Dieppe, Normandy

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Les falaises

Back in February, I needed to get away. So, off to the beach we went! I’ve been to the Normandy region once before – omg so long ago – but I knew this trip would be different than tagging along as an au pair.

It ended up being the perfect getaway. Let’s get the nitty gritty stuff out of the way.

Transportation

Covoiturage (carpooling)

As one might expect, this option is for chatty people with strong stomachs, zero attachment to driving laws, and slim wallets.

Lodging

Egg Hotel Dieppe

Pros: cheap, a nice view onto historic street, great beach location (just a short walk away)
Cons: too-pleasant robot clerk, no hairdryer included, unsettlingly blank walls.

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All this for less than 10€!

Both mornings this was our breakfast – just look at all that butter! Eaten in a little place next to the Saint Jacques church in the sun.

Stumbled on a little farmer’s market – apples galore and a friendly tutoyer-ing cheese vendor. Neufchâtel is produced in a city bearing the same name that we passed on the way up to Dieppe. I’ve seen that name on cream cheese in the US but it’s not at all the same. It tasted a bit like Camembert. Very salty with a creamy center.

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The Café des Tribunaux, on the main commerce street, was great for relaxing and people-watching. After a morning of getting a salty air facial on the beach, a croque madame was the exact meal I wanted. If you were wondering what the difference between a croque madame and a croque monsieur is, it’s the egg! These afternoon pastries were quite good – passionfruit tart and something noisette I think? I lost the information of this salon de thé but it was a cute 2-story place a short walk away from Café des Tribunaux where you could look down on the street from the window.

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So, when I ordered les neuf amandes avec leur sauce échalotte at Le New Haven I honestly expected to get a plate with nine almonds on it and a yummy shallot sauce to dip them in. I was oh so curious to taste this northern French specialty comprised of such a delicate and unexpected pairing of two ingredients that I love. When the waiter ceremoniously placed a tiny fork on my side of the table, my stomach sunk; I knew what was coming…

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Once I convinced myself to actually pick up one of the shells, wrench out the thing, and drench it in the lovely vinegar-shallot sauce, I did enjoy eating it. They tasted like the sea + the sauce, in a good way. But after about three of them I’d had enough, and my bf happily finished them off.

Small towns are funny. We really enjoyed reading the local news posted on these red displays every day. I’m kicking myself for not getting a picture the first day of the shiver-inducing headline about a local murder case.

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There were plenty of beachfront casinos to choose from. After seeing them on our many walks on the beach I finally forced us to go in. We played some slot machines as was recommended by the very friendly woman who takes your money and gives you a fake and illogically proportioned version to play with. I’ve never been to Vegas so I relied on my Super Nintendo skills to win and then instantly lose 50€. Every day I wake up and the bitterness that floods my being forces me to have an extra sugar in my coffee. No, just kidding, but wow I understand gambling addiction now. I really, really wanted to keep playing to “win it back” – even though I’d never actually won it.

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The architecture was a fascinating and sad mix of beautiful old buildings and either modern reconstructions or the signs of plans to rebuild. I must have been quite impressionnée because I have almost no pictures of buildings despite our many walks around town.

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Other discoveries were the bomb shelters remaining from the war on the tops of the cliffs every couple hundred meters, the boats and lock, and the château on the edge of town. No pics, too captivated! We also noticed that the buses stop running at 7pm (!!!) and learned the hard way that almost every store and restaurant is closed on Monday. Ah, small towns, so quaint! Luckily there were two kebab shops to choose from and we picked a winner with Istanbul Kebab – it was honestly more delicious than most Parisian ones I’ve been to. ❤

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Nice, France

My parents finally were able to take the opportunity to come visit me in Paris! It’s been almost two years since I’ve moved here and they hadn’t come to visit yet. We had a wonderful time together – it felt more like I was hanging out with really good friends (albeit, rich ones who buy everything for you, haha) than my parents. I guess that means I’m a grown-up and have an adult relationship with them?! Scary! Let’s move on…

My dad and I playing tourist

My dad and I playing tourist

So in Paris, we did plenty of things in sometimes rainy, sometimes boiling hot weather. June in Paris, it turns out, is not always the best. But, it didn’t matter because we were together. It’s so fun to see Paris through the eyes of someone who doesn’t live here. We found a Holocaust monument that was right in my old quartier that I never noticed! Plus, we went up the Arc de Triomphe and checked out the Jewish Museum, two things I hadn’t had a chance to do yet.

