For the past week, Chrissy, Coty and I have been “WWOOFing” in rural northwestern Italy, near Cessole, a town of maybe 100 inhabitants. WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a program that matches willing participants on small organic farms around the world. Let me tell you–it is no vacation.
We wanted to get a real world italian cultural experience and learn a little bit about organic farming and lifestyles along the way. Instead, it became a quick lesson in appreciation for the ease of our lives in America.
Here is a run down of our day:
6:45 – Wake up. As any farmer will tell you, it’s better to get up and get to work before it gets too hot. While it can’t boast North Carolina humidity, the temperatures have stayed consistently in the 90s and with the sun not setting until after 10 p.m. here, cooling down is a process.
7:30 – Begin working in the fields. The first two days we were assigned with the task of tying up the vines in the vineyard. I will never loIok at wine the same way. It’s a task that sounds simple but even at your fastest pace, it is a laborious task with little progress ever seeming to be made.
12:30 – Stop work. By this point with the sun beating down on you from seemingly all angles, vines in your hair and you back muscles quivering in pain, you limp back to the room to prepare for lunch.
1 – Eat. The things Italians do best. Lunch (thankfully) is not just a fix your sandwich and leave type production but instead a family style meal of a few new items the grandmother Nonna will whip up mixed with leftovers from their restaurant and always their freshly baked bread.
1:30 – Siesta. Italians everywhere love a good break and after working on ths farm, I can finally understand why. We crash each day, filling our break with sleep, coffee and shortbread cookies. Before you become jealous, remember while doing all of this, we are caked in dirt, finding bugs in our hair and hanging out in a room with no air conditioning.
5 – Return to the fields. In the afternoon after the peak of the heat is gone we are typically given a lighter task. Somedays it’s been picking zucchini or beans out of the garden, while others a bit more strenuous like taking a pickax to a hillside that was overgrown with thorny bushes.
7:30 – Dinner time. Just like lunch but typically more options and usually their own variety of wine, their homemade hazelnut liquor or even an impromptu jam tasting session of all their best spreads–which in my opinion is their peach-ginger jelly, followed closely by strawberry.
9 – Dishes. We have decided that our host family has an aversion to dishes. In both the restaurant they run and their own meals, we (the wwoofers) are responsible for washing and putting away all the dishes. Not a hard task, just unexpected upon arrival.
All this to say, we are working hard, developing a new appreciation for the effort it requires to produce organic food and quickly understanding that the farm lifestyle is probably not for us.
However, the trade-off with WWOOF I have realized does not come with some epiphany about life while laboring in the field or even in the lessons taught about how to organically farm and live off the land (as these are few). Instead, understanding can be found gathered around the dinner table, meeting new people and tasting products produced here at our farm, Tenuta Antica.
On Wednesday night, we visited one of our family’s good friends who also run a local farm and who were also hosting a wwoofer. Their wwoofer, Rachel, is a recent food studies graduate student who was preparing traditional Cuban food for all of us to try. It was one of my favorite meals since coming to Europe. We sat outside at a long table lit from lanterns hung up in the trees, talking about food culture and about how each person had ended up here–eating Cuban food under the night sky in Italy.
The value WWOOF for me is not in the labor, but in moments like this that keep you going during those hot vineyard mornings.