You are on page 1of 18

Posada del Valle

The hotel,the farm and the enviroment

What we do and why
Hugh Taylor and Nigel Burch, October 2007

Hotel Posada del Valle, 33549 Collia, Arriondas, Asturias, Spain Tel. 00 34 985 841157 Fax 00 34 985 841559

Contents. 1 Introduction. 2 The hotel and farm at Posada del Valle. 2.1 The history and evolution of the hotel and farm. 2.2 The overall philosophy and aims of the hotel. 3 The farm. 3.1 Why are we organic? 3.2 The vegetable garden. 3.3 The orchards. 3.4 The livestock. 3.5 Nature conservation. 3.6 The wildflower meadows. 3.7 Other farm-products. 3.8 Seed-saving and local varieties. 4 The food you eat in our restaurant. 4.1 Home grown produce. 4.2 Supporting local and organic producers. 4.3 Our buying policy. 4.4 The eco-dilemma. 4.5 Catering for vegetarians. 5 Other environmental initiatives. 5.1 Energy. 5.2 Water. 5.3 Waste, packaging, recycling, and composting. 5.4 Working with local people. 5.5 Walking routes, public transport, and guest bikes. 5.6 Other initiatives. 6 Sharing information. 7 Appendix 1 Biodiversity. 7.1 What does biodiversity mean? 7.2 Biodiversity and farming. 8 Appendix 2 Sustainability.

1. Introduction.
Hotel Posada del Valle is a small rural hotel within sight of the stunning Picos de Europa, in green Asturias, northern Spain. Renowned for its home-grown cuisine, the hotel is surrounded by its own extensive organic farm. In the following pages we talk about the hotel and farm, discussing topics such as organic farming, nature conservation, environmentally-sensitive tourism, and resource management.

2. The hotel and farm at Posada del Valle

2.1. The history and evolution of the hotel and farm.
Nigel and Joann came to Asturias from the south of Spain in September 1995, ready for a change of lifestyle. Nigel had been working as an agribusiness crop productionist with a lot of responsibility and stress. We wanted an old farm house to rennovate as a hotel or guesthouse, with some ground around it, to keep us in touch with the land. We discovered and decided on Posada del Valle. We opened the hotel for Easter 1997, originally with 8 bedrooms, having planted 2.5ha of the original 5ha farm with cider apples, and introduced a small flock of sheep. Our first vision for Posada del Valle was a small charming hotel. At first we did not want to integrate the farm with the hotel, wary of this product mix in the Spanish market We soon began to realise the potential Asturias has for walkers, so Nigel did a walk-leadership course in the UK, and for the following 5 years we specialised in offering guided and self-guided walking from what we considered a nice accommodation base. This was very successful, and occupancy levels went from strength to strength, so in 2003 we expanded the hotel with another 4 bedrooms and a second lounge.

It became obvious that many of the guests who were interested in walking were also very environmentally aware, with interests in natural history and local culture, as well as environmental issues. As this mirrored very much our own interests we began to orientate the hotels ethos along these lines. One of the earliest initiatives, in 2001, was to convert the farm to an organic farm and have it certified. In 2004 we began to take our environmental responsibilities even more seriously, and using the European Eco Label accommodation guidelines we completely revised all hotel operations. One suggestion we particularly liked was the use of organic food in the hotel restaurant, so we began to source quality local and organic products, and, along with our other environmental initiatives, this became an important part of the hotel product. In 2005 we began to incorporate the farm into the hotel, introducing the farm trail for guests, and using more farmproducts in the restaurant. We replaced orange juice with apple juice from our apple orchard, and no longer sold our lamb to local restaurants but served it in our own restaurant. Our vegetable plot was providing an ever increasing amount of fresh vegetables. In 2007 we developed a farm management plan, with the idea to develop rich wildlife habitats, in particular wildflower meadows, integrated with low intensity farming. This was the first year we employed a farm helper, for 6 months, allowing a greater input into the farm, which now totalled 8ha. Of this, we identified 2.5ha of the farm worthy of specific management for wildlife habitats, having begun detailed flora and fauna lists of the different areas. In 2008 we received the "Organic food and biodiversity" award for the hotel or restaurant that best uses organic food in its gastronomic offer. This was awarded by the Spanish Ministry for the Environment in association with the Biodiversity Foundation. Winning this national award makes all the hard work seem worthwhile, as it both recognises and symbolises our beliefs in organic farming and biodiversity

