These are some valuable lessons that I learned while working on an organic farm.
- Goats are highly intelligent creatures. Sheep are not.
- Blind baby sheep: Sad, or saddest thing to ever happen to shepherds universally?
- Food is best served fresh, simply.
Through a great organization called WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), I worked on an organic farm in Pleyban, about an hour outside of Brest. Despite Brest’s shortcomings, public transportation is not one of them. A bus took me and several other assistants looking for a taste of rural life to Pleyban for a mere €1.50.
We arrived at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere and were approached by a slightly balding middle age man wearing a one piece snow suit. For all I knew, he could have been an ax-murderer or maybe our host, but I packed my bags in the trunk and got in his car (sorry Mom). Turns out that he was our host and he drove us back to the 100 acre farm he shares with his wife. We shared a simple dinner that night consisting of salad with shredded carrots, beets, fresh goat cheese, gratin dauphinois or potato gratin, and approximately 30 loaves of bread baked that afternoon. All from their garden. All fresh. Simple fare, but complex in flavor and textures.
An 8 a.m. work call the next morning came earlier than expected, but I was off to a rousing start feeding goats, milking said goats, making goat cheese, feeding a blind baby sheep I nicknamed “Ray C.” goats milk, shepherding sheep out to pasture (official fourth Wise Man) and various other tasks. All of this before breakfast.
For breakfast, I ate homemade chataigne (chestnut) bread/cake with homemade blueberry, blackberry, and currant jams. Hardy kiwis (Actinidia arbutifolia) were also on the menu, their bright green flesh reminding me of a tropical island. I woke up from the dream still in Brest, but who knew kiwi could be grown in cool climates? It makes me wonder what all the fuss is about breakfast cereals? R.I.P. Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I’m sticking with chestnut bread–it is literally like tasting like the best cake you have ever had–soft, rich, delicate, warm, sensuous, I could go on, but it might go past PG-13…
I filled the rest of my weekend with tractor rides, gardening, and scooping horse manure for insulation (don’t ask, too hippy even for me). All in all, working on the farm was a very rewarding experience, both physically (it’s a lot of work, not a typical 9-5) and mentally. I cleared my mind from the grey smog in Brest and focused all my energy figuring how to get a goat into the pen, feed it, milk it, all while the smiling goat is trying to use my back as a springboard for escape/give me drop-the-soap prison treatment with its horns.
If you are even remotely interested in sustainable agriculture or knowing where and how your food is made, give WWOOF’ing a shot, even for just one weekend. Behind this great organization are wonderful farmers who are willing to share their knowledge, home, produce, kitchen, spare rooms in order to teach you about organic farming.