Awareness Wednesday: WWOOF, Part 2

Are you looking for a unique way to spend your next long weekend or summer vacation in any of 49 countries, including the US? Check out World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

This is part two of Josefina’s WWOOFing (volunteer farming) experience in Italy this summer. You can read more about what WWOOF is all about in Part 1!

In late June my good friend Stefanie and I flew out to Milan where we met up with some friends that were on a European backpacking trip, Ben and Jason. The four of us spent two weeks at a small farm and agritourism (a type of Bed & Breakfast) called Tenuta Antica in the Piedmont region of Italy. The farm and six-room B&B are run by Pia and Mauro, a couple with two sons ages 3 and 9, and Pia’s mother who prepares all of the delicious authentic meals. Overall it is a small operation with a vegetable garden, hazelnut trees and a vineyard, but there was plenty of weeding, pruning, planting and firewood stacking to go around. We also had the opportunity to help out at two nearby farms with more hazelnut trees and peach trees—you haven’t had a peach until you’ve eaten a ripe one straight off the tree! The family truly incorporated us into their daily lives, fed us amazingly well, and housed Stefanie and me in one of the B&B rooms with a private bathroom. Tenuta Antica is literally in the middle of nowhere in a town of about 400 people, so downtime during the hot part of the day and at night was spent reading, playing cards, and relaxing. Our only expenses were for transportation to the farm and whatever we chose to do on our visits to Acqui Terme and Asti on our day and a half off.

Following a weekend trip to Lucca, an Etruscan town located near Pisa, and a quick lunch stop to see Ben and Jason in Florence, Stefanie and I traveled to our second farm in the Umbria region known as the green heart of Italy. Agriturismo Santa Maria is run by Rosaria and Daniel and their two teenage sons and has 12 sheep, a few chickens (that they got the day we left), a small vegetable garden, an olive grove, and an agritourism that could house upwards of 50 people. This farm was a huge change of pace from the first one in the sense that there wasn’t a daily, concrete schedule and I got the impression that they had volunteers more for the cultural exchange aspect than because they desperately needed more hands on board. I’m pretty sure they said yes to anybody who asked to WWOOF and, at one point, there were 15 of us WWOOFers ranging in age from 19 to 45: two Italian men, three French siblings, four friends from New Zealand, a young couple from Long Island, and another young couple from Manhattan with their 1-year-old son.

Stefanie and I were there for almost 3 weeks and our friend Dani joined us for the last week. A lot of our time was spent cooking for our group of WWOOFers under the direction of one of the Italian volunteers. We also prepared dinners for the B&B guests, planted and watered vegetables, cleared out an area for a chicken coop, and fed the sheep. One morning we all got up before six to harvest a field of kamut, a gluten-free grain that makes delicious bread! The host family took it upon themselves to be everybody’s tour guide through Umbria, the most beautiful region in Italy, where they showed us to the towns of Orvieto, Civita de Bagnoregio, and Assisi.

I now know more than I care to about hazelnut trees, picked up plenty of new recipes and have new friends from France to New Zealand, but the most unforgettable part was experiencing the uncomplicated approach to life of the host families. They welcomed volunteers to their breakfast table as if they were a part of the family, were thankful for every opportunity that came their way, and made a pastime of teaching high-strung Americans (and some Europeans) to take one day at a time. At some point the beauty of the Italian countryside and the taste of farm-fresh Italian food will fade from memory, but I hope to remember the importance of being open to new experiences and simple things such as respect and gratitude.

[Photos courtesy of Ben, Fanny, and Marion]

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