2.2. The overall philosophy and aims of the hotel.

To be a viable business. To offer an enjoyable high-quality experience for our guests. To have a low environmental impact. To co-operate with likeminded producers, especially in the local area. To integrate our farm into the hotel. To further our guests understanding and appreciation of biodiversity, nature conservation, and food production systems. To share our beliefs and experiences with others.

3. The farm.
Hotel Posada del Valle is surrounded by its own 8 hectare certified organic farm. The farm is managed to develop rich wildlife habitats, in particular wildflower meadows, integrated with low intensity farming; to produce commercial crops of lamb, breeding sheep and cider apples; and to produce fresh fruit and vegetables for the hotel restaurant. Guests are invited to follow the farm trail to see for themselves.

3.1. Why are we organic?

Our main reasons are:

the environmentally-sound production techniques, higher levels of animal welfare, our concerns about social justice, the health benefits of eating organic foods.

Organic farming means that we cannot (and do not want to) use genetically modified organisms, artificial fertilisers, or artificial pesticides. Organic farming therefore means a more sustainable, stable, transparent food-production system founded on biodiversity, a healthy soil, and high human input (both hands-on and cerebral).

3.2. The vegetable garden.

80 to 90% of vegetables used in the hotel restaurant are grown in our vegetable garden. From garden to kitchen is about 100 metres. A diverse range of crops is grown in a four-year rotation, based on each crop-familys disease potential and preferred soil fertility level. Year 1: The solanaceae family potato, tomato, capsicum, and aubergine. By far the largest area is dedicated to potatoes. Year 2: The brassica family cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. We also include leafbeet in this rotation. Year 3: The legume family peas and beans. Legumes are nitrogen-fixing, so increase soil nitrogen levels and therefore fertility. Year 4: The allium family onion, garlic, and leek. We include carrots, parsnips, and beetroot with this family.

The predominant reason for this rotation is pest management (soil-borne pathogens). Each crop family has its particular nemesis club-root for brassicas, nematodes for solonaceae, and scleretonia for alliums so by rotating the families we repress their pathogens, thus keeping diseases at minimal levels.

Crops grown which do not fit into the rotation include cucumber, courgette, squash, pumpkin, Jerusalem artichoke, and lettuces. These are planted in beds that become available, again taking care not to plant them in the same bed time after time. We also have a perennial bed (for globe artichoke and asparagus), a herb bed, and in early 2008 we planted several beds of soft fruits (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, and blackcurrants). The raspberries and strawberries produced their first crops in the summer and autumn of 2008. The vegetable garden is a dynamic system. We are constantly trying to improve performance by trialing different organic methods, and keeping records of those trials. If a crop fails we ask why, and try to counteract the source of failure. A good example of adapting our garden to local conditions, is the problem we have with birds eating our peas before they ripen fully, and our answer is to pick the peas immature, as mange-tout, before the birds eat them. We also have a problem with carrot-root-fly, maybe due to the amount of wild carrot in the area, so we sow and harvest our carrots early, out of synch with the root-fly lifecycle. After harvesting each crop, the empty bed has the required amounts of manure, compost, and leafmould dug into it for the next crop, or ready for the next season, and a cover crop is sown. This is simply to cover the earth, preventing soil erosion, and repressing weed growth over the mild wet Asturian winter. Our main cover crop is oats, having experimented with and rejected both buckwheat and alfalfa . Come the following growing season, we pull the cover crop out and compost it cover crops are selected to pull out far easier than weeds, whilst leaving the soil with a good breadcrumb structure. The vegetable garden is by far the most intensive part of the farm, with respect to labour and know-how. This type of intensive vegetable production is a very important element of sustainable food production, particularly in developing countries.

