Living off the land in Spain — a rising trend
It’s been almost two years since Sara and Laura visited a supermarket. These twin sisters, age 27, decided to completely change their lifestyle after a 15-month long visit to India. Experiencing a simpler and more sustainable lifestyle, they wanted to pursue the same type of climate-friendly living back in their hometown, in Gipuzkoa (northern Spain). The sisters began by selling their home and a moving into a small shed their grandfather built for family reunions.
Beneath the Aralar mountain range, their shed is surrounded by the green Basque Country landscape. It is a one-room space equipped with a kitchen, a grand wooden table, an improvised bed, and two small couches. There is no shower, no central heat, and no internet connection. They occupy themselves with different activities, such as gardening, cooking, reading, hiking, and playing sports. On weekdays, Sara bikes to the village of Tolosa, a 20 minute ride from the shed, where she works 15 hours per week at a bookstore. She also plays rugby in Ordizia, 40 minutes away. Her teammates, she says, are curious about her low-impact lifestyle, but many of them believe they wouldn’t be able to do the same. “But I don’t feel any sacrifice, except for the shower. Sometimes you do need a hot relaxing shower,” she said. They use a big bucket of water to bathe, the same way they did back in India.
Laura, who previously was a doctor, now takes care of the orchard the twins started when they moved to the valley. Their plant-based diet consists mostly in what they grow themselves, with the exception of nuts and cereals, which they acquire in bulk at the ecological local market. Those groceries and a small electricity bill are their only expenses. “We had always been aware of our ecological footprint and the need to keep it to a minimum, but the turning point was when we came back from India, because we could be entirely on our own and start all over,” Laura explained.
They have one neighbor, a man who herds cows and who gives Sara and Laura milk every week. Over time he has become very fond of them. “He is very happy to see young people come and live here the way he does. We buy him eggs every now and then and we try to pay him for the milk as well, but he won't charge us for it,” Laura said.
Neo-rural experiences like Sara and Laura's are not an exception in Europe. In France, for example, they have been around since the ‘70s and ‘80s. But for Spaniards, going back to the countryside is a recent but rapidly growing trend. Kois Casadevante, a sociologist and food sovereignty specialist who keeps track of alternative communities, pointed out that these choices are more frequent since the onset of the pandemic. These lifestyles, with an almost zero carbon footprint, he said, “for sure inspire others and serve to show that it is possible to live differently and still have a good quality of life.”