Agriculture, for centuries the principal economic activity in La Gomera, has had to adapt to the scarcity of cultivable land and water. In the fields of cereals, potatoes, vegetables and pulses, and the tomato and banana plantations, Gomeran peasants have worked tirelessly to earn a living.
The strong agricultural tradition of the island is evident from the impressive system of terraces. Considering that almost all agricultural work in La Gomera has been and is still carried out by hand, with simple tools or with the help of animals, it is evident that the cultivation of land in La Gomera has required a huge effort from generations of peasants.
Livestock farming has been intimately connected with traditional agriculture and forestry. Typical animals kept are cows, goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits and some asses or mules. These animals are usually kept in stables or pens near farmers’ houses and plots of land and fulfill four functions: to help farmers in agricultural work, to transport products or people, to produce manure for the crops and to add variety to their diets.
Inseparable from agriculture and forestry, pastoral traditions were built on the knowledge and customs passed down from ancient Gomerans and are deeply embedded in the cultural heritage of La Gomera. Long before the arrival of the Europeans, La Gomera’s population already herded goats, sheep and pigs. Shepherds led their herds from the coast to the mountain, moving according to the season to take advantage of the best pastures.
Today they can still be found moving around the island’s crags with the help of an astia (a long pole with a pointed iron end), accompanied by their dogs and carrying their zurrón (goat skin bag) with their food – gofio (roasted wheat or corn flour), cheese, leche mecida (fresh milk that has been shaken into butter) and berrendo. Shepherding was always a man’s occupation, producing milk, meat and cheese for family consumption.