3.3. The orchards.

2.5ha of the farm are organic cider-apple orchard. Apples, and the cider brewed from them, are very popular in Asturias. Our orchards are planted with seven Asturian varieties of cider-apple, each of which looks different, tastes different, and ripens at a slightly different time diversity, in general, is a good thing. As in a traditional extensive orchard, we graze our sheep at particular times of year, which both feeds the sheep, and keeps the grass down this reduces competition for the apple trees, and helps us find the apples once they fall to ground. Every autumn we spend 2 or 3 weeks picking the apples by hand, and lugging sackfuls of them around the farm. In 2008 we produced 4.5 tonnes of apples, equivalent to 4 cider-press fills. Our neighbour, Juan-Ramon, brings his tractor round to help. Antonio, whose wife Paula makes the jams served at breakfast, collects the apples from us, presses them, and pasteurises the juice. This is what you drink in the morning (also available at the bar!).

3.4. The livestock.

We keep a flock of Xalda sheep, a hardy Asturian breed now registered by the Slow Food movement as worthy of conservation. At present we have 35 breeding females; some are white and some are black due to genetic diversity. They are rotated around the meadows and orchards to a set pattern in-tune with the flowering and seeding times of wildflower species (and fed on our own hay, plus organic fodder, over the winter). This allows us to: serve home-reared organic lamb in our restaurant; conserve a rare-breed (thus increasing biodiversity); use the sheep to manage our wildflower meadows. We also have two black Asturcon ponies, another local breed, whose sole function is to eat, thereby assisting the sheep (and us) in managing the meadows. Sheep and ponies never graze side by side, always in rotation, keeping parasites to a minimum, in the same way as rotating crops keeps soil-pathogens to a minimum. We are further assisted in this by a small brood of field-range chickens, expert omnivorous scavengers, who eat sheep-ticks and other nasties, and pick over the kitchen compost, as well as providing us with delicious eggs. The chickens are not slaughtered for the restaurant due to logistical problems, mainly the distance to a suitable abattoir. They poke around the farm all day, eating parasites, and toddle home voluntarily at sunset. This mix of sheep, ponies, and chickens is a good example of biodiversity in action, as used to the advantage of the organic farmer. Each species has its own specific parasites present in the environment, yet when, say, a horse-parasite is ingested by a sheep, because the horse-parasite is not inside a horse, it cannot survive, and dies. Thus the three grazing species keep each others parasites in check, to the benefit of all.

3.5. Nature conservation.

A large portion of our farm is unimproved grassland, a semi-natural ecosystem that has suffered a great reduction in area over recent years. Unimproved grassland needs maintaining by a management system of cutting (meadows) and grazing (pastures), to keep soil nutrient levels low, and to halt the natural progression to woodland. Realising that our grasslands have very high biodiversity value, in 2001 we began to manage an area adjacent to the hotel specifically for wildflower species the Hotel Wildflower Meadow. A recent autumn survey in the meadow recorded 67 species of flora. Such areas of high wildflower diversity attract a wide range of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife, some of which are dependent upon one particular flora species. With the introduction of the farm-labourer/site-naturalist role in 2007 we began extensive flora and fauna surveys on the farm, which have so far identified 58 species of bird, 46 species of butterfly (including 6 species of fritillaries and 2 of swallowtail), 4 species of bat, and 322 species of flora (including 10 species of orchid). This survey work is a key stage in our wildlife management plan, and has enabled us to identify which parts of the farm to prioritise for wildlife management. More information, including species lists, can be found in the hotel's natural history folder.

In October 2008, after ten months of work and study, we created the Farm Flora Guide a celebration of biodiversity, containing photographs of over 300 of the species identified on the farm, plus detailed information on the areas where they occur. Further information can be found in the hotels natural history folder.

3.6. The wildflower meadows.

On the farm there are now three areas, totalling over 2.5 ha, which are specifically managed for flora and fauna. Due to different soil types and management practices, there is normally an abundance of wildflowers and associated fauna to be seen from early April to late October, depending on the year.

Hotel Wildflower Meadow.

This is the smallest of the meadows and is situated next to the hotel. It has been managed by us specifically for wildflowers for the longest time, and has the greatest diversity of flora. It was not a part of the original farm and has never been fertilised. Under our management plan it is always cut for hay in late June.