We had an excellent meal at Le Florimond for my mom’s birthday. We split a bottle of champagne to toast her, all of our dishes were amazingly prepared, and the waiters even sang her happy birthday! I had the best confit de canard I’ve had yet, plus I tried lobster in a ravioli dish for the first time (not obsessed but I didn’t hate it)! My mom got a beef stew-type thing that came in a mini dutch oven – very cute, and the best beef stew I’ve ever tasted! I don’t remember what my dad got. I definitely recommend this restaurant if you find yourself in Paris for a special occasion. It’s very cozy and intimate, they are more than happy to answer questions or translate any of the French, and they have English menus too if you need it.

My mom and I at BNI - it was interesting to attend a French networking event!

My mom and I at BNI – it was interesting to attend a French networking event!

Beach in Nice

Beach in Nice

My favorite part of their stay was our trip to the south of France. We spent three days in Nice and also visited Antibes (our favorite), Monaco (meh), and Cannes (meh). We stayed at the Hotel du Suède which I’d recommend – it’s clean and nice but most importantly, it’s located about two seconds from the beach! The surrounding streets are pretty touristy, but I have to admit that it was useful to shop in the souvenir shops – we got some cheap mats to lie on the sand in and I found a cheap bikini to tan in!

At the beach in Nice

At the beach in Nice

We were about a ten minute walk away from Old Nice – little winding streets with tons of restaurants and bars. We had one so-so meal and one fabulous one there. Chez Juliette had beautiful table decorations, great service, and lovely food. If we had stayed another day we would have gone back, it was that good. It was located next to a gay bar, complete with a cross-dresser (transvestite? what is the politically correct term for a man who dresses like a woman?) in a pink wig who was going around flirting with everyone, and mimicking the capoeira performers that started doing crazy backflips on the street. We got gelato a few times at Fenocchio’s – they have tons of flavors and all the ones we tried were great.

Walking off our gelato just a few streets above the crowded Old section of Nice

Walking off our gelato just a few streets above the crowded Old section of Nice

Chez Juliette

Chez Juliette

We didn’t spend the whole time eating and beach-ing. We managed to hit up 3 different museums – the Matisse museum in Nice, the Picasso museum in Antibes, and the Chagall museum in Nice. My favorite by far was the Chagall museum – they had lots of his paintings, including many early ones I have never seen before. There was also a great 40-minute film that included interviews with him as an old man and footage of him painting. He had a great personality! It made me wish that I could see similar interviews with all my favorite artists throughout history. The Matisse museum had a smaller volume of works, but I think there was an exhibit traveling elsewhere that was due back at the museum in July. The Picasso museum had a beautiful interior and a lovely back garden with ocean views.

My parents right outside the Picasso Museum

My parents right outside the Picasso Museum

On our last full day in the south, we drove over to Monaco. It was cool to check off the list, and to visit the second-smallest country in the world, but overall we were underwhelmed. It might have been the clouds, or perhaps the commercialism that glints off every yacht and high-rise building. It’s basically a giant luxury shopping mall-turned-city. We were also dismayed to watch a yacht turn on it’s engines and run them for 30 minutes while docked – way to respect the environment, guys! We did have some great cocktails and people-watching in front of the Casino.

The waterfront in Monaco

The waterfront in Monaco

My dad and I at the bar in front of the Casino

My dad and I at the bar in front of the Casino

€50 for 3 drinks!

€50 for 3 drinks!

My dad was stoked

My dad was stoked

My mom was less stoked

My mom was less stoked

I was happy!

Cheers to a great trip!

We really loved the Nice area. If you rent a car, it’s so easy to get out and explore the nearby towns. I think if we had stayed in Nice for 3 days straight it would have gotten old, but with all the exploring we did it was hard to leave by the end!

Overall, my parents’ visit was fabulous. We made some great new memories – some good (so much time to talk face-to-face, my mom and I making fun of my dad’s attempts at French – people kept responding to him in Spanish or Italian! although by the end of two weeks he was pas mal, cocktails and wine all the time since they were on vacation and I’m, well, I live in Europe), some bad (my dad getting yelled at by a crazy street cleaner, and simply not having enough time). It’s so fun to see Paris through the eyes of someone who doesn’t live here. We found a Holocaust monument that was right in my old quartier that I never noticed! Plus, we went up the Arc de Triomphe and checked out the Jewish Museum, two things I hadn’t had a chance to do yet.

