Sunday, June 26, 2011

On a Farm in Italy

One of my main reasons for coming to Italy was to volunteer on organic farms through the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) program. My first farm was in northern Italy, in the Piemonte region, or Piedmont in English. It was very close to where my friend lived in Bra, yet I had to take 4 regional trains and half a day to get there... not unusual for the Italian train system I'm told! But it was great to finally arrive on the farm, a 20 minute drive from a small city up into rolling farm hills and tiny roads on hairpin turns.

The farm is run by a Brazilian woman, her Italian husband, and his father who was born on the farm. They also had a 4 year-old son and another baby on the way. The land has been in their family for over 200 years. They grow wine and table grapes, wheat, barely, maize, hazelnuts, plums, and many veggies, and go to market 4 mornings a week. They grow and grind all their own flour in a stone mill off-site. The property was about 30 acres, nestled in hills with the medieval castle of a small town visible on a ridge in the distance. It was a peaceful and gorgeous spot.
When I arrived, there were 4 other volunteers already there. There were 2 guys from California, and 2 women from Vancouver, BC. They helped orient me to the farm set up and the typical work schedule. We helped ourselves to breakfast, usually yogurt, homemade muesli, seasonal fruit, homemade bread, or fresh eggs, along with strong percolated Italian coffee. By 9am we started working in the field, and it was already fairly hot but not too hot. Field work was anything from harvesting vegetables to organic pest control to weeding to transplanting new starts to cutting lavender.

Then in the late morning as it got hotter, we would usually move to a shade job. There was a good covered outdoor work table where we would shell hazelnuts or prep veggies or bunch herbs.
At this point the farm mom Vanessa would usually be working on lunch and one or two of us could help cook if we wanted. Meals usually consisted of a lot of vegetables, some pasta, homemade bread, cheese, some meat, and beer or wine. Vanessa was a wonderful, intuitive cook and I learned a lot about Italian and general cooking in these couple weeks. Some examples of dishes we ate: potato/green bean bean casserole with pecorino, sauteed favas with onion, stuffed tomatoes with basil, garden vegetable soup, green salad with homemade rosemary croutons, fried squash blossoms and onion flowers, bagnetto (an amazing and simple parsley sauce with garlic, lemon, and egg), anchovie ceviche, homemade calzones, pasta carbonara, rice pilaf, bruschetta, prawns in tomato sauce, local cheese, grilled vegetables, curried cannellini beans, etc.
After eating and cleaning up from lunch, we would take a siesta until 4:30 or 5. I haven't been much of a napper in recent years, but I started liking the afternoon lie-down here. You wake up feeling sort of groggy, sort of refreshed, and ready to get back outside. The evening is a nice time to work since it's not too hot. We would usually harvest or sometimes do other projects like painting, construction, or more cooking. One evening I learned how to make tiramisu after asking Venessa for a lesson. If you ask, I would make it for you just to have a reason.
We usually ate dinner around 8 or 9, which was on the late side for me, but I got used to it.

That was our average day, but of course there were a few days with variations. One day, Vanessa and her husband took a couple volunteers to the beach, so the rest of us had the day off. We decided to walk to the town in the distance with the castle on the hill. When we got to this tiny town, it was obvious that we were foreigners, and I don't think it was much of a tourist destination that sees many visitors. Luckily for us we were noticed by the town's mayor, who offered to give us a tour of the city! Not only was it an awesome tour of the cathedral, castle, old wine cellars, city hall, and general history, but the young mayor was incredibly hot. Here we are on top of the medieval castle, overlooking the rolling hills and vineyards of Piedmont.
Another day we got up early to finish our work before lunch, then in the afternoon the farmers took us to a river swimming spot. We had to hike down into the river valley, then hike upriver to eventually find these pristine rock pools and falls. There was no one else there, just us on a hot day in the clear water.
But probably my favorite experience of all was just getting into a familial rhythm with the farmers and the other volunteers. It's been a long time since I've lived in such a tight community, and even though it was only for a couple weeks, we established a great rapport and daily life together. I'm so thankful to have been able to cultivate this relationship with the land, and enjoy its beauty and bounty in our shared meals. I will miss this place dearly, and hope that I can go back someday. A small consolations is that I get to go to another farm in Tuscany in about a week! To be continued...


Ally said...

This is so neat! I didn't even know this program existed. I love it though. Beautiful photos. I'm so glad you're posting about Italy now...I've been dying to see pics and hear the stories!

AmberAnda said...

Thanks for reading, even though I've been back for awhile! I've been meaning to catch up on posts. I'll try to get more pics up soon!

Cynthia said...

Amber, thanks for the evocative description of your experiences and the great photos! I may never get to rural Italy myself, but it's great to experience it second-hand on your blog.

Cynthia (Will's mom)

AmberAnda said...

Hi Cynthia! Thanks for reading!

the green heart said...

Sono molto felice di leggere queste parole, mi sento realizzata in sapere che il mio lavoro da la possibilità oltre che vivere una vita serena e felice di condividere queste esperienze con persone come te. Con 4 anni di WWOOF ho avuto l'oportunita di conoscere persone meravigliose, il MONDO e venuto a casa mia, qui in questo piccolo paradiso che senza tutte queste persone che vanno e vengono non avrebbe senso. Condividere ciò che abbiamo ci da la possibilità di confrontarsi e migliorare l'aspetto intellettuale, del lavoro ma sopratutto l'essenza del nostro intimo. Ci rende piu umani, piu forti piu sensibili. Ho registrati nella mia memoria suoni, profumi ed immagini che porterò dentro per sempre. La gratitudine verso i miei volontari sono enormi e spero che questo concetto sia stato chiaro. Voi 'hard worker ' meritate tutto ciò che questo posto vi può dare. Siete stati esplendidi. La buona musica che ