What is WWOOF? It stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and it is a work exchange. WWOOFers work on organic farms in exchange for room, board, and some knowledge.
My first WWOOFing experience was in the pre-Alps, near Grenoble, in a region called the Trièves. It was an eco-gîte with a large garden and two donkeys. The farm was located in the hamlet of Avers, which had the population of about 40 people, and it is run by a middle-aged couple with help from their twenty-something daughter. I took a ‘taxi’, (which was just an older gentleman and his normal car, shuttling people around for 2 euros and 50 cents) to the farm from the train station. I was really nervous and just kept running worst case scenarios through my head. Of course, everything worked out fine and the family was really nice. There was another WWOOFer type person there, who was actually doing an internship for college credits. Her name was Lucia and she is from Germany.
I spent three weeks at this farm and a typical day started around 8AM. We all had breakfast together, which was coffee, bread, butter, and homemade jams. Then we would work until about 1PM. I did all sorts of different things, which was nice. I weeded in the garden, planted vegetables, made beds, cleaned, did dishes, built a new fence for the donkeys, and helped with the cooking. Lunch started with wine, a salad, then a hot dish, then cheese, then dessert, then coffee. We had the same for dinner each night. Did I mention that France is awesome? Cheese at lunch AND dinner? If it was even remotely sunny, we would eat outside. Some afternoons we would keep working at whatever task we had started in the morning, but more often I would have the afternoons free. Because it was so remote, you could literally walk out the back door and up a mountain. So, I took a lot of long walks and hikes in the afternoons. I would find a nice field to sit in and read or to take a little nap.
Every now and then my hosts would take us on a hike or a walk nearby. We hiked up a mountain to harvest a plant called l’ail des ours (bear’s garlic). It is a wild garlic plant and you can eat the leaves. It looks a bit like lily of the valley, but grows at a higher altitude. We had to hike almost up to the snow line to find it. We made a pesto out of the leaves and would eat it on bread or mixed into pasta. It tastes like mild garlic and is absolutely delicious.
The Trièves was a fun place to be because it is the junction of the northern alps and the southern alps. The plants and trees are a mix of what you would find further north and further south. There were a lot of wild flowers blooming, including wild orchids. There were a million tiny lizards running around, and some larger bright green ones. The stars were, of course, amazing. Stars all the way down to the horizon. I also got to watch a fantastic thunder and lightning storm out of my skylight.
Being at a gîte was quite fun because I got to chat with all the guests. The first weekend there was a group of 20 friends that have been getting together one weekend a year for the past 40 years. They all turned 60 this year, so treated the weekend as their 60th birthday party. They brought speakers and microphones and guitars and accordions, and had a party each night. The last night, they all dressed up in costumes for dinner, danced, and played party games. They were a lively bunch, to say the least. The second weekend there was a group of retired hikers, who picked a really rainy and cold weekend to spend hiking. They drank a lot of hot wine. There were also various groups of cyclists who would stay for one night and then ride on the next day.
All in all, it was a great first WWOOF experience. Being in the country was so nice after traveling through cities. I loved listening to the crickets and frogs, and watching the hawks glide over the mountains.I got to do many different things, I learned a little about organic farming, I picked up some new recipes, and I met some lovely people.