warm Romanesque settlements and an inviting Mediterranean landscape rich in traditional crafts, culinary specialities, neolithic vestiges and an overall very mellow vibe.
Regrow and rewild
Remember middle school science? Through photosynthesis, trees take carbon from the air and store it in the soil. Carbon is the core component of organic matter, giving soil its water-retention capacity, its structure, and its fertility. This is an essential element of life. No carbon, no magic. We plan to plant 25,700 trees and shrubs on a 35 hectare terrain, which will harvest 891 tons of carbon per year at its full potential. Since 2021, we have planted 30% of the total amount of trees planned in our first regenerative landscape design.
This process is not fast: it’s slow and seasonal with one of the main challenges being the maintenance of trees in such extreme climatic conditions.
The planting season happens during the late fall. For the rest of the year, we develop our food gardens and ensure that we provide all that is necessary for the freshly-planted trees to stay fit. This work includes preparing a good soil, companion planting, pruning, mulching, fertilizing, grafting, and watering. All along the year we receive the help of volunteers, interns, and different experts joining us through educational programs. One of the most inspiring approaches behind the landcare project is called syntropic agriculture. It’s a planting technique designed to produce self-sustaining, self-fertilizing, vibrant and biodiverse ecosystems.
The waters from the earth in dry, arid lands can be brought back to the surface by planting specific species densely together; creating a circular, restorative ecosystem through agriculture and agroforestry.
Building fertile soil and planting densely to draw up the waters replenishes and rewilds the worlds in and around Barragem das Nascentes. By building a softer land of abundance, we can provide a wide diversity of food, knowledge, skill, visions, and solutions to the local community and the next generations.
Key initiatives 2023
In the summer, we focus on developing the organic vegetable gardens, taking care of the compost and processing the food for the winter.
Water streams restoration
The dam was built to collect water for the surrounding villages and agriculture fields. Different water streams spring from Barragem das Nascentes but they are today dried up. During fall 2023, together with a group of 20 people, we will restore seven riparian galleries by planting about 4500 trees and shrubs. Those plants have been picked for specific functions such as protecting the waterline from erosion, enhancing water filtration, increasing O2 in water, filtering andpurifying water, increasing biodiversity, creating wildlife corridors, promoting aquatic life, and sequestering CO2.
During the summer and the fall, we organize different educational programs on agroforestry and organic gardening involving the local community.
The Mediterranean Orchard
The Mediterranean orchard is composed of 30 endemic species, including lavender, strawberry trees (Medronho), olive trees, mulberry trees, almond trees, fig trees and many more. This is a syntropic system that mixes fruits trees from
the mediterranean area, organic matter produces, pioneer species and endemic species.
fotografia: antoine grenez
Natural campsite roofs
The campsite has been reshaped by 30 different species of trees and shrubs, selected for their fire resistant capacity and qualities in nourishing the soil. The campsite has been divided into 4 different zones with different planting patterns responding to different functions.
1. Eight tree species are spread all over the campsite to create natural shade
2. Wind breaks slow down wind erosion and form a more resistant soil
– increase plant growth
– bring life back to the soil and develop biodiversity
– provide habitat and corridors for wildlife
– protect from cold winds and rains
– reduce noise and pollution dispersal
3. Hedges are found all around the campsite and act as biodiverse and natural habitats as well as fire breaks.
4. Montado restoration area: a typical ecosystem of Alentejo with different kinds of oaks and chestnut trees.
Over the next years, we will see biodiversity increase and take root, growing fresh, natural canopies for the campsites.
All the food waste from the festival kitchen is transformed into compost soil. Ultimately, the aim is to process all the food scraps of the entire festival, which would produce up to 30m3 of compost soil.All the wood leftovers from construction and production are reduced into wood chips and used as ‘brown material’. Other bits were burned and transformed into charcoal, then soaked into liquid manure, and finally mixed in with the compost to slowly release nitrogen into the soil – building up that fertility.
Organic vegetable gardens
Our organic gardens are small oases for the gourmands and the curious. A wide variety of herbs, vegetables, and fruit trees feed the crew with fresh colours year-round. In the meantime, our greenhouse keeps greening while we collect and exchange seeds and cuttings with our neighbours.
Waking Life is a very locally rooted project. As a living exercise in circular worldbuilding, it all begins and ends with the land and the lake at Barragem, and the surrounding communities. We collaborate with the municipality of Crato and local agricultors in the work of regenerating and maintaining ecosystems in our land project as well as for the supply of products for the crew catering. The residents of the surrounding municipalities of Crato have free access to the festival and all the programs we run year round.
We organize many different activities with local schools like summer camps centered around ecological and environmental topics (like tree planting, growing your own food, introduction to gardening and much more.) We also work with universities like the IEFP Portalegre (a school for the integration of unemployed people) to create opportunities involving event organization and activities surrounding the build-up of the festival.
Students in sound design and music production at the University of Portalegre have worked with us in recording Waking Life landscapes, learning about the festival production, and engaged in discussions on the impact of the festival’s sound on the fauna (how fast the birds are coming back for instance) the different soundscapes appearing throughout the year, amidst the festival build up, festival happening, festival breakdown and natural soundscape.
fotografia: kieran behan
Hop on board, take the ride, we welcome volunteers year-round. It’s Waking Life’s communal aspect that gives its uniqueness and diversified flavour. Applications can be sent to email@example.com.
We welcome artists, students, and researchers to join us on the land. We invite you to take a deep-dive around the lake – to observe, listen, and work with the land, for a day or a few months.
The people who take up residency with us are invited to learn and create in the unique environment of the intersection between new cultures, new agricultures, and new technologies.
If you are interested in joining us or would like to know more, write firstname.lastname@example.org.