La Castaarina Meadow.
This grassland was reclaimed in 2003 after many years of agricultural disuse. It is marginal hill land with shallow soil and has many small limestone outcrops. The lower meadow is cut for hay and the higher pasture is grazed, creating two distinct plant communities. Due to its large size and open sunny areas it is ideal for butterflies.

Cuevona Meadow. This pasture is

shaped like a long cave and has areas which are more humid than the rest of the farm. This normally allows for better pasture growth through the drier summer months. The pasture is grazed till late April, then left till late August before it is grazed again. This produces good wildflowers from mid-June onwards, and ensures a constant food source for invertebrates. Cuevona is mostly surrounded by trees and is good for sighting birds - it is quite easy to see cirl bunting, serrin, and red-backed shrikes, amongst other species.

3.7. Other farm-products.

Cut flowers Nuts flowers used in the hotel are grown on site . our land has quite a few hazelnut, walnut, and chestnut trees and we are planting more; labour-permitting, the nuts are harvested in autumn, de-husked over the winter, and used in the restaurant. all wood used in our open-fires and wood-burning stoves is harvested on site, either from windblown trees, or from alien invasive species we are trying to eradicate (Australian eucalyptus, North American false acacia), though some wood is left to rot in-situ as wildlife habitat. this herb is grown in the vegetable garden and used to fragrance the soap (see section 4.3). we are currently looking into ways of introducing hives of indigenous bees onto the farm, to produce honey.

Firewood -

Lemon verbena Honey -

3.8. Seed-saving and local varieties.

It has been estimated that 75% of cultivated varieties bred over the past 10,000 years have been lost during the twentieth century. That means a loss of 75% of crop biodiversity. Cultivated varieties have been grown and selected over millennia to operate in the particular environments to which they have adapted, which can be very localised. At Posada del Valle we are maintaining local varieties of maize, beans, and onions through a cycle of growing and seed-collection. Our onion variety came from Mari-Joses family vegetable-plot in Collia, where they have grown and selected it for over forty years. It is well adapted to local conditions and consistently out-performs marketed hybrid onion varieties. We are also producing our own seeds of lettuce, chard, parsley, chervil, coriander, basil, and other herbs. Certified organic farms must use organic seed, of which some varieties are not always available. This encourages organic farmers to produce and use their own seed, and to exchange seed with fellow organic farmers. The ability of people and communities to define their own food systems is known as food sovereignty. Everyone has a right to choose, grow and eat their own foods, rather than have decisions forced upon them. At the heart of this is the seed, and the right to save, swap, and use seed as a common resource rather than a privatised pay-per-view commodity. The current struggle over seed rights is one of the most important issues in world agriculture.

4. The food you eat in our restaurant.

The food served in our restaurant is primarily organic, usually local (but not necessarily organic), and over 30% of it is grown here on the farm.

4.1. Home grown produce.

100% of the lamb, 100% of the apple-juice, and 80-90% of fresh vegetables used in the restaurant are home grown by us. We also use our own herbs, apples, eggs, maize-flour, and nuts where possible. As well as the intrinsic beauty of producing so much of our own foods, and of our guests being able to see exactly where much of their food comes from, our home grown produce has many advantages over conventional produce: the food is more nutritious, flavoursome, and fresh; it is picked when ripe for a fuller flavour; eating is seasonal so in-tune with nature; we are very much connected to the production process we grow, harvest, cook, and serve the food, so our guests can put a human face to its production; local varieties are maintained; the soil is not overexploited but nurtured; there are zero food-miles, so zero transport pollution; overall energy input is low (it has been calculated that for every unit of energy we receive from conventional food, ten units of energy have been used to produce and transport it); biodiversity is conserved and/or enhanced; there is zero packaging waste; we are helping to reclaim the concept of food-sovereignty; no synthetic chemicals are used, meaning healthier soil, environment, and food

