Robbie Maltby

September 8, 2023

Farming as Metaphor

It's not required reading, but I wrote about my reasons for going farming here.

Little did I know the lessons I learned would reach far beyond farming...


It started badly. I missed my train stop, so Sergio had to drive an extra 30 kms round trip to pick me up. We agreed I would buy the beer to make up for the extra fuel. We were soon pals.

From the moment I met Sergio, it felt like I was in the company of a different version of myself, or an ancestor. He felt strangely like family.

This is me, Sergio, and his daughter Anita on a veggie drop-off.


Arriving at the farm, I was immediately given the low down on Lyca the dog, and her biologically fierce heritage.

She was a cross between German Shepherd and some other mongrel, so had all the smarts with a little extra bite. The strategy was to talk to Lyca, saying her name over and over, so she would come to know you as a friend.

So there I was, strolling back to my cabin in the middle of the night, in the pitch black, when I hear the dogs running towards me barking and growling, and I of course completely forget all their names.

After shitting my pants for a minute or so, I got inside, closed the door and spent my first night in the inferno that was Santiago do Cacém, Portugal.

I'd been to Portugal a few years back and it was hot, but this was different. We were averaging 38-40 degrees every day, and although we took most of the afternoon off work, you still had to be somewhere. With no AC to be found, I spent the first week lying on my back in my little cabin on the partially cool floor tiles, pouring water over my body.


I have to admit I nearly left after a few days of this. It was literally like hellfire. I could feel my veins swelling. But I persevered.

Getting Settled

Sergio and his family are almost totally self sufficient. They farm their own veggies, herbs, eggs, meat (chickens, sheep, and pigs), and make their own wine. They also have a donkey called Mimo, which is where the name Monte Mimo comes from.

Drinking my first glass of wine, I realised I had been lied to. It didn't taste like anything I'd drunk before. So fresh and tangy, yet so rich! It was beyond delicious. Almost immediately after my first few sips, I got a euphoric feeling that felt like a mixture of alcohol and (this might sound silly) knowledge. The wine was from the land, and it somehow tasted like it.

This is Sergio and his dad Gustovio harvesting this year's batch.


Gustovio (in the background) is a retired electrical technician who worked in the Navy for years, and was stationed for some time off the coast of Fyfe, Scotland.

He bought up the land many years ago and over the years, Sergio and him have built 2 and half houses, a cabin, a 10 acre farm including drainage, sewage and irrigation - all by themselves.

And while humble, it really was something to marvel at. I often did.


That being said, living on a self-sufficient farm is a game of survival.

You're up against the weeds, the insects, the weather, and the time to do everything when it needs to be done.

Leave things too late, and your crops will be spoiled. Injure yourself, and you're stuffed.

The Metaphor

By far the biggest job Sergio and I tackled during my stay was to re-cultivate five 25-meter-long raised beds from scratch.

What I mean by that is weeding, raking, reshaping, fertilising, irrigating, and covering. Then Sergio would let the weeds grow under the tarp and cut them one final time before planting.

All sounded fine, until we got to work.

As is my character, I attacked it like a Spartan crushing his Athenian neighbour. At first I was winning, smashing the hoe deep into the soil trying my best to crack the earth's crust and spring lava, wrenching the mud and weed slabs up and over my patch to be raked.

This lasted for about a day and half, and then I started to get dizzy. It turns out Sergio had noticed my overeagerness but had decided to hold off and let me tire myself out - before delivering the single most important takeaway from my entire experience.

Sergio had stressed the importance of not slicing the weeds above the root, or chopping them up, as they were extremely resilient and would grow again given the smallest chance.

My strategy was therefore to de-risk the potential of slicing the roots incorrectly, while ensuring maximum effectiveness with the deepest chop I could muster and (I thought) sustain over a long period.

Clearly I was wrong. Sergio walked over knowingly and took the hoe, and showed me how to 'cut' the weeds without going too deep. It was a sharp, light movement. It looked almost too easy.

I took the hoe back and started again, and in all honestly I felt highly irritated at the thought of not smashing the hell into the soil as I had done for the past day. But my back was breaking and my hands had sores on them, so I dropped my shoulders and applied the technique.

All of a sudden I felt like I was gently coaxing the weeds out vs. digging them out. I was relaxed. I was in a kind of flow state.

It didn't last. I went back to hacking the shit into those weeds soon after, but after a twang in my shoulder I succumbed again to the rhythm of the cut. And I won out.

It was a painful experience not to be able to go at the speed I wanted, but probably one of the greatest lessons I've ever learned. And I'm doing my best to apply that to my work today, while passing the lesson on to my mentees.

These are the beds being (naturally) fertilised.


Would I do it again? I asked myself.

In a heartbeat.

In fact, the experience was so profound that I'm planning to build it into my year.

That single metaphor, summed up nicely by the Navy SEALs, "Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast." has to be experienced to be fully embodied. And with almost everything I do workwise online these days, for people like me, it's a powerful lesson and one I plan to repeat.

A few pics of the farm:

Wild boar shot by the neighbour. Skinned, gutted, marinated and cooked by Sergio.


Chicken shit tea bag. Dunked into water and molasses. Absolutely pungent.


Break time, hiding from the heat.


CSA / Veggie Day - felt more like a family gathering


The End.

About Robbie Maltby

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