I would like to provide a short introduction to explain what is the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunity in Organic Farm) to all those that do not know it.
WWOOF is an association which links volunteers and organic farms promoting experiences without any monetary exchange. The philosophy behind WWOOF is to build a sustainable and global community based on personal trust, where the “Hosts” are organic farm needing help and the WWOOFers are guys which are willing to help and learn.
I decided to make this experience when, some months ago, I found myself highly interested in gardening and growing vegetables. The call from mother Earth arrived when I started seeing things in a different way and all the certainty of my life collapsed like a card castle, but this is another story and maybe I will one day write a book on this!
I decided to do my first experience in my native land, Toscana choosing a small farm in Casentino, near Arezzo, where I had never been before. I liked the way they answered to my mails and I appreciated that they were vegetarian.
The family is composed by Rita, the husband Silvio and the daughter Irene. There were also some other guys helping, so I never felt lonely. They warmly welcomed me since the very beginning and my room was in a separated area of the house. To arrive there you have to drive in a very small, unpaved, steep descending road, obviously no GPS reaches the area so I had to ask to a couple of people. When you arrive there, you are completely inside the forest, the nature embraces you and you feel far from the “civilized” World.
They have 15 hr of fields, some for vegetable and some with fruits trees. I helped Rita in the daily tasks, normally I should have worked a little more than half day but I was so motivated and I felt I had so short time that I often worked full time. Rita explained me a lot of interesting things and I could help them since the very beginning. My daily tasks were watering the glass houses in the morning and removing weeds from the small Tomato plants inside the greenhouse.
This was just the beginning, then I sowed the tomatoes, I helped cleaning the weeds near the garlic and I assisted in planting different vegetables in and outside the glasshouse. The harder work was preparing the ground: it has to be soft and sometimes the machines are not enough and you need to refine the work by hands. Then, to avoid weeds, they use straw or a cloth made of Mater-Bi, therefore completely biodegradable. Many times issues occurred and we needed more time than expected to finish the tasks.
Another interesting experience has been the Market on Sunday: we went to Florence to sell some vegetables, but unfortunately only salad since this is a kind of “no man’s land” period where the winter’s veggies are not there and the spring/summer ones have still to come. Fortunately we had some jams, tomato sauces and soups made with only natural ingredients and a lot of love. That was an interesting and tiring experience as we left at 6.00 to be there around 7.30 and prepare the stand and we left at 8.30 to be at home at 10.00 PM. I loved presenting the products to the local people and tourists, explaining them how genuine, simple and delicious they are.
I took also some afternoons to ride around my beloved bike; the weather was fantastic and the area amazing. If you are wondering how I could find the power to cycle after working in the fields, well… first I think to be lucky in having naturally a lot of energies and, second, cycling for me is not tiring but it is a pleasure. In my short trips I met some nice people that helped me in finding the way back since I was riding with no maps and no GPS!
Last but not least, the fun during working and resting time has added a lot of pleasure to my staying. We were always laughing and enjoying whatever we were doing and this is not easy to be found nowadays in our gray society. Seriously when I came back I missed the warmth of their company.
The sad point, yes, there is always one, is that these people are not fairly rewarded. The government kills them with taxation and overregulation that often sounds stupid to common sense. The politicians give support to multinationals and big farm and kills these small realities. I saw how much effort and passion they put in their job and how it is difficult to breakeven. I am sure all these small farms are the real assets of our world. We are at a breaking point, we have to decide if we want to be ruled by the big industries or if we want to support the small farms, I have already decided and if you are reading this article you are probably on the good way, but many people do not care, they just want to spend less and eat more. We need to promote these realities, if they disappear it can be the end of everything.
To conclude, I suggest anyone to do an experience in WWOOFing, you see the world with different eyes after. I also suggest you, if you are planning to travel in Italy to pass by the area of Casentino; it is not far from Florence and it is inside Arezzo province. It is not really touristic but the landscapes and the small villages with Romanic churches will impress you. In case, do not forget to pass by “ Az. Agricola Malpighi”, Pian di reggi, Faltona, to taste the fresh veggies and admire a Paradise corner.
Credits: Photos by Gaia Buratti, handlettering (first image) by Linda Dieschbourg.