4.2. Supporting local and organic producers.

By working with local and organic (and small-scale) producers, we support their livelihoods, obtain quality products for the hotel, and increase the economic appeal of more sustainable production techniques. We therefore offer, for example, cheese-platters that are either Asturian or Spanish organic; a wine list that is 100% Spanish organic, with a local cider, or organic beer; plus a range of organic spirits and organic teas; whilst our kitchen ingredients, such as milk, butter, and flour, are purchased predominantly from an organic supplier. Other examples include: The jams and marmalades served at breakfast are made from local organic fruits and organic sugar (and nothing else) by Paula, whose husband Antonio turns our apples into juice (see section 3.3). The yoghurts are made by Jose, a local artisan, using nothing but milk, fruits and nuts, all of which are organic. The beef served in our restaurant is from Angel-Merinos herd of Asturian mountain cattle, which live in the nearby Sueve mountains during the summer, and on his farm over winter he is one of the areas youngest organic farmers, at only 38. One of the organic vineyards featured in our wine list is Aroa, a traditional family-run bodega in Navarra, whose small output of prize-winning wines uses only the natural yeasts present on the grape skins for fermentation, thus producing non-standardised wines of great character. The truly free-range chickens we serve are from an ecovillage in Palencia, northern Spain, where they are slaughtered and packed on-site. Using products of organic local small-scale agriculture is the next best thing to producing items ourselves. Small-scale is specified here because even organic large-scale agriculture can sometimes tend towards unsustainable monoculture, albeit still more environmentally-sensitive than chemically-enhanced monoculture; because studies have proved that small farms outperform large farms by four times on average, in terms of yield per hectare; and because, as the economist E.F. Schumacher so powerfully phrased it, Small is beautiful.

We believe that organic local small-scale agriculture is a massive step towards solving the planets environmental problems, and at the same time improving humanitys ability to feed itself. It is arguably the only alternative to global agribusiness that is currently operational and viable, and has many advantages over its bigger rival:

It operates primarily at a local level, employing and feeding local people, enriching the local economy, reducing food-miles and associated pollution, and is more in-tune with local conditions, needs, and traditions; It conserves biodiversity, by not poisoning or eroding or fertilising the land, by providing a range of habitats for wildlife, and by being more likely to grow and maintain local varieties; It produces healthier, tastier, and more nutritious foods; It has evolved over long periods of time to suit the local climate and other specific conditions, and has resulted from centuries and millennia of farmers craft; It does not use antibiotics as preventative medicines or to fatten livestock; It is more likely to be a mixed and diverse agriculture, rather than vast areas of monocrop; The supply chain is far shorter and therefore more transparent, with less food wastage; It is much less likely that people have been forcibly displaced from their lands to make way for large plantations.

4.3. Our buying policy.

Under the global market economy, the biggest impact that individuals can have is how they choose to spend their money. At Posada del Valle, therefore, our buying policy is as follows: quality product, organic, local, small-scale (eg. family-run, community-run, produced by an artisan or small-employer), environmentally, socially, and culturally responsible, fairtrade (where applicable, such as tea and coffee), ethics put before profits. In other words, products that are good, clean, and fair (Carlo Petrini, Slow Food founder) good to eat; clean by having minimised environmental, cultural, and social pollution; and fair to the producers and animals involved. Our buying policy does not apply only to food and drink, but to all purchases, as typified by the soap we provide for guests. Made by Luis, a local artisan, our soap uses organic Spanish olive-oil (because we cant source a supply of sustainable palm-oil) and the lemon verbena we grow in our vegetable garden. He delivers the soap in 2kg blocks, which we then cut to size for use in the hotel, thus eliminating packaging waste. These bars of soap embody our entire buying policy in one product.

4.4. The eco-dilemma.

When we start to think about and care about where our food and other products come from, we enter the mire of the eco-dilemma. Should we buy local butter, or organic butter imported from Holland? Should we buy Spanish non-organic wine, or high-mileage Chilean organic wine? Should we buy organic beer in non-returnable bottles, or non-organic beer in returnable bottles? Should we fly, or take the ferry or coach (and should we donate to a carbon offsetting scheme to compensate for our travel)? These are highly personal decisions, dependent on many factors and thought-processes, and answerable only by ourselves as individuals. But, in case youre wondering, at Hotel Posada del Valle we use Dutch organic butter because there is no Spanish alternative (and we dont want to support intensive dairy industry), we buy only Spanish organic wines, we offer both a Spanish organic and a local non-organic beer - and the latter eco-dilemma really is up to you....

