In this region of France, we just finished up our spring vacation a few weeks ago. I knew months ahead of time that I wouldn’t be able to afford a vacation like last year, but I wanted to get out of Paris. Hence, wwoofing!
What is wwoofing? World-wide opportunities on organic farms. Directly from their website, “WWOOF is an exchange – In return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles.” The French wwoofing site works like this: you pay €30 for 1-year access to the catalogue of farms needing help. Then you can browse ads by department and contact the farmers directly. (Each country’s website is different so look at the first wwoof site I linked to for further information on countries other than France.) After sending out a ton of emails, I found a goat farm that had an opening for the dates I wanted to go.
Having never worked on or really ever set foot on a farm, I had no expectations. My main goals for the experience were to learn about farming, do some real physical activity, and accomplish something. I didn’t expect to have such great conversations, eat such good meals, or learn so much.
From the minute I first met Gundula (German woman in her 50s), Louise (Dutch woman in her 50s), and Maëva (French woman, 25), I felt at ease and welcomed. They were so hospitable and treated me more like a guest than a volunteer. Soon after my arrival I found myself integrated into the routine of the farm.
The Routine of the Farm
between 5 and 6am: wake up. La Traite (the milking of the goats). Other things I don’t know about because I didn’t enter the routine until…
between 8-8:30am: breakfast. Homemade bread smeared with butter, homemade cheese, homemade jams, organic hazelnut spread, local artisanal honey, tea made by one of their local friends…
9am: clean la chèvrerie (the barn where the goats live). feed the goats. feed the other animals (1 horse, 2 pigs, male and baby goats). if it’s not raining, lead the goats to a pasture.
11am-2pm: miscellaneous activities that change daily. sometimes cheese-making, sometimes cleaning, repairs, gardening, cooking, host random visitors who came to buy goat milk, etc.
between 1 and 4pm: lunch. always a long, hot lunch of things grown on the farm or purchased locally with dessert and coffee at the end. then: work. same as miscellaneous activities above. go get the goats if they were in a pasture.
5:30pm: goûter (snack) – always a cake or cookie with tea or coffee.
6pm: feed the goats, La Traite.
8-9pm: showers, then dinner which consists of the same things as breakfast. always a matzah-like cracker spread with butter, fresh goat cheese, and jam or honey at the end (this is just a quirk of Louise and Gundula but I started doing it too). This is where my day ended.
10-??: Louise and Gundula continued working. feed the goats again. cheese-making. treat sick goats. etc.
Having a farm is SO MUCH WORK. They have been doing this 7 days a week for the last 15 years with only a handful of instances where they’ve left the farm for a vacation. Because I have so much downtime in Paris, I relished the opportunity to sweat and actually accomplish things, but I can imagine that it gets really difficult to keep going after more than a few months. By Sunday I was already having a hard time staying energized and that was only after one week!
I’m so glad I’m no longer ignorant of this lifestyle. There are farmers all over the world producing the food we need to survive, and without any connection to them it’s hard to be aware of the hard work they do and the sacrifices they make. No sick days for them, no Christmas bonuses…no real Christmas break either! The goats have to eat – constantly! The sad fact is that the financial compensation nowhere near matches the effort dispensed. Luckily, my hosts seemed to love what they do and were really committed to their lifestyle and career choices. Overall, they seemed really happy.
I loved being able to take part in such a local and organic-focused home. In my daily life, I do my best to stay away from food that has been transported very long distances and yes, I would prefer not to ingest a ton of pesticides and other chemicals with my food. However, most of the time this is not feasible in terms of my budget or surroundings. During these 9 days I was happy to be able to join in their lifestyle.
Coming soon: more posts and photos about my experience on the farm.