WWOOFing in France – Cheese

So every day when milking the goats, I wondered how the milk would turn into cheese. Louise is the cheese-master (cheese-mistress?); every few days there were times when in the middle of a meal she would need to run up to la fromagerie to deal with the cheese. It turns out it’s a time-sensitive process. After getting to know her a bit I gathered the courage to ask if I could come watch her make the cheese. Before she could respond, the reaction of Gundula and Maëva gave me the impression that few were allowed to enter the fromagerie. Louise didn’t say yes, but she didn’t say no either.

Well, I must have passed some sort of test because the next day we made a plan for when I could come watch. I was so curious because just as with everything else I’d witnessed on the farm, I realized I’d been benefiting from the deliciousness that is cheese, gorging on it in countless sinful dishes of mac n cheese, dips into fondue, numerous grilled cheese sandwiches, and more my entire life, without really knowing how it comes to be.

So, allow me to show you how goat cheese is made!

During la traite, the milk is pumped into the room next door through a big vat, up a pipe, and into another big vat that lives in the fromagerie (cheese-making room). This room is completely sterile – I had to wear those shoe covers that surgeons wear! It’s starkly different from the rest of the farm.

Scrubs!

Scrubs!

Vat of goat milk

Vat of goat milk

If the milk is coming directly from the goats, it will be around 35°C and needs to cool down for a few hours. If it’s been sitting all night (she doesn’t make cheese every day so sometimes this happens) then it needs to be warmed up. After it has reached the right temperature, she adds some sort of acid or mineral or something (didn’t quite catch the word, and as I’m clearly never going to be a journalist I didn’t write anything down at the time or clarify later) to help something happen in the process…Then the machine is turned on and a whisk-like attachment moves around in the milk which has thickened because of the mystery thing that was added. This separates the curds (les caillés) from the whey (le petit lait). Like the nursery rhyme!

Mixing

Mixing

First the curds, which have a jello-like consistency, stay on the top surface and little designs from the blades appear. Gradually the whey comes out and it begins resembling a big pot of soup with chunks in it. Then it looks entirely liquid as the curds become even tinier. This process takes about 30 minutes (hence Louise having to dash off at the correct moment).

Can you see the lines in the curds?

Can you see the lines in the curds?

More whey has come out

More whey has come out

Separating curds and whey

Separating curds and whey

Then approximately 20% of the whey is drained into a separate vat below the fromagerie. They feed some of it to the pigs and sometimes they sell it to a local woman who makes soap out of it. The remaining curds and whey are mixed again to ensure there are no lumps too large. The curds become so small that the mixture looks like a big thing of really wet cottage cheese. Appetizing…

The next step is the molding process. She uses her hands to scoop up some curds into a mold. The molds are in a circle shape, with an outer solid plastic piece and an inner mesh sieve piece that fits right inside, and a lid that goes on top. Out of this batch she made 3 huge ones (the diameter of my forearm?), maybe 15 medium ones (the diameter of my hand?), and a few small ones. The molds are lined up and stacked neatly on a metal counter, then pressed down with a weight. They are left there for a few hours to drain off as much whey as possible. (No pictures of this because my camera died.)

The cave: salt bath and drying shelves

The cave: salt bath and drying shelves

After they’ve been pressed on both sides, they are bathed in a salt solution for 24-48 hours, depending on the size. Then they are covered in some dirt-looking stuff (again, fabulous journalistic ability here) and left on racks in the cave to dry. The oldest ones she had were 1.5 years old!

aging cheese

aging cheese

Two days a week, Louise or Maëva drive over to nearby Limoges to sell cheese and milk at the farmer’s market. One of the days I went with to help/see the town. It was fun to be on the seller’s side of the market for a change. It was a simple process, but I was slightly intimidated vending products to French people. I relied on my cashier instincts from my high school job at Beauty Center and felt totally comfortable behind the table – who knew that job would ever have come in handy?

The market in Limoges

The market in Limoges

Louise at her stand

Louise at her stand – the “AB” sign is an official sign meaning it’s organic

The other vendors at the market were very interested to meet an American girl and very curious to know what I am doing in France. A beekeeper “assigned” me this question to answer and gave me a few minutes to gather my thoughts: What is the difference between the US and France? I couldn’t decide whether I was more amused or more annoyed – it’s not that simple and I am just one person! But, I gave him an intelligent and thoughtful answer based on my own experiences. He listened, we discussed, and then he proclaimed my statements to be “student-level and undeveloped.” I was a bit perturbed by his dismissal of my ideas, but promptly changed my mind when he asked me if Miami was in California! I guess it’s not only Americans who are less-than-stellar in geography. In all seriousness, I don’t blame him because the US is a huge country and it’s not even his own.