4.5.Catering for vegetarians.

Vegetarian options are always available at the hotel, for two reasons. Firstly, because we respect vegetarians and wish to cater to the needs of our guests. Secondly, because the modern western diet has come to contain too much meat, which is unhealthy for both consumers and the environment. A meat-based diet requires up to eight times more land to support than a vegetarian diet; is highly inefficient in terms of fuel and energy required; and raises serious animal-welfare issues We believe that a good healthy diet, based on a traditional and more sustainable mixed farming system, is comprised of a lot of staple foods (maize, wheat, rice, potatoes), a good helping of vegetables and fruit, plus some dairy products and eggs - and a small amount of meat, eaten occasionally.

5. Other environmental initiatives.

5.1. Energy.
Energy consumption is an issue of global importance, and we are all aware of the repercussions of over consumption (climate change etc...), but, as always, we must think global, act local. Thats why, at Posada del Valle, we are taking the following steps to reduce our energy use:

energy efficient light bulbs are used wherever possible, along with sensors and time switches; we have installed solar panels for hot water and central heating; the boiler is maintained regularly for optimum efficiency; low energy appliances are used where possible; we make use of passive solar power where possible; our windows are all double-glazed; we have incorporated individual room temperature controls in guest bedrooms; we train our staff and ask our guests not to waste energy.

Wherever we live, clean drinking water is precious. Unlike most of Spain, Asturias is normally blessed with a good quantity of rainfall, but even here we sometimes experience dry periods where water supply can be a problem. Thinking globally and acting locally, we are taking steps to minimise the amount of water the hotel and farm uses: we have reduced the flow rates of showers and taps to more efficient levels; we have installed water-efficient dual-flush toilet systems; we avoid irrigating crops and watering pants during the hot hours of the day; we train our staff on the importance of leaks and efficient water-management; we are installing a rainwater collection system; we ask our guests not to waste water.

5.3. Waste, packaging, recycling, and composting.

When we throw something away, in reality there is no away, there is only somewhere else, and at that somewhere else our waste is polluting and a problem. At Posada del Valle we aim to minimise our waste by: adopting measures to reduce the volume of non-recyclable waste we produce, for example, by avoiding individually packaged items and disposables, and using refillable bottles where possible; collecting our paper, glass, and plastic to be recycled; providing a collection point for guests recycling; composting organic waste for use on the farm (creating food from waste!).

5.4. Working with local people.

All our staff live locally, within 3km, thus reducing pollution from staff miles when they travel to work. As has been discussed earlier, we support local livelihoods as much as possible, especially of likeminded initiatives, whilst not forsaking quality. We provide guests with a list of establishments selling local produce, plus local restaurants, and our walking notes include stops at small rural bars.

5.5. Walking routes, public transport, and guest bikes.

We have spent a lot of time researching a number of circular walks that start and end at the hotel, and can now offer guests a weeks itinerary of self-guided walking notes, some of which involve the use of public transport, allowing guests to leave their cars behind and explore the surrounding countryside in a more environmentally-sensitive manner. We also offer walking notes, maps, and information on a range of other walks in the local area, plus public transport information, the free use of two bicycles (with helmets), and a list of environmentally-sensitive activities in the area, such as bird watching and botanising.

5.6. Other initiatives.

When available we use environmentally-friendly or eco-labelled cleaning products. We train all our staff on environmental issues.

