Lauren and Tom popped up on my radar at exactly the right time. We had just had three volunteers in a row either cancel at the last minute or simply not turn up, and in each case we had spent weeks communicating back and forth to organise the person’s trip, so it represented a massive loss to us in time and energy. When their message to me popped up I was feeling demoralised and sceptical towards volunteers.
Lauren’s first ever message to me read:
I’ve seen your comments on posts on Diggers and Dreamers about looking for help. are you still looking?
We’re a family of four in a self contained motor home. We’re in catalunya at the moment and rethinking travel in light of the new restrictions.
We’ve been very interested in community living, and permaculture for a while but haven’t yet had the possibility to try it. We do have a dairy farm in the family in the UK so have spent lots of time helping out there and are no strangers to hard work! It would be great to learn more whilst helping out.
Would you be open to a family joining you or were you looking for a single person/couple ideally?
Thanks, Lauren and Tom”
“Errrrr yeah that’d be great thanks when can you get here?” I replied, thinking to myself… here comes another enthusiastic bunch who will let us down when it actually comes down to it.
Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong as they arrived in full force the very next day and have been here pretty much ever since! They are such a fun and inspirational family, travelling the world together in their beautiful old camper, that I felt compelled to get started on this interview project in order to record and capture some of the truly amazing people who have visited the Freedom Farm.
- Here they come!
The Gibson Family, or as we like to call them: The Tin Can Fam.
Length of Stay: 6 weeks so far and we’re still here!
Season of visit: Autumn/Winter
What were you doing in the weeks before you arrived at the freedom farm?
In April 2019 we left the UK and our “normal lives” behind to travel around the world in our motorhome, but 11 wonderful months later we were back in the UK for the coronavirus lockdown, impatiently waiting for the chance to set off again.
The immediate weeks prior to arriving at the Freedom Farm we had been travelling through France, with the intention of driving down through Italy and catching the ferry to Greece for the winter. The new wave of lockdowns imposed due to the Coronavirus pandemic left us unable to reach our intended destination and somewhat adrift. We changed direction for Spain instead, crossing the France/Spain border just before the French lockdown was imposed.
How did you find out about the Freedom Farm and what attracted you to it?
Being members of the Diggers and Dreamers Facebook group, we had seen Max’s post in late September looking for help over the winter, in light of Nic’s recent surgery. It had looked like a great opportunity and a good idea to help Nic get back on his feet slowly, and we had discussed it whilst back in the UK, however as we were planning to go to Greece for the winter we did not seriously consider applying.
At the time that we found ourselves unexpectedly in Spain, we saw another post from Max describing how the help he had been promised had let him down. When we realised we were only a few hours away, and we had no plans for the next few months, we contacted Max to offer our help.
We had been attracted by the beautiful location, opportunity to learn about permaculture and the lifestyle Max and Nic appeared to be crafting in their little community, but also really felt for them being let down at the last minute, so it seemed like epic timing.
What were your first impressions of the place and how was your first night?
We were awestruck with the beauty and tranquility of the valley. We arrived around the time of the full moon and on our first night the view of the stars was unlike anything we had ever seen before. The quiet and peace ensured we (mostly) had a good night’s sleep – unfortunately our two small children ensure it is never a completely peaceful night!
- Doug and Elliott have adapted to farm life very well.
Everyone who visits the the Freedom Farm experiences unique challenges, what have been some of the challenges you’ve overcome?
We got Campo burnout bad!! Max and Nic had talked about “Campo Burnout” and warned us thoroughly but we had been under the mistaken impression they meant a physical burnout, and since we were quite comfortable with the amount of daily labour etc… we figured we were safe.
What we soon learned, however, is that Campo Burnout can be 100% psychological. Whilst being completely off-grid in the middle of nowhere is a wonderful escape, it is very challenging, particularly for those used to the western way of being able to obtain anything and everything whenever you want it. I am sure that each individual has their own way of combating burnout, but for us, we have found that taking a few days out of the campo every few weeks helps us to reset and appreciate the amazing place more (it also works on a practical level to go and do laundry, fill up with gas etc, and visit the local playground!).