Anyways, it was so cool to see cheese being made, from goat to market (/my belly – the ladies gifted me with a HUGE bag of cheeses to take back to Paris with me). If you have the opportunity to do the same, I highly recommend it!

Clockwise from bottom left: tastes like a mixture of goat and blue cheese (my fave), a young goat cheese, one with chili powder in the middle, an aged goat cheese, the chili one again

Clockwise from bottom left: tastes like a mixture of goat and blue cheese (my fave), a young goat cheese, one with chili powder in the middle, an aged goat cheese, the chili one again

*Update: Click these links for my introductory wwoofing post and my posts about Le JardinageLes Chèvres, and my second trip there.

WWOOFing in France – Les Chèvres

GOATS!

GOATS!

GOATS! Goatsgoatsgoatsgoats…this is what my friend Dan and I used to yell at each other in his mom’s car when we saw the goats the city of Oakland would place on the side of the road in our neighborhood to eat all the extra grass and prevent wildfires. That was my only interaction with goats prior to my experience on the goat farm!

One side of la chèvrerie

One side of la chèvrerie

If you have even one pet you are aware that they require a lot of maintenance. So consider 200+ goats and you can imagine farm life. This is why they take so few vacations! Besides all the cleaning and feeding, milking the goats is the most time-consuming aspect of goat farming. On the very first day I assisted with la traite (the milking), mere minutes after Maëva told me a story about her sister getting pooped on by a goat during the milking process. Yikes! Luckily I avoided being pooped on the whole time!

La Traite

This process needs to happen twice daily with the same amount of hours in between each milking. On this farm, it was 6am/6pm.

First, the goats are fed before rounding them up to bring into la salle de traite (the milking room). A wheelbarrow is used to distribute a sort of kibble-like food mixed with powdered minerals and vitamins. There is a hole in the wheelbarrow so when you walk quickly down the row, the food pours out in a line. My job was to follow the wheelbarrow with a broom and sweep the stray food back towards the goats’ eager tongues. They eat so voraciously that food gets propelled far out of reach of their mouths.

Feeding time

Feeding time

The first time I witnessed this process, I was amazed by what I saw and heard. As soon as the goats would hear the food being poured into the wheelbarrow, the sound of a stampede would fill my ears as they ran to line up at the gate and wait expectantly. The second the food was distributed, a frenzy of floor-licking would begin. It seemed as though they hadn’t eaten for days. Burps and gulps echoed off the dusty walls. I kept thinking, “they eat like such savage animals” and then I would remember, DUH they ARE animals! Some extra-greedy goats would even twist and squirm around the bars so they could place their legs and hooves on the platform and scrape more food towards themselves, preventing nearby goats from accessing the surrounding food.

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The next step was to herd them into the salle de traite. There were two raised concrete platforms on which they stood, butts facing the middle of the room where the we would stand. The difficulty of this process is getting each goat to place her head into the narrow space between two long metal poles running along the platform. Some of the goats would obediently walk to the right place, but some would try to run back to la chèvrerie, which in turn caused all the other goats to follow. We were all equipped with small wooden sticks that we used to tap them on the butt or side to encourage them to move when we needed them to move. Their collars or even their horns made excellent handles to pull them into the rows. 🙂

La salle de traite - getting ready to pump

La salle de traite – getting ready to pump

Once 20 or so goats were squished onto each side, we shut the gates and commenced milking. There is a set of pumps for every 3 or 4 goats. I quickly realized that it’s much harder than it looks. The first hurdle is that sometimes the goats really didn’t want the pumps to go on them, so they would repeatedly kick me or squish their legs together so I couldn’t reach. I could sometimes sneak it on them by winding the pump behind their legs, but then they would use their legs to push it off. Often, I would have to give up and ask for help. Once a goat was being particularly stubborn and I asked Gundula for help. With a nice caress on the goat’s side and a few murmured words of comfort, the goat immediately calmed down and accepted the pump. I was really impressed and amazed, and even more so when I tried to do the same thing and was met with still more kicks – this woman clearly has a way with goats. A goat-whisperer! It’s really cool to see the random talents people have – for things I’d never even have imagined.

