Tucked away in the Seville’s San Julian neighborhood, Luciano Furcas cultivates a community of permaculture pioneers. Through working with schoolchildren and friends in the development of sustainable agricultural ecosystems, Luciano demonstrates that hope for the future stirs in the soil.
SETTING DOWN ROOTS
“We are what we eat, and if we can work to create our own food with our Mother Earth, I believe we can become more ourselves.”
In faded blue jeans and a matted forest green fleece, Luciano Furcas, 66, strolls through the Huerta de Santa Marina schoolyard into his modest yet verdant oasis. A chorus of “hello” and “buongiorno” ring out from a handful of bright-eyed volunteers stationed in the garden beds.
On any given weekday, Luciano can be found in either the Huerta de Santa Marina school garden or the nearby urban orchard Huerta del Rey Moro, off calle Enladrillada in old town Seville. Taking care of these green spaces, he has become a community figure to whom people of all ages gravitate.
“Luciano, Luciano!” One young girl in bouncing pigtails shouts as she careens over on pink roller skates. She embraces him as one would a beloved grandfather. “How tall you’ve grown!” Luciano gestures with his hand that she now nearly surpasses the height of his shoulder. Teachers and parents alike approach him as he crosses the cement schoolyard to ask about the garden or simply exchange an affectionate (while prickly) kiss on both cheeks. Even those who do not have direct connection with the garden often recognize his name or remember the man with the toothy smile framed by a scruffy beard which cascades into a tidy white braid.
Although it would seem Luciano had grown up in this community, it has been 15 years since he put down roots in the city and 30 since he arrived in Spain for the first time.
The story of Luciano begins 1,358 km east of Seville, in a small agrarian town called Cagliari on the island of Sardinia, Italy. His parents, Demetrio and Maria, worked closely with the land as a form of subsistence; so, from a young age, Luciano understood the power of the land to nurture and shape a community.
“I come from the countryside, so I have always been interested in the relationship between my parents and their source of livelihood,” he remarks. In a world recuperating from World War II, industrialization provided a new social organization. Luciano, however, would heed wisdom from his community, staying close to resources at hand. “Children were learning from two teachers; one was the decisions that society made, and the other was the consciousness of parents who saw to the day-to-day cultivation of food to feed their families,” he explains.
Luciano’s paternal grandfather, Raymundo, lived with the family and woke early each morning to work in the fields. “When he returned he would always bring me something, like a tomato, one of those little red spheres,” Luciano recounts with a flicker of childlike joy. When he was a young boy, it was his grandfather who kept him most in contact with the countryside by sharing the smells and the flavors of the fields. As he grew up, however, Luciano began a more direct dialogue with his parents about their knowledge of cultivation.
At 16, he approached his father with an observation. “Papa, every Sunday I see you dressed in a white shirt, but I never see you going to church like everybody else.” His father replied, “‘It is in the countryside that I can find God on Sundays; I can’t find Him in the church.” Luciano would begin to detect a spiritual connection with nature too and continue to question the belief systems of mainstream society.
Working with the land was a familiar reality to Luciano while he grew up, but his own understanding of sustainable cultivation emerged after a period of individual exploration. “When I moved from my homeland, it was to look for another way to interpret my life.” For the better part of his thirties, Luciano found himself in Rome, which had suffered severe earthquake damage. He worked with newfound companions to reconstruct the area and discovered processes of bioconstruction and passive energy design.
“I rediscovered the land after asking myself, ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ I found bioconstruction, rebuilding with natural and local materials, and this took me back to my roots.” At the suggestion of his peers, Luciano decided to move to Tarifa, a small town located in the Strait of Gibraltar, in the province of Cádiz, in the south of Spain. There he continued to develop his skills in permaculture and sustainable design through projects such as the Galería de Arte Elemental, an intentional community dedicated to living with respect for nature and art. After 15 years in Tarifa, Luciano picked up once again to help with ecological projects in the heart of Seville and began to foster the bountiful community that surrounds him today.
TASKS AT HAND
“One is not what he says, but what he does. That’s why I try to dedicate myself to doing more than talking.” With an effortless smile, Luciano folds his sturdy arms and gazes out over the abundant foliage. In a soft and humble tone, he adds, “From words come images and such, but actions create landscapes.”
