Pedro Prieto – what life used to be like decades ago in small Spanish villages

 [I’m reading James Howard Kunstler’s excellent trilogy “A World Made By Hand” now to get an idea of what life might be like post-peak when the worst of the crisis is over. Prieto’s vivid descriptions are wonderful, I wish he’d write a book!  Alice Friedemann]

August 16, 2015. Pedro Prieto post on village life in Spain decades ago

Something similar to the endangered “tall grass prairie” mentioned in Ugo Bardi article “Gleaning: an ancient custom that may return in the future” is happening worldwide in the cultivation of cereals, at least in Spain.
Now I believe I was privileged for living in a country that started to develop much later than other European countries. So I could live in my childhood and visiting frequently my relatives in a small village living and working basically like in the Middle Age. In 1960, in that village, there was no a single internal combustion engine. All the works were made by draft animal force or human muscular force.
My vivid memories when a child there do not remember these people suffering more than their sons and grandsons living today in the cities or few of them still in the village where I have returned , but today highly mechanized, without a single draft animal now. Much on the contrary, people today sing and dance much less, smile much less, hug much less, talk much less to others, share much less. Very humble farmers were, seen now in retrospective, much more resilient than their today descendants, which despite being perhaps architects or executives, have food in the refrigerator for three days.
They all had the habit and the tradition in that village to produce food for themselves (survivability) and for their animals for a whole year (what today we could call the Mormon backpack) in stables and barns for their animals and in the granary for cereals or hanging from the roofs or in the cellar, by drying fruits or salting or stuffing meat, or muddling or bottling preserves. They were basically living on self sufficiency basis, with minimum crops devoted to barter them for the necessary tools or few clothes, which were not made locally. They used to store always a little bit more than what was required for themselves or to help a relative, friend or neighbor if or when required.
Of course, my relatives still alive, keep remembering me that this life was far from romantic and comfortable. From the physical point of view, it was much harder, life expectancy shorter, risk of dying from an animal kick as high as today in an automobile crash, heating much more poorer and tougher than today; callus in the hands (I remember the caress of my uncle on my face, for both his kindness and roughness) or chilbain in the ears in winter. No epidural for women in labor, no implants for tooth decays or cavities, etc. etc….but also with people not only being frightened for physical inconveniences and apparently assuming their fate. On the other hand, they all had much higher pain thresholds and understanding and accepting with more much naturalness life and death concepts than today. Psychologists and psychiatrists did not exist, or were rather their own relatives, friends and neighbors.
Coming back to gleaning, I remember them reaping and gleaning by hand with both sickles and scythes. What it calls my attention these days, when I travel through some wheat fields where the tall wheat stalks of about 1 m high. Now I realize that what our agro-industry has made is to select cereal varieties (always the short term income, efficiency and productivity in mind) of much shorter stalk to have more grain in the ears per plant. As harvesting is today absolutely mechanized, and they do not need any straw to complement animal draft food, it is obviously a more efficient system.
Now, let’s imagine for a minute that we could not use harvesting machines and had only the present varieties of wheat to plant them and to reap and gleaning them by hand, with jut sickles and scythes and our much softer kidneys and backs than those of our ancestors and without draft animals in our garages nor with enough straw and barley to feed them.
Perfect storms everywhere, if the liquid fuels flows fail one day, prepare your kidneys and your backs, but in exchange please, smile, sing and dance like in the past and do not fear or be frightened in front of the difficulties.
[and later on, within this exchange of ideas on an energy forum, the following]:

In my trips to Southern Spain, I have observed a dramatic change in the last years, with the alibi that drip irrigation saves water.

The last three decades have seen a dramatic increase of these irrigation systems. Spain had the biggest production of olive oil (I believe still has). Many of the olive trees were centenary and few even millenary.

They were usually grown and cultivated with three trunks from one base, so that manual harvesting could be easier. The method was to gently and carefully beat with sticks and pick the olives from the ground. About one century ago, they extended blankets on the ground and collected them at once.

The olive trees were usually planted in dry areas, without irrigation and keeping a 12*12 m, distance frame among them (called marco real), so that the roots could both develop in surface without jeopardizing neighboring trees and get nutrients, but also could grow downwards, in search for humidity.

These trees wee very much adapted to climate and became very resistant to droughts, with the only known limitation that in years of drought, the crops will be lower, something that was admitted.

Today, with the advent of new technologies, I have seen a dramatic and sad change: the centenary trees are uprooted and replaced by new olive trees, which have only one straight trunk. They are planted in much smaller frames (4*4 m. or even less) and are pruned in trellis. They are receiving drip irrigation (water+fertilizer) through the plastic pipes. And of course, the crops are much higher and independent of the droughts (while there is water in reservoirs) than the old ones.

This makes a lot of economic sense and gives the farmers the regular income, as if they ere also a public officer or an executive in a company in the city, to copy their level of living (car+tv+gadgets,+leisure time+tourism, etc.) Harvesting is made now by means of machines hugging the single trunk and vibrating it, with a tool as a deployed inverted umbrella below or by means of a harvesting machine taller than the trees (which are not allowed to grow more than a limit) going along the furrow and doing that tree after tree.

The new olive trees have now lazy roots, that do not grow, not horizontally (have no place) and not vertically downwards, because they have water and nutrients just on the base of the trunk.

If one day, the societal system collapses for lack of imported energy to power the pumps, to replace filters or valves or digital programmers or plastic pipes (every two or three years need replacement), the whole olive trees will not resist the minimum drought.

What I have mentioned for olive trees, can be extended to all type of fruit trees in most of Spain. At the end, we are not saving water, because this is taken as a business as usual that provides very good income by exporting fruits and olive oil to the rest of Europe and the world.

Poor civilization.

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