These photos are from the early 1980s, so they are about forty years old, when Lagartera was a small town in transition. Making and selling embroideries grew as a way of making money in the 60s. This gave work to many women, and offered opportunities for those who wanted to set up a business, both men and women. Many Lagarterans emigrated in the 1970s, while in the pueblo, more and more men worked in construction. Because of these changes, the courtyards of the houses were less used for livestock. People with older, larger houses tended to have large courtyards, where they often still had stables.

 Here you can see the mules after their arrival from the fields. The owner’s mother and aunt were sewing on the balcony, and children were playing outside in the street; so you can see three worlds in one photo.

Livestock was disappearing from the courtyards, but they still had more uses than they do today, because production in the fields was managed from the home. People who had cows brought milk home to be collected, or to sell direct to the public.

Here we can see preparation for the milk collection in Licenciado José Muñoz Street.

Fresh milk was also sold to neighbours.

This milk tasted better than the milk from the supermarket that we buy today. You had to heat it and make it rise three times to be able to drink it. Now there are stricter controls on the sale of milk, to control infections that can be transmitted by raw milk.

In the 1980s you saw more non-human animals on the street, such as horses, dogs, and sheep.

Here you can see a flock walking up Pintor Sorolla Street.

Boys started working younger in the 80s. Now young people study for more years, and few of them want to work in the fields, an exodus that was already noticeable in the 80s.

You could even see pigs in the street. This sow was going to a boar.

Now there are fewer self-sufficient livestock farms, and small commercial livestock farms have also disappeared. However, this disappearance has not been a continuous process since the 1960s. In the 1970s, there was actually an increase in the number of small pig farms on the outskirts of the village, in response to rising unemployment in the big cities (so fewer opportunities to migrate to find a job), and a drop in the sale of embroideries, especially to department stores. The pig farming industry grew organically out of self-sufficient production. If you had one pig to eat, you could keep two, with one to sell. And when more income was needed, you could increase the number of pigs you kept.

Since the 1980s there have been several changes. Production in pig farms has been mechanised, which saves time for the farmer, increases productivity, and lowers the price of pig meat for consumers. Before, you had to spend a lot of time cleaning the stalls, while now slurry pits are used to collect the slurry. The total number of pig farms has decreased a lot, because it’s a risky business, with big ups and downs in prices, and a lot of competition, so the weaker farmers have disappeared, while the average farm size has increased a lot. If before there were farms with 30 pigs, now there may be hundreds or even thousands of pigs on a farm. And of course, this brings with it a small problem: what you do with all the slurry! The larger, more modern farms have moved away from the village, where there is more space, and to comply with regulations.

In the past, more food was also produced in the village.

Now, you need to invest more in installations to produce food for sale to the public.

The municipal slaughterhouse has also been closed, and pigs and other livestock have to be transported out of the village, which increases costs.

Transport has also been mechanised.

Carts and mules are no longer seen in the street.

Nor do you see donkeys waiting for their owner who were ‘unwinding’ in bars. This is outside Alejandro’s bar, in Maestro Guerrero, where the fishmonger’s is now.

Ploughing is more mechanised

But it’s difficult to mechanise production in Lagarteran olive groves, as many are small and on land that is difficult for a tractor to access. The olive mill has also disappeared, and now the olive harvest has to be taken to other villages, which increases production costs.

Emigration also means that there are fewer people to harvest the olives. The olive groves are now tended more for love and tradition than to earn money.

The changes that we have seen in the relationship between the village and the countryside have bought some benefits. There is better hygiene in the courtyards and houses, and so better control of infections in humans and livestock. Madoz commented of Lagartera in 1847 that “the fatal custom that exists of storing rubbish inside them (the houses) until it putrefies, to benefit the land, is the main cause of their diseases”. (‘Rubbish’ included human manure!)  And the infant mortality rate later, in the 1930s, was horrendous. I calculated that one in four children born in the village in the first half of that decade did not live to be a year old. Now Lagarteran children are healthy and well nourished. We have more variety of food in the supermarket. The changes have also brought new problems, such as the need for owners of olive groves to take their harvest out of the village, while livestock farmers have to take their animals elsewhere for slaughter. There is also a need to invest more to produce food in the village, and a need to search for solutions to manage the by-products of intensive livestock farming.

Making a living from the countryside isn’t easy. Income can be unstable, and people who have livestock know very well that ‘children and animals don’t allow you to have holidays’. But if you already have income from another source, producing for self-consumption can be a way to switch off and relax. Running a hobby vegetable garden with a few chickens, or tending an olive grove offers you exercise, a more relaxed social life than at the bar, fresh and ”organic” food, and the security of knowing that if all else fails, at least there is food on the table. That is why, since the 1980s, there have been more and more people taking up growing veggies for fun. Perceptions of the countryside are also changing, and more value is placed on the walks we can take, with the wonderful views of the mountains and, to the south of the village, the Montes de Toledo. Nowadays, there are fewer and fewer people earning a living from the countryside, while more and more people are enjoying it. 

Alison Lever, Lagartera, Toledo, January 2022 

Madoz, Pascual Diccionario geográfico-estadístico-histórico de España y sus posesiones de Ultramar. Tomo X p 19 Madrid 1847