In 2011, after working some time in the Huerto del Rey Moro, the mother of a student who attended the nearby primary public school Huerta de Santa Marina asked Luciano if he would teach children there. By constructing the raised garden beds now overflowing with edible foliage, Luciano has helped transform a corner of the enclosed concrete playground into an open-air classroom. In the five years he has worked to establish the garden, the program has grown to include new teachers and ample opportunities for the children to work with and appreciate the land.
Lessons in the garden are not one-sided. “It’s important to teach the children, but we are also learning with them. More than teaching, it is about remembering where we come from and figuring out where we are going.”
Now more than ever, Luciano understands the importance of his work guiding his community to see the benefits of permaculture. Without significant cuts to carbon emissions, researchers predict ecosystems in the Mediterranean and southern Spain will transform into desert within the next century. This biodiverse area is particularly vulnerable and has experienced higher temperature increases than the global average – 1.3 ºC compared to 1 ºC since the industrial revolution. “We are in a city where everything is very crowded together. A city needs at least 20 square meters of green for each inhabitant,” explains Luciano. Seville, like most modern-day cities, has nowhere near that amount of green space. The municipal register cites that the province of Seville has seen about 10% population growth in the past 10 years; so, addressing the protection of green space becomes increasingly important to the city’s sustainability.
Luciano is also aware of the culture of consumerism that perpetuates our collective disconnect from the Earth. Yet he maintains a measured tone and knowing gaze, as if he also understands the naiveté in sensationalizing this self-inflicted tragedy. “We call it crisis, but the crisis has a connotation of depression. We must be rethinking our actions because if we want another result we cannot continue doing the same things we’ve been doing,” he explains.
By introducing principles of interdependence with the land, Luciano intends to share the possibility of a more sustainable future. “Sharing a new approach with the people who come here to the garden, sharing this vision, gives me hope.”
“I’m not completely sure yet if I do this well or not, because I cannot decide that. I only interact with the present,” Luciano explains thoughtfully. From his perspective, the way to reclaiming our balance with the environment must be decided amongst the members of the community.
“I believe the word hope, more than anything, means ‘wanting to hope’.” But the future transcends the capacity of dreams. “I always hope for something known, but what I’m looking for I do not know. I’m looking for something that is the answer to everything. And so, this something I can not conceptualize.” What he can work for is to care for the resources in front of him now. “We should return the Earth at least a little better than we found it to our children. We have the luxury of remembering how we found it so we can now return the land more whole.”
“There is a lot of work, but mainly you have to redefine what work is,” Luciano reflects. The garden remains in constant flux with the seasons and the various community members who tend their plots within. But plants know how to look after themselves. “They are really the teachers,” Luciano remarks respectfully. His work is to facilitate the harmony that already exists in the natural space. He motions towards a cat resting in the warm sun; “The cat takes care of the space and so does the plant. Maybe the cat and the plant don’t speak the same language but they understand very well how to live here together.”
“We have a planet and nothing else; it is very important that we appreciate this.” While people could dwell on a sense of scarcity, Luciano presents the possibility of recognizing the abundance that exists in just one garden. Permaculture implements the natural cycles of local ecosystems, involving patient observation and collaborative orchestration of all living creatures. Luciano doesn’t have kids of his own, but one volunteer of the Huerto del Rey Moro jokes, “The plants are his mother, father, and children.” After all, it is the plants together with the people that make up the garden’s ecosystem and make the space a kind of family.
Luciano’s ever-growing network of people and experiences sheds new light on the enduring wisdom of his father. “I find God less in the city, but I began to realize God is also in the eyes of the people in front of me.” He explains, “A person may not be a field, but still, it is in a person where many things grow. And we are all parts of the same field, the same land.”
The sun illuminates intricate murals on the once barren concrete walls that cradle the garden of Huerto del Rey Moro. “A day is a summary of a year and a year could be a summary of 70 years.” The future may be uncertain; the solutions to our aching world still unknown, but a moment together in the garden is all we have, and a moment together is enough. •