Pumps on

Pumps on

Stubborn goats aside, many of them were complacent. Once the process has begun, the next difficulty is tending to the pumps in a timely manner. At the beginning of each set, I would start 3 to 4 goats pumping. Once I finished attaching pumps to the last goat, the first goat would be done, so I’d have to run over and move the pumps to the next goat. And so on. It’s best to avoid leaving the pumps on for too long after the milk has been pumped out, so it’s really important to stay on top of who’s teats are empty (ew I hate the word teat but that’s what they are! In French it’s la mamelle, a less gross word).

Hand-milking a goat!

Hand-milking a goat!

After we brought them back from la traite, they were given du foin (hay), de la paille (straw), and de la luzerne (dried alfafa). Usually they were fed these dried varieties of hay 4-5 times per day, plus they spent all day grazing in the grass. They were constantly eating! The more they eat, the more milk they produce.

Run free!

Run free!

Me and the goats!  I'm holding a fouet, a sort of whip, but you just use it to get them moving when they get distracted by a tasty-looking flower nearby.  It doesn't hurt them since they end is very flexible.

Me and the goats! I’m holding a fouet, a sort of whip, but you just use it to get them moving when they get distracted by a tasty-looking flower nearby. It doesn’t hurt them since the end is very flexible.

I was present for the full cycle of life during my time on the farm. On the second morning, one of the pregnant goats (in French you say elle est pleine = “full”) started going into labor. I expected one of the women to stick around with her to help, but Maëva just said to let her stay off to the side and do her thing. When we got back from feeding the baby goats, she had birthed her baby! I was so excited to see it – he was tiny and cute. His cries were very high-pitched and eerily similar to those of a human baby. We left them alone so the mother could deal with him in his first moments of life. But, a few hours later when we came back to check on them, the baby had died. Apparently it was far too early and the baby shouldn’t have been born for another month or so.

Dark pic of the baby goat who was born prematurely

Dark pic of the baby goat who was born prematurely

Another older goat fell sick while I was there – she was born in 2002, one of the first sets of goats from this farm! When we were moving her group from one area of the barn to another, she refused to get up. The whole week, we let her stay in that spot, moving her every few hours and bringing her water in a bucket and her own food. As the days passed, her eyes got more and more clouded and she seemed even frailer. Another goat fell sick too, and stayed by her side. When I would come in the barn, they would be cuddling, surrounded by healthy goats. Sometimes the healthy goats were there to steal the food we were leaving for the sick goats, but sometimes they were simply there for moral support. The sick goats died in their sleep before I left.

It was sad to see these goats die, but c’est la vie. I can say with confidence that they lived the happiest goat lives possible – the fields they spent their days in were lush with grass and surrounded by open skies and pretty forests. They were well-cared for by three women who clearly love and respect these animals.

Here are some pictures of the kid goats to cheer you up:

Curious lil guy

Curious lil guy

Snuggle

hi!

Snuggle time

Snuggle time

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I really loved the goats! There is no sense in being scared of them. They are very sweet animals. If I was ever standing still around them, they would approach me and nuzzle me so I would pet them. They reminded me of puppies – sometimes they would chew on my pants if I wasn’t paying attention! Also, the cheese made from their milk was delicious. That will be my next and final wwoofing post.

*Update: Click these links for my introductory wwoofing post and my posts about Le Jardinage, Cheese, and my second trip there.

WWOOFing in France – Le Jardinage

More about WWOOFing! During my week at the farm, I spent a lot of time helping Louise and Gundula set up their garden for this year. Check out my first WWOOFing post for more background info.

The 4 plots I worked on - the one in front plus three plastic-covered sections

The 4 plots I worked on

There were four plots of land that needed to be reworked. All but one had been used for gardening last year. The one exception had a lot more grass that was more deeply rooted – it proved very difficult to remove. Grass is seriously a force to be reckoned with – don’t let it get out of control! (It wasn’t until I began writing this blog post that I remembered I had already learned this lesson a few years ago when I was living in a house that had been uninhabited for a year or more and I had to de-weed the front and back yards. I definitely blocked those few days out of my memory!)

La grelinette on the really overgrown section

La grelinette on the really overgrown section

Anyways, with my trusty grelinette (brand name of the tool shown in these pics) and weed-wacker, I conquered most of the grass in these areas. Once everything was passed over with the grelinette, then I went back over each section and used a hoe (ha!) to render the earth finer. It was important that very few clumps of grass and roots were left behind to avoid any maivaises herbes popping up as things start growing and to make it easier for whoever will be using the grelinette next year!

