Wow… really. Wow.
Location: Department Tarn, France
Setting: At an elevation of 600 meters, surrounded by verdant rolling hills with miles of farm roads and trails. Wild flowers everywhere. A large farm house nestled into a hill, always opening new doors and revealing new secrets. Three cows, a dozen or more goats, rabbits, chickens, two dogs, some cats, and a bat (in your bedroom).
Hosts: Phillipe and Edwige, self-proclaimed anarchists.
Phillipe says, “If you feel like helping or working, by all means.. If you feel like resting or reading or doing whatever pleases you, by all means.”
What ever happened to working? What ever happened to wwoofing? What happened to clocking hours?
(You are reminded of Mauricio–formerly Borice–the Italian-identified French man living in Spain: “If you want to work, you can do some work. If you want to plant a flower, plant a flower. If you want to sing a song, sing a song!” Then, you knew, in that community of hippies outside Orgiva, that you couldn’t handle such an unstructured work ethic.)
But here, it’s different. “We’re not slave drivers. We are equals,” Phillipe explains.
But, they’re feeding you!
You’ve always been sensitive about how much you eat, and know that groceries aren’t free. But they insist that you eat. They don’t seem to care if you work. In fact, they can’t even think up work fast enough to occupy you.
Sure, there’s a little weeding, but they aren’t bothered…
Every time you work, one or both of them come outside to help you, to work with you. That sense of equality… it is apparent. And at the end of the day, “Thank you very much for the work you did today. I hope it wasn’t too much, or too hard.” Every time, you try not to laugh, thinking about how easy your life is.
But honestly, you feel like you should be doing something more.
“C’est Maria. Elle est une wwoofeuse.” This is Maria. She’s a wwoofer. Phillipe has on more than one occasion explained to his neighbors and friends that a wwoofer is a worker–no!–a friend, who has come to share in an experience, and to learn.
It’s as though the very concept of having workers in order to accomplish more work is insulting to him.
What a change from so many farms that actually rely on the labor of wwoofers! Phillipe and Edwige have been the sole workers on their farm for 30 years. Their three children are grown up, and they simply decided that wwoofing was a nice idea, in order to have someone in the house, in order to share, to teach. Obviously, they can handle everything on their own; wwoofers are not a necessity, they are a pleasant supplement.
You are their first wwoofer. They gave you their son’s old enormous bedroom. There’s internet access, a television, plenty to eat, and loads and loads and loads of books on farming, ecology, wild plants, cooking, preserving, permaculture, etc. to read.
It’s like living at home with your parents, who take care of everything, but don’t treat you like a child.
“If someone works for me, it better be under conditions that please him. The thing I fear most is to die a capitalist,” Phillipe says.
The enthusiasm with which Phillipe shares his knowledge is infectious. He is an information powerhouse. Every day, you soak in too much information, and it spills out your ears.
“Maria! Would you like to learn how to make ice cream Do you want to go to the market with Edwige? Today, I’ll show you how to collect and dry your own herbs. This plant here… crush it and smell it… it’s a natural insecticide. And here, these are edible, especially the flowers. These leaves de-toxify the blood. Here is a glass of petite lait, the water that separates from the solids of the goat’s milk; it’s incredible for your health. Essene bread was the first bread ever made–from sprouted grain; here, let’s sprout our own grain and try to make some. The animals, you can see them, they are so healthy, because I always feed them sprouted grains. The neighbors can’t believe their eyes during the winter, when they see how vital the animals are. Tomorrow, we will pick bear garlic and make more raw pesto…”
It goes on and on and on. You love it here. Every morning you roll out of bed and make an espresso, marvel at the new foods Phillipe has left out on the breakfast table for you to taste: fresh dates, dried figs, pollen, three types of raw honey, cashews, acorns, walnuts, petite lait, fresh cream, 3-flake porridge, strawberry jams, chestnut spread, rhubarb-apple compot…
You nibble a few nuts, chug your petite lait, and head out the door for an hour-long run through the rolling hills speckled with wild flowers, shirt rolled up in order to soak in the sunlight. When you return, you gather a large bowl of fresh wild greens: a plant that tastes faintly of garlic, nettles, clover, raspberry leaves, and a couple other flowers, throw in a few sprouted radish seeds, an apple, some nuts, oil, asparagus, whatever!
Then you read, digest, and maybe go outside to do some weeding in the strawberry patch, but oftentimes get interrupted by Phillipe, who takes you for a walk and identifies more wild edible plants, explaining their uses, their properties.
You are in awe of how productive his farm is, by the labor of just two people. It’s the best example of sustainability you’ve seen yet.
Sustainable, and secure
In the cellar, there’s not one, not two, but three rooms full of food. You got the feeling that this couple might be anticipating nuclear warfare.
“We don’t buy food. When we do, it’s only to amuse ourselves,” Phillipe says. “We grow and raise practically everything that we eat.” Ducks, rabbits, chickens, eggs, cheese, milk, chutneys, jams, pestos, syrups, bread, all manner of vegetables, all manner of fruits, nuts, seeds.
Christ! To amuse themselves?
That’s how it seems. It’s all for amusement. Never before have you met two more relaxed and wonderful people, living in near-complete harmony with their land. You’ll be sad to leave in a week, as you know there just isn’t enough time to learn it all.