After spending two months, over two years, working on our French in classes near Nice, we wanted to put it to use and see how we could do in the real world. So we signed up to be “Woofers,” [World-side Opportunities in Organic Farming] on a farm in Provence. We lived for 4 days with a family whose son, Mario, was intent on becoming a self-sustaining organic farmer. We traded our work for a place to stay, all our meals, and a chance to get to know the family, their way of life, and to practice our French (no one in the family spoke English). We emailed back a forth a bit before we left for France, but really had little idea what we were getting into. It turned out to be a truly wonderful experience.
In addition to farming, Mario and his family ran a bed & breakfast (a “chambre d’hote” in France) so we thought we’d fit right in — help cook breakfast, clean rooms, work in the garden a bit. Except that he had no guests in March, and a great need for help in his fields. So we spent four amazing days working as farm hands, living with his family, and speaking French. The only bad part was that we arrived at the same time as a major windstorm — a Mistral. This legendary wind blows straight from the Artic; it is fierce and very cold. For the first three days, the wind blew constantly at 40 – 50 miles per hour, with gusts well over 60! And the temperature was in the 30’s and low 40’s. The only saving grace was the brilliant sunshine.
You might think that with these climactic conditions, no one would work outside. Not so! We spent 3 1/2 frigid days pulling out grape vines, planting some of the vines in another vineyard, weeding a newly planted vegetable garden, pruning back a sizable vineyard that had gone without care or pruning for several years, and trying to stay warm. Fortunately, the wind stopped for our last day of work so we got a sense of what the Provencal weather is usually like this time of year. But the four days we spent “:woofing” were unforgettable — we laughed a lot, drank a lot of wine, ate very well, took a lot of Motrin, found out that we could understand and make ourselves understood pretty well in French, and got acquainted with a truly delightful family which we will probably visit again. Here are some pictures of our adventure. They include trying to light a fire to make coffee in 60 mph winds, the load of vines we removed, Tom weeding, Carolyn trying to stay warm, a work break from pruning during our one warmish day, the vineyard we pruned (note its size, and the difference between the pruned and unpruned rows), the B&B, and Carolyn with Mario’s wonderful family.