Me using la grelinette – those boots got totally destroyed during the course of the week

Me using la grelinette

At first, I was very careful to wear gloves while working. When mixing up this earth that had been covered and rained on for several months, I encountered some yucky things – tons of worms, anthills, rotting plants, as well as some stray horseradish roots which went into the pantry. I didn’t want to touch any of it because I can be kind of squeamish. By the end, I was sitting in the dirt wearing shorts, using my bare hands to remove the plain dirt from the old grass. Sometimes, I’d pick up a worm or two. Just the week before, I would have freaked out and screamed, but by the end of my week on the farm I just tossed it aside. I think my initial squeamishness was just a question of not being familiar with the work. As soon as I had a little experience under my belt, I was no longer afraid. If only people in the world could undergo the same transformations regarding more serious topics than worms…

1st pass done

1st pass almost done

Gundula doing 2nd pass – you can see the difference between the darker dirt in front and the lighter dirt behind in which the clumps are still too thick

Gundula doing 2nd pass – you can see the difference between the darker dirt in front and the lighter dirt behind in which the clumps are still too thick

After all the earth had been worked (sometimes a third pass with the hoe was necessary to make sure the dirt was fine enough), I sprinkled compost all over the plots with a pitchfork (and sometimes my hands!). Then the fun part began. Gundula and Louise consulted last year’s garden map to ensure that the new plants wouldn’t be planted in a section where they had been planted last year. They sketched out the garden and we measured out some rows for the broccoli and leeks. Early in the week, we went to a local farmer’s market to pick up seedlings they had ordered from a local gardener a few months ago.

Compost sprinkled on top

Compost sprinkled on top

Dirty hands – don’t care!  Who am I?

Dirty hands – don’t care! Who am I?

The rest was easy: we dug holes for each seedling, sprinkled compost in each one, mixed it in with the dirt, and placed each seedling inside. After a little water for each plant, that was it! I was so happy to see the little tomato, lettuce, broccoli, and leek plants.

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes!

Broccoli and leeks!

Broccoli and leeks with anti-hen fence erected

Working in the garden was so pleasant and gratifying. Some days it was a little rainy, but most days it was sunny and warm. The peaceful countryside was exactly the right antidote to the grating cacophony of the city – birds chirping, goats and cows bleating and mooing, the rooster crowing randomly, and one single car driving down our dead-end street, causing me to look up because I was noticing ONE vehicle (!!!), were all I heard.

The grelinette/hoe action was very meditative and difficult physically. I loved sweating and “earning” my big lunches and goûters with this work. Sometimes Gundula and Louise would join me, and we’d hang out and talk or just work together in silence. The hens and le coq would always come to eat the worms, and the dogs and cats would come to watch the action or sunbathe. My very favorite part of working in the garden was that without fail, within five minutes of beginning work, Lunette the cat would come find me and stay with me the whole time. She would rub my leg or the tools I was using – one time when I was squatting to dig a hole, she even climbed on my back and got comfy!

Lunette <3

Lunette ❤

Le coq and the hens pecking for worms

Le coq and the hens pecking for worms

As I was working, I kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe farming used to all be done by hand!” This is just one tiny organic garden and I know that most produce being grown these days has a lot more machine help. But, I am glad I got to see how it feels to tend a garden by hand. It makes me appreciate food even more when I see how much hard work goes into creating it. It was also really exciting to see compost being put to use – I would put things in the green bin in the kitchen, empty that bin onto the compost heap outside, and right next to where I emptied it is where I would get wheelbarrows full of decomposed compost (redundant, but you get what I’m saying right?) to sprinkle on the garden. The circle of [plant] life!

Stay tuned for more posts about goats, cheese-making, and some visits to nearby towns!

*Update: Click these links for my introductory wwoofing post and my posts about Les Chèvres and Cheese and the second time I went there.

WWOOFing in France – Introduction

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.

A few hours after arriving from Paris, Louise asked me to lead the goats to the pasture.  They kept bumping me and I was so scared!  By the end I was petting them.

A few hours after arriving from Paris, Louise asked me to lead the goats to the pasture. They kept bumping me and I was so scared! By the end I was petting them.

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.

The garden where I worked a lot, their house is behind the big tree.

The garden where I worked a lot, their house is behind the big tree.

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.

The tree is a cherry tree! and behind it is my cozy little trailer

The tree is a cherry tree! and behind it is my cozy little trailer “le caravan”

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!

Left: la chevrerie. Right: baby goat house

Left: la chevrerie. Right: baby goat house

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.

*Update: Click these links for my posts about Le Jardinage, Les Chèvres, Cheese, and my second trip there.