Interview


Elvira Marín Irigaray

“For my parents, due to the minimal chances the rural area provided, there was no choice but to live in the city. I choose to work at Alvelal because I want my daughter to have a choice whether she wants to live in a city or in rural areas.”

Elvira Marín Iragaray

Coordinator at Asociación AlVelAl

What was your first memory as a child?

The taste of almond. Every October and November, during the almond harvesting season, I would spend many days with my grandfather and my father in a truck collecting almonds. My brother and I would sit in the back of the truck with a stick with which we would move the almond trees. The almonds would fall into the truck and in the truck we would break the almonds with a stone. The taste of non-toasted almonds always brings me back to these days.

How would you describe your job to a child?

I have 2 daughters so I do this very often! I always say I try to help farmers to care for the soil, the environment and the landscape.

What and when moved you for this career?

My grandparents were farmers in a small village in the AlVelAl territory. My parents grew up there but then left to Grenada to study and find a job. For my parents, due to the minimal chances the rural area then provided, there was no choice but to live in the city. Hence, my siblings and I grew up in a city. The reason why I choose to work at Alvelal is because I want my daughters to have the ability to choose between a city or rural life. This is the reason why I am here. Regenerative agriculture provides an economical opportunity for young people to want to stay in rural areas.

If you could be anyone for a day, who would it be?

I would like to be the spanish call ‘an environmental agent’. These are people from the government who take care of our natural territories. They go to the mountains and sometimes spend a whole day in the silence of the mountain and the sounds of the landscapes, looking for birds and exploring the state of the landscape.

Can you tell us what inspires you?

At this moment, my inspiration are my daughters. I do my work for them and, in general, for all the children that are the generation to come.

What do you like most about your job?

I love working together with my team. We are a bunch of very different personalities, but it works perfectly together. I also enjoy connecting with people from other Commonland landscape projects and the Commonland’s teammembers.

What is it that you’re really proud of?

Regarding my work, I am very proud of our team at Alvelal. We have a great team, my colleagues are really good people and very talented. I feel very comfortable with them and learn from them every day. I feel that we can accomplish a lot together! Regarding my personal life, I am proud of being able to work in the territory where my family is from and to work on providing opportunities to the people from this area. My grandparent’s farm is one of the members of Alvelal. He is now 95 years old and cannot work on the farm anymore. However, he has a whole team, including my father, who works for him and continues to care for the farm and its soil.

What are you currently working on and what are the biggest challenges for that?

What I find very important is to have a strong team that is well-aligned with each other. Alvelal does not have an office, so we work from home or on the farms. Hence, I focus on ensuring that our team is a good team with good professionals who share the same objectives. The pandemic challenges our team as we now have to organise all the workshops (which we would normally do on the farms) online, but we are managing it well.

Best case scenario: How do you envision Alvelal in 15 years?

I imagine a large territory that is a powerful example for regenerative farming and natural soils and is an example for restored ecosystems where large numbers of pollinators and amphibia have returned. In 15 years we will also have enough business cases to have an economically interesting labour market in this territory. Moreover, our products will be sold internationally and be part of the supply chain of big multinationals.

We are collecting data on the different nutritious quality of conventionally, organically or regeneratively farmed almonds. This is very important to grow the movement.

Evira Marín Irigaray

What is the biggest challenge restraining this sketched future scenario?

To convince enough farmers. For this we need researched data, but luckily in two years we will have five years of collected data. This will help the story of Alvelal. Currently, we can only convince people by sharing the personal stories of farmers who are already switching to regenerative practices. This already is powerful; at our agro-experiences, farmers visit other farms and listen to the experience of these regenerative farmers. Many then get inspired to do the same. However, by combining the personal stories with enough research on the benefits of regenerative agriculture the step to change one’s practices can seem less daunting.

Could you tell me more about what you are doing research on?

We do research on three things. Firstly, green cover; we are trying to understand the perfect point of competition for water between our almond trees and the green cover surrounding these trees.

Secondly, we are collecting data on the different nutritious quality of conventionally, organically or regeneratively farmed almonds. This is very important to grow the movement. Once we can communicate to the consumers that healthy soil leads to more nutritious products it becomes easier to commercialize regenerative products.

Thirdly, we have experimental farms where we implement various regenerative practices to learn more about it. For example, we are currently planting aromatic plants between our almond trees to see if they produce a good essential oil.

We are here because a growing movement of farmers are changing the practices on their soil and farms.

Elvira Marín Irigaray

What other projects is Alvelal currently focusing on?

Our new project with ECOSIA on intelligent seeding is very exciting. We are creating a green corridor for biodiversity throughout our territory, for this we planted trees every year. However, this year, a drone has planted 200.000 seeds in 1 hour!! It was great. The drone can reach the steep areas of the mountain that humans cannot reach. Moreover, it can measure very accurately what the best place is to drop a seed. Another project we are working on is finding funding for a ‘shared regenerative machinery bank’. Many farmers cannot implement regenerative practices because they do not have machinery for this. If we could provide a shared machinery platform to the farmers of the Alvelal association this could be a key point in increasing the number of regenerative farmers. So, I am also focusing on fundraising this year, which I really enjoy. It is very nice to see the faces of the funders when we explain the project of Alvelal. It moves them because it is a project of people, of parents and children.

In what part of your job is Commonland the biggest help for you?

Commonland helps us a lot and in many ways. Of course, Commonland helps us financially, but also on day-to-day issues. I work very closely with Erica and can always contact her to discuss challenges I am struggling with. Erica helps me a lot. Also, regarding fundraising Commonland helps us by connecting us with potential donors.

Do you have tips or tricks for people wanting to do similar work as you do?

Regarding my own job, I would emphasize that to do this work it is necessary to really believe in the project of landscape restoration. You have to be completely aligned with the 4Returns methodology, because this is a job of 24 hours, 7 days a week. This belief motivates you to do this work every day. Regarding farmers committing to the 4Returns methodology, I would advise the following: If we want to change a territory and develop a restoration landscape project, it is necessary to start with the soil, then we can create healthy products for consumers.

Do you have a take-home message for us?

I would like to share that the success of Alvelal is thanks to the people working on the project. Without all the farmers, Alvelal would not exist. Everday they wake up, go to the farm and implement regenerative practices. They cannot afford to have a bad day and stay in bed, nor do they have holidays. So, we are here because a movement of farmers are changing the practices on their soil and farms.