Dário Santos has a passion for organic agriculture and creating new networks

Dário Santos

Dário Santos has a passion for organic agriculture and creating new networks

Dário Santos, engineer and self-taught farmer, Master’s student at Polytechnic of Viana do Castelo, has dedicated most of his spring to two Demola projects. For ‘Next Generation Farmers’ he traveled all the way from other side of the country to Beja, Portugal, to meet his team and to visit the company partner’s farm.

A huge job is now done, as Dário Santos has just finished two Demola projects in two different Portuguese locations. But is the work actually done now, or only about to begin? When asked if he could tell something about his background, Dário replies:

“Well, that's a long story. I graduated in civil engineering, 20 years ago. So when the team members from my Demola teams were born, I was finishing my first degree! I always wanted to work on agriculture. I grew up surrounded by agriculture and I love it. I also love civil engineering, and I was specializing in building inspection and diagnosis. So, basically, understanding the problems of the buildings and discovering what was causing them and how to solve them. In 2014, I started to fully dedicate myself to organic farming, because as I started to feed my kids, I understood that it was important to feed them with proper food, especially vegetables and fruits.

One thing led to another, and I had no training for farming until in 2017 when I went back to studying. But it was conventional farming and that wasn’t my thing, so I stopped my studies and ended up working as a project manager in a French company that was starting an ecological resort near Lisbon.

Now my family has a base camp in the North of Portugal, and I had the opportunity to start a master’s degree in organic farming in Ponte de Lima. Then Demola came up in the way and we are here.”

Next Generation Farmers team meeting their facilitator. Photo: Dário Santos.

Co-creation project as a way to find new networks

Dário first got selected in four Demola projects simultaneously, but he chose to stay in two of them. Now, both projects have already finished, and Dário has even traveled twice from another end of the country to visit the company partner’s farm and to meet up with his team of ‘Next-generation Farmers’. Time management is not always easy, and he mentions it as one of the learnings to take in from the projects. In Dário’s case, ambition and good family relations are the key factors to succeed in time management.

“The main reason why I wanted to join Demola was the interesting and relevant subject of the projects. Second, I understood it could be an opportunity to meet more people from different places, different backgrounds, and probably creating new work opportunities, so a bigger network of people can open more doors. And that is happening! In both teams we focused on creating solutions that can and should be applicable and should happen in real life, concrete and implementable solutions that can have an impact. Those type of solutions that go way beyond than just making a new website or a nice social media page.”

 We didn't win, but I think we made it even better!

In the national Demola Portugal program, the teams also take part in a pitching competition, and the best idea is awarded by the polytechnics. Dário’s team ‘Next-generation Farmers’ attended the pitching event last week in Polytechnic of Beja. They did not win, which was a disappointment for the team, but something else came up after the final presentation.

“The director of Beja Polytechnical Institute came to me and said they have 900 hectars of farmland available and that they can find a way to finance our idea. I was suggested a position for my doctorate degree in Beja after finishing my master’s, to put our team’s idea into action. We didn't win, but I think we made it even better.”

Dário’s team’s other proposal was to put up an international conference on regenerative agriculture for a yearly event in Beja. The team suggests having indoor events with specialists from all over the world and tours through the farms around the area. There will be plenty of work for everyone in the team to make it happen even after the projects have ended now.

Next Generation Farmers team visiting their project partner's, José Félix's, farm. Photo: Dário Santos.

Buiding creative confidence through team dynamics

Dário’s teams had students from engineering, tourism, business management, law, sociology and robotics in them. For somebody who has experience in both project leader position and farming, the biggest learnings weren’t related to the topic itself, but to building the team dynamics together with the new, relatively young team members.  

“The age difference between me and my team members could have had a negative effect on things since I had a lot more experience on the topic and the other members were shyer in the beginning. At first I was very focused with the results and making things happen at the same time – the biggest learning for me was to take a step back and get to know the individuals first a little bit, understand their difficulties”, Dário tells.

The challenge of Demola process is its fast pace and the limited time given for the people to connect, describes Dário. It is not easy to start working together immediately with a group of strangers. Online and hybrid world makes it ever harder. The connection cannot be forced, so Dário would suggest teams and facilitators to take some time for team building.

Dário's greetings for a new Demola participant

"You will have to deal with a lot of difficulties on this process from time management, people management, expectations management and then the most important of it having to present the results. Especially writing the final report, preparing the presentation and being there during the presentation. For me it's not new. I'm okay with that because I started doing that very early. But for a lot of young students it is different, some of them are not used to being in public. Defending what they believe in public. So just because of that it's a fantastic opportunity. I wish I had the opportunity to experience something like that 20 years ago."

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Ida Riikonen

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