Hello everyone, it’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog and this one I’ve been meaning to do for some time. In celebration of Organic September I thought I would share with you the reason I ended up in the organic fruit and veg game! Some of you may know that before working at Village Greens my previous career was as a teacher. I had been working at the local college in Bolton for nearly 7 years when my husband and I decided that we wanted an adventure. We gave up our jobs and our rented house, put all of our things in storage (our parents’ garages and lofts!) and set off in our little Toyota Aygo to France.
We had decided to explore France with the help of an organisation called WWOOF. Some of you may have heard of it. It stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and they are a global movement ‘linking visitors with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange thereby helping to build a sustainable global community.’ (https://wwoof.net/)
I’ll not go into the details of how it works as you can follow the link and explore yourselves but I’ll say it took about 6 months of planning, partly because we were vacating our house, but there were lots of emails exchanged and when you are trying to write in French and you are far from fluent, it can take some time!
We made arrangements to stay with 4 hosts over 3 months, taking care to choose those that were vegetarian/vegan. Every day I kept a diary of our experiences so I am going to dip into my diary to write this blog in four parts and share it in instalments over the month of Organic September. I really hope you enjoy it and it inspires those with similar dreams to follow them because it was one of the best experiences of our lives.
Our journey began at the beginning of August and after an overnight motel stay in Boulogne Sur Mer and a day and night in the beautiful city of Rouen, we arrived at our first destination: La Manoir De La Gree in the north in Soulvache. We were joining a community of people living almost completely off grid in the grounds of an old manor house. The community was well established although far from the vision they were aiming for. There was a still a lot of work to be done which was part of the reason they welcomed WWOOFers like us. We were nervous to begin with, but we were soon feeling at home after a tour of the grounds, our first meal together where we had our first of many informal French lessons!
The set up was fantastic. They had a carpentry workshop, a bakery, a garden and housing. Various contraptions were set up around the place like solar panels, solar water heating and a solar oven, water came from a well, all toilets were compost toilets and there were plenty of rules about how to reduce and manage waste. I loved it!
We stayed here two weeks with our bedroom in the roof of a straw house that they’d built. Two other WWOOFers were staying in the pain part of the straw house and a number of mice also lived with us. There were also many friends of La Gree who would drop in and stay for a night or two and then move on to their next adventure. Permanent residents included circus performer Valerian, so we were entertained by juggling and acrobatics on a daily basis. There was the inspirational Doro who had so many stories of her travels. She had big dreams for La Gree and was completely fearless, hitchhiking her way around from one event to another gathering ideas and making plans. Our fellow Woofer, Florean, was the most chilled person I’d ever met, open mindedly floating from one life experience to another and the creative and musical Cornelia, only 18 and yet she had travelled over 500km on her bike solo to get there.
We learnt so much from these people and also from the visitors. The high flying and gentle natured couple Audrey and Camille came from Paris to escape the rat race for a bit and visit their friends at La Gree. It was then that we heard that the problems we’d attributed to life in the UK existed everywhere and so, just like these folk at La Gree, we realised that we too could choose an alternative way of living.
With all of our new companions we worked together on a variety of jobs: gardening, cooking, baking, making furniture from pallets, making paint from flour and then using that paint to paint their greenhouse (which was made out of old windows and doors). We all cooked and ate together at every mealtime and ate well.
The way we live today has been hugely influenced by this experience; our kitchen is filled with jars and projects! They ate wholly organically and lived very simply and we continue this way of life to this day here in Bolton. Although we are limited by space we have managed to create a veggie garden here and, whilst it can sometimes lead to disappointment, the rewards are plenty.
The folks at La Gree were also very supportive of their community: attending fetes, allowing a local choir to practice in the grounds and opening to the public to share their practices and give advice to those wanting to learn. The community also gave back by pulling together to help with large tasks such as roof repairs to the manor.
Our final evening was just magical. We were so sad to leave but we had the perfect send off. The group took us to their zen garden, an area of forest cleared by an absent resident Jean-Pierre, as part of his meditation. It had taken him 1416 hours to clear of all kinds of rubbish including cars, bikes, glass, white goods etc. We talked of the future and thanked each other for the past two weeks. We had all really clicked. Their communal way of life really appealed to me: sharing tasks, supporting each other and motivating each other to move the project forward was an exciting and inspiring way to live. Having the support of the rest of the residents seemed give them the courage and the freedom to make their own future and I see this in the co-operative model I belong to at Village Greens and in the many other types of co-ops I have met along the way.
Thank you for reading this blog. I hope you have enjoyed it. In my next entry we travel to La Coquille where we stay with a small family growing organic veg to sell at the weekly market in Bordeaux.