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WWOOFing Part 3 - Organic September

Welcome back to our celebration of Organic September where I am reminiscing about a trip I took 5 years ago with my husband, Simon. We worked on organic farms in France in exchange for food and a bed....although we gained so much more!

So, our third destination was Rouffiac in the Cantal Department and Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region. We arrived mid afternoon after travelling straight from our previous hosts' farm. We pulled into the grounds of a huge farmhouse which was surrounded by many outbuildings: workshops, stables, barns, a polytunnel etc. As we climbed out of our car we were met by a pack of dogs heading straight for us. As they neared we realised it was two fully grown dogs, who we would learn were Homi and Nausica, and four adorable puppies. I was in my element. Our hosts weren't home so we spent an hour playing with our new four legged friends until Jerome, the father of the family we were staying with arrived. He spoke only a little English and, with our French still far from fluent, we attempted very basic schoolroom type conversation until his wife Barbara arrived home with their two young daughters.

In addition to the dogs they had 3 cats and 2 horses. The thing every household had had in common so far was the presence of cats and yet, once again, there was still evidence of mice. It seemed most of the cats we met preferred to curl up on our laps and be pampered than spend their day hunting.

It seemed with every new host our accommodation got more and more comfortable. The family had lived their for eleven years after it was left to them. We were staying in a room that they also rented out to travellers, so it was well looked after and had everything we would need.

The garden was huge and was filled with fruit and nut trees and I loved hanging out there with the dogs and the puppies discovering what everything was. I had never seen a walnut tree or a hazelnut tree or even heard of a quince! There were also figs, damsons, plums and blackberries and probably more! I really could taste the difference too in the food we were eating. The organic apples were the tastiest I'd ever had!

Barbara was a teacher and it was Jerome who was to teach us about their organic lifestyle. He was a baker and for the past 4 years had been growing wheat, harvesting it and baking his own bread which he sold at the weekend market in Chalais. He also sold honey from his bees and apple juice made from his own apples.

The farm was 20km away from the family home and so two or three times a week we would travel early in the morning with Jerome, feeding the horses on the way, to the land that he rented. We were given jobs that were to be our jobs on the farm for the two weeks that we stayed there. Simon was put to work manning a large seed sorting machine. It was a new machine Jerome had recently acquired and when a bucket of mixed seeds were put in, it would sort them and deposit them in several buckets. Buckets when full would be brought to me in the grinding room, a small but noisy room with just two pieces of equipment in: the first machine would grind the wheat and fill a bucket, when this bucket was full I would pour it into the second machine which would sieve the contents therefore producing white bread instead of wholemeal. After that first day I always brought a book and my ear plugs and would stand at the entrance to the small room breathing fresh air until the occasion came to switch the buckets.

We asked Jerome if we could watch him bake his bread one day and he showed us into his bakery which was in one of the buildings at his home. I had never seen bread being baked by hand. I was used to spending 5 minutes at the bread maker and returning four hours later to freshly baked bread....minimum effort. Here Jerome put so much more care in. He believed in having high quality ingredients and that meant organic. He had built his own oven and had had a fire burning in there for four hours as he waited for it to reach the right temperature: when the coals had turned white. In preparation for this moment he mixed all of the ingredients of which there were just four: flour, water, salt and fresh yeast. Once kneaded he added additions such as walnuts, olives or seeds and put in tins to prove. It all smelled amazing, especially later when they replaced the fire in the oven. He was very skilled at it. Whilst he worked Jerome explained that it was difficult to be a farmer. It was hard work, long hours, unreliable, not well paid and he had little time off. To listen you would think it was a thankless job to be in but Jerome was living in accordance with his beliefs. He wanted to work in harmony with nature and not against it and he and his wife had high hopes to grow the business and gain more support in the community.

Whilst not at the farm we offered to do jobs around the house to keep busy. These included cleaning beehives, cracking walnuts, mowing the lawn, taking down the damaged polytunnel and clearing it, preparing food and apple picking. We made nettle soup and passionflower tea with foraged plants and Barbara, a teacher, took us on long walks with the family in the surrounding area which was mostly woodland, countryside, vineyards and farmland. They also included us in family activities such as games and watching French animated films.

We did get plenty of time to be tourists too visiting an underground church, parks, villages, a rehabilitation farm and a visit to Angouleme (twinned with Bury) where one of our previous WWOOFing friends was studying art. The town is famous for its art, especially cartoons, graffiti and sculpture which were everywhere.

After two weeks we had decided that we were ready for a holiday and a bit of time to ourselves so we thanked our hosts and set off to a campsite in Arcachon. About this I'll just say, if you are ever in south west France you must visit the Dune du Pilat. It is the tallest sand dune in Europe and the views were spectacular. We went at sunset and we'll never forget the was so much fun to run down too! We climbed it again just to have another turn!

Part 4 of my September blog series for Organic September will take us to Saint-Laurent-de-Gosse in the Landes department in Nouvelle-Aquitaine in southwestern France.

Thank you for reading!

If you would like to read the previous entries they can be found here:


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