- Lauren starts work at 8:30am every morning, milking the goats.
What accommodation did you bring with you and how did it go?
We live full-time in our classic Hymer motorhome. We are quite used to our home on wheels and it works well for us to be able to park up anywhere. Despite its age, our motorhome took the campo road in its stride (fortunately we have quite high ground clearance) and we have been very comfortable here.
How would you describe the place to a friend or family member back home?
It is easy to get carried away describing the beauty of the Farm and the valley; the views across to the mountains, the olive and almond groves, dotted with the ruins of fincas from time gone by. What makes this place really special however, is how, amongst the spectacular landscape, Max and Nic are working to make their own place from scratch. We have really appreciated their down to earth and relaxed nature, and their thoughtfulness in sharing their space and introducing us to their way of life.
Can you describe what a typical day on the farm is like or tell us about a memorable day you had?
After a few weeks settling in, we now have a routine of joining Max and Nic to work on the farm each morning. This can be helping with the daily rounds of animal care, working in the garden, or assisting with bigger projects such as Nic’s workshop and of course the endless olive tree care! Sometimes we will share lunch together, and then in the afternoons we spend time as a family exploring the area, playing with our children and some very relaxed homeschooling.
Who did you meet during your visit?
We have enjoyed spending time with Max and Nic, other volunteers and the wider Campo community. During our stay so far, other volunteers (Callum and Holly) also stayed at the Farm and we are very excited for the arrival of two further volunteers later this week. We have also worked and socialised with the “Dutchies” who live nearby and also volunteer at the Freedom Farm. We were very pleased to be invited to Lis’ birthday party and met other expat residents like Tony and Hottar.
We have met Kurt, Sandra and Marco who live nearby and provide various building and other services in the campo – including delivering us 650l of water and a tank to keep it in!!
At the beginning of our stay, there was a long term resident at the campsite too, Luke.
What have you learned from your visit to Freedom Farm? Have you changed in any way?
Before we arrived at the Freedom Farm, we thought we were living a fairly off-grid lifestyle in our old motorhome, however we quickly realised that we had been taking for granted the ability to fill up and empty our tanks at the many Aires across Europe. So it has been back to basics in some ways, but we’re proud of how we are managing and that we haven’t (yet!) given up when things have got tough.
We have always dreamed of a homestead of our own, and our stay so far has been an amazing apprenticeship under Max and Nic’s tutelage and we now know more than ever that this is what we are aiming for.
If you had a magic wand and you could give a gift to the Freedom farm, what would you give?
As much gravel and concrete as would be needed to resurface the whole Campo road! It’s wonderful being in the middle of nowhere, especially if you are just visiting for a bit, but we recognise how much of a challenge it is, especially for Nic, when the need for anything requires a minimum two-hour round trip to the local town.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about coming to the Freedom Farm?
Do it! Even a few days at the Freedom Farm can introduce you to a whole new way of life, the Farm is in a beautiful location and you will be sure of a very warm welcome from Max and Nic, and some delicious local produce from the farm!
What advice would you give to someone coming to the Freedom Farm?
Like us, you may think that you are used to off-grid living, especially if you’ve been on the road for a while but this is proper back to basics off-grid life, so be prepared! We would recommend you make sure you have a good solar set up if you need to use electricity during your stay, although on sunny days you can charge devices at the house.
If you are in a van/motorhome, visit a local Aire (such as the one in Caspe) to fill up and empty water etc… at every opportunity. Max and Nic can provide you a compost loo (dry toilet) but if you have an onboard toilet we’d recommend leaving this chemical free so that you can use it during your stay if you need to. Also don’t forget that you can’t just “pop” out for a pint of milk etc so bring supplies (including drinking water) for your stay.
If you are planning on tent camping – come in Spring/Summer! Whilst the Freedom Farm is in a mild climate, it can still get cold at night (and wet!).