6.0. Sharing information.

Sharing information is one of the most important aspects of the work we do. We have a long-term objective of trying to show that extensive organic farming and diverse cropping systems can be profitable, so it may become of more interest to other farmers in the area, and beyond. We also try to be a good example of a tourist establishment that is both viable and environmentally-sensitive. To meet these objectives we raise awareness of Posada del Valle through our website, blog, newspapers and magazines, television, local and international networking, and media releases. For example, in 2007 and 2008 we appeared on Asturian television five times, on Asturian radio six times, in three local Asturian newspapers, and in the UKs Daily Telegraph, Guardian and Independent. We are now well-known (and hopefully respected!) in the local area, extending beyond the farming community, and are often asked to help with environmental education and discussion groups such as showing a group of local teachers around the farm and hotel to raise their awareness of environmental issues, or participating in a round-table meeting about sustainability and alternative production systems.

We also try to inspire greater awareness of environmental issues amongst our guests, by encouraging discussion, and providing information in the form of books, magazines and folders, as well as our farm-trail with interpretation boards.

Appendix 1 - Biodiversity.
7.1 What does biodiversity mean?
Biodiversity (biological diversity) is defined as "The variability among living organisms from all sources.....and the ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems". - The 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Put simply, all organisms, variations, and interactions in a given area or ecosystem. Biodiversity means stability. In general, the more diverse an ecosystem is, the more stable it is, and the more rapidly it will recover from stress. The less biodiversity in an ecosystem, the more vulnerable it is to extinction. Biodiversity is natures way of not putting all your eggs in one basket; it is the Earths life-support system; it is the accumulation of 3.5 billion years of coexistence and experience of all life forms.

7.2 Biodiversity and farming.

Single-crop farming does not take advantage of the principles by which nature works.....Nature has introduced great variety into the landscape, but man has displayed a passion for simplifying it. Thus he undoes the built-in checks and balances by which nature holds the species in bounds. Rachel Carson, biologist, author of Silent Spring (published 1962).

Crop monoculture is the opposite of biodiversity. Monocultures are highly vulnerable to speciesspecific diseases (think of the Irish potato famine), as there are no species present in the system except that diseases favourite prey. This is why monocultures require huge amounts of pesticide input, and are neither stable nor sustainable. In comparison, traditional non-industrial mixed agriculture works with biodiversity, using it to its advantage:

by growing a variety of crops in the same area, either intermingled or in rotation, making it more difficult for diseases to build up in the environment; by controlling pests through companion planting, where carefully-chosen plants are grown alongside the crop, either to deter pests, or as sacrificial plants to attract pests away from the crop, or to attract pest-predators; by encouraging natural pest predators, for example when raptor-perches are installed in orchards to encourage birds of prey and therefore control rodent populations; by sowing nitrogen-fixing green-manures or cover-crops to promote soil fertility; by composting weeds; by mulching woodland leaves.

Therefore, biodiversity is highly important in organic agriculture. One of the reasons that Posada del Valle has few problems with crop pests is the high biodiversity on the farm and in the surrounding area. One simple way of reducing biodiversity is to apply fertiliser. This allows the more vigorous species to out compete and kill off the less vigorous species. No artificial fertilisers are used in organic farming.

Appendix 2 Sustainability.

Sustainability is a characteristic of a process or state that can be maintained at a certain level indefinitely. For instance, "sustainable agriculture" would require agricultural systems expected to last indefinitely. Sustainable development, as defined by the Brundtland Commission (1983), is development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Put simply, that which can be continued indefinitely without exhausting resources. Are the hotel and farm at Posada del Valle sustainable? There is a sliding scale between the extremes of truly sustainable and downright destructive, and every point between the two extremes is unsustainable to a greater or lesser degree. Our task at Posada del Valle is to edge as far towards truly sustainable as we possibly can, by operating as sustainably as is practical. In this, we believe we are improving, but still have some way to go.

Further Information.
To find out more, please see:Clark, Duncan; The Rough Guide to Ethical Living; Rough Guides, 2006. Tudge, Colin; Feeding People is easy. Pari Publishing, 2007 (an international non-governmental organisation which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity, based on people's control over genetic resources and local knowledge). (a non-profit organisation founded to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and peoples dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world). (a charity dedicated to monitoring power, tracking technology, and strengthening diversity). (by the Soil Association).

With thanks to those who contributed to the writing, and to the hotel staff, but most of all to our guests, without whom our work could not continue
Hugh Taylor and Nigel Burch, October 2007 (updated October 2008)