Four shepherds in Spain strive for a sustainable lifestyle by living within their means.
The small village of Morillo de Sampietro is situated atop a steep and forested valley in the Pyrenees region of Spain. Down below, the sparkling Rio Yesa can be seen, while in the distance, the snowy peaks of Monte Perdido can be admired.
In 1860, the population of Morillo was 76 people. However, by 1995, this number had significantly decreased to just two individuals. Currently, there has been a slight increase, with a total of four residents in the town.
Jesus Huertas and Aina Solana, who both left city life to become shepherds, reside in one of the hamlet’s homes for free as a reward for rescuing it from decay.
In recent months, Agustín Sesé, 52, and his partner Sara Rosado, 42, who have been living in the deserted village since 2014, were joined by Morillo’s only other residents – a family of shepherds for three generations.
Fate brought together Huertas, who is 38 years old and used to work as a lab technician in Madrid, and Solana, who is 26 and studied anthropology in Barcelona, with Sesé and Rosado for a project that aims to live a minimalistic and environmentally-friendly life in the mountains.
The flock of sheep and goats will now be used to produce cheese. A crowdfunding campaign was launched to fund the project, called Siricueta after the Aragonese term for whey. They were able to exceed their goal of €26,000 (£22,000) in just one month.
“We are striving to be environmentally responsible and create a high-quality product,” Sesé explains. “And if this can support one or two individuals, that would be fantastic. I have confidence that it is achievable.”
There is ample opportunity to inhale the fresh mountain air, but there are still tasks to be completed. Each day at nine in the morning, one of the four individuals takes 50 sheep and 10 goats out to pasture and does not come back until 5pm. During the summertime, the days are extended.
Due to the decline in population and the return of the land to its natural forest state, the terraced hillsides have become covered in vegetation and there are no longer any open meadows. As a result, the flock must travel long distances across steep valleys in search of food.
In addition to taking care of the flock, there are many tasks involved in maintaining both the village and the farm. With the necessary funds, the group of four is now embarking on building a cheese factory. The factory will initially focus on producing 2,000kg of sheep and goat cheese to be sold in the local area.
While the water is provided at no cost and they utilize solar energy, they still incur costs for gasoline and animal feed despite having minimal expenses.
Rosado explains, “Agustín and I engage in freelance shepherding for four to five months each year in order to earn some income. However, it is not enough to support a family of four.”
Despite the term “sustainability” being diluted by insincere efforts from governments and companies, Rosado and the rest view it as a worthwhile pursuit and an ideal to strive towards, even if it remains just beyond their grasp.
The speaker emphasizes that there are multiple interpretations of rural life. She believes that the key aspect is to show respect towards the local residents and be willing to learn from their experiences, rather than approaching it as a colonizer. Merely working remotely in a rural area does not equate to truly living a rural lifestyle.
They gather food, cultivate crops, raise chickens and hunt, occasionally sacrificing one of their birds.
Aina explains that during her time in Barcelona, she followed a vegetarian diet in order to live sustainably. However, her experience as a shepherd taught her that the key is not simply abstaining from meat, but rather making the most of the resources available to you.
The lifestyle in Morillo is not suitable for those who are outgoing. The closest town is a 30-minute drive on an unpaved road. While it may appear challenging, Rosado, a shepherd for 13 years, believes it all depends on one’s interpretation of “difficult”.
She expresses, “I did not have a positive experience in the city. I have always felt apprehensive around people and I am more at ease in the mountains. I have a preference for animals over people.”
“I am not particularly outgoing and do not enjoy being around large groups of people, which is often the case in a city,” shares Huertas, as Solana expresses her fatigue with human interaction: “We may believe we are skilled at communication due to our use of language, but to me, much of it is just chaotic noise.”
However, they are not entirely cut off from the outside world. The 4G network in the mountains has strong coverage and Aina, who is 26 years old, is just as active on Instagram as any other person her age.
“My ancestors hailed from these mountains,” she explains. “I am carrying on their legacy because I strongly believe in it. The liberties I have are a trade-off for any sacrifices. We are instigating a major transformation in our lifestyles, from our consumption habits to how we stay warm and interact with our surroundings.”
This is a political belief, where I see myself as the protector of the land I reside in. I believe that my actions here have a beneficial impact.