Despite the clear blue skies and balmy 20 degree temperatures, Sunseed is still feeling festive. One house is decorated with agave tree tops adorned with acorns and handmade baubles – brightly-coloured wool wound around scrunched-up balls of used office paper. On long strings from the beams hang pomegranates that serve as a Persian-inspired advent calendar for volunteers passing on their way to breakfast.
Life can be been pretty challenging here since winter arrived. My first experience living in an off-grid community now with little sunshine and few warm places to relax in the evening, hand-washing with glacial water after a trip to a blustery outdoor loo, limited electricity on cloudy days (cooking by candlelight or head torch is common) all point to a need for some serious pampering – sustainable-style. I dream of alone down-time without being under countless blankets and where my breath is no longer visible. Despite the consistent beauty of the valley and the people who pass through, there’s a brutality of being closer to the elements this season that is exhausting in its own way.
Keeping clean is something we all incorporate into our daily routine and over the past few years, as we’ve started to become more collectively conscious about our impact on our environment without compromising our cleanliness, we’re discovering new ways to keep squeaky while protecting our water supply as well as our microbiome. Luckily, my prayers are answered with our solar-powered shower at the top of the hill that reliably delivers steamy showers as late at midnight. What’s more, if I switch off the bathroom light and peek outside (albeit briefly!), I see a magnificent display of constellations, shooting stars and the gentle elongated cloud of the Milky Way. After a few months of learning how to make my own soap, a trip to Jennifer’s shop and studio showed the most beautiful way we can slough off the day. With the heavens twinkling above and the most divine smells lathering from Naturalmente Mediterraneo’s hand-crafted soap, the quotidian stresses suddenly seem galaxies away.
Mark: Tell us how Naturalmente Mediterraneo began
Jennifer: Making soap was my way to de-stress from a difficult job. I started to experiment with Aloe Vera and other natural ingredients from this incredible area of Spain. I finally shed the stressful job and officially started my own business in 2012. I wanted to set an example to my daughter that you can make a living doing what you love most.
M: What does sustainability means for your business?
J: Following our four core values - enjoying what I do, using as many natural ingredients from the area as possible while respecting the environment and supporting local community and economy. Living what I believe and hold true then spreading that to other people.
M: Have you encountered any challenges while sticking to your work ethic?
J: Yes, several. Explaining prices to people who may not appreciate all that goes into our products and working with locals who may not understand service in the same way I do.
M: What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt about running your own business?
J: I am reminded every day to stick to my core values. If profit were my primary aim, I would seek out less costly ingredients and start cutting corners but that would lead to not enjoying what I do. As the business continues to grow, I feel I am being rewarded for those very values by clients who appreciate the same.
Returning to the UK for the holidays, my mind started to wander to presents for loved ones and a local treasure proves to be an organic exquisitely-scented grotto of everything anyone could want for Christmas. Continuing my shopping in Múrcia, first I spotted a cute family-run pastelería (patisserie). I hopped over and awed at the hundreds of beautifully sculpted delicacies, brimming with meringue, whipped cream, pastry cream and chocolate. But after months of eating a simple palette of seasonal vegetables, grains and hand-cracked almonds, it all suddenly seemed excessive and I remember to cherish the healthier habits that I’ve created in my life. With that in mind, I’m treating my family and friends to gifts last longer and can be enjoyed guilt-free, sustainable presents!
This season, I’m making sure that what tempts me aligns with what I truly value and believe. How I choose to spend time is a reflection of what I want to see more of in the world. I want to indulge in things that I won’t feel guilty about the next day and all the things that I believe are serving my well-being as well as the planet’s. This is making my winter back on home soil all the more appreciated and, as promised, I’m bringing some self-sufficiency home with me.