Wednesday, May 9, 2012

WWOOFing Part I: Dordogne

I am currently writing you from the lovely Paunat, France in the lovely Dordogne region. The Dordogne is known as the "Region of 1001 Castles" because there are just soooo many. It is also the sight of "The valley of man3 because Lascaux (the oldest cave paintings in the world) are found here. Apparently it is the second most visited area next to Paris. Nearing the end of my journey to get here, I was lucky enough to pass the Chateau Beynac, which sits on a cliff sitting over a medieval town and apparently is the sight of many a medieval movie. When I arrived at Paunat, I was floored. In Paunat there is an impressive church from the 12th century and, as most towns and villages are in the Dordogne, all the homes are made of cream colored stone. I couldn't believe it when I arrived that this was what I was going to call home for a week. WWOOF stands for World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers and is a network that connects people to organic farmers around the world. The intention is to help spread awareness of organic farms and local produce. Travelers have the opportunity to stay with an organic farming family for free (includes your room and food)in exchange for work they do on the farm. It is a great way to experience a totally different way of life, learn a new language, or see a portion of the country you wouldn't normally get the opportunity to. I know you're all thinking, There is NO way Kristen is going to work on a farm. I was a little worried to, so I held onto my apartment in Le Havre just in case things went sour. WWOOFing here at this particular farm is a lot different than I thought it would be... For starters, I thought I would be living on a farm, very isolated and remote. However, the people I am staying with have a home in a village. The home is modern and filled with all the paintings that the woman here had done before hand. Her name is Fabienne and she is quite an interesting woman. Until 2008, Fabienne lived in Bordeaux as a painter, and from the works she has in her home, she was a great one. She has a son from a previous marriage, but since the village is pretty remote, he boards at his high school and only comes home for holidays and weekends. I am staying in his room, and when he is home he will stay on a fold out couch, which I feel bad about, but he doesn't seem to mind. Anyway, in 2008 Fabienne started growing organic herbal plants. A lot of the plants are used for tea, but there are also spices for food. The plot of land she farms on is about a mile and a half away from the home. It has been raining in all of Europe for the last month, so it's been a rough going for farmers. I was sort of preparing myself to be taken advantage of, but in fact I feel like it's the opposite. I feel like they haven't given me nearly enough work to justify eating their food and staying in their home! I arrived on Monday around 5pm and Fabinne had taken the day off, so we just sat in front of the house, admiring the beautiful church before us. They decided at the end of the night to play Scrabble, which obviously just isn't even remotely fair, since it was in French. The next day, I woke up early and went walking. I hiked all around and found some nice trails and got up on a hill to overlook a river and beautiful white cliffs. I returned for lunch, and then Fabienne and I headed to her farm. We planted some sage and another plant that I forgot the name of. I got to use a hoe for the first time, and we had a good laugh about it because I was pretty bad at it. But there wasn't really a lot to do, so we finished just after two hours of work. She showed me the town where she was born, which is also where she keeps her supplies and dries out her produce for teas and such. It's another adorable town! At the end of the day, we needed to pick up her partner, Julien. He's a strapping young guy who works on vegetables, though he just started working with her this year, so there aren't any really yet. Julien was at a plant fair in Cadouin, a near by town. The town is another beautiful one, and there is also a nice church. We hung out with other farmers, and I tuned out and day dreamed as they talked about the weather and markets and customers. We headed back, and I was exhausted. Today I was supposed to work in the morning, but it had rained all night, so Fabienne said we couldn't work that morning. I borrowed a bike from them and biked to a near by town called St. Alvère that has ruins of an old castle. The town was very quiet and sleepy- even the tourist information office was closed! I should also mention, biking here is terrifying. There is just so much uphill biking it's crazy, then suddenly your speeding downhill, which terrifies me after my little biking accident on Block Island. Their bike is also really old fashioned and has the gear shifters down by your knees on the body of the bike and no kickstand. After lunch, I figured I'd work, but they had someone come to renew their organic product certification. Apparently they had changed the lands they were using, which required a lot of paperwork to be filled out and visiting the areas. So after resting and reading for a bit, I set out on food to find some walking trails in the forest. The trails were unbelievably beautiful with little waterfalls and everything. Fabienne happened to pass me on the side of the road. She was ready for me to work. We planted some cammomile, then met up with Julien and helped him to plant squash. I really like planting, believe it or not. I get to sit in the dirt and put these cute little plants in the holes that Fabienne made and I use my hands to push the dirt back. Because of the rain, the dirt is soft and cool. And since I'm only working about 2 hours per day, it's not really a strain at all. This is obviously not the "real" farmers life I imagined. It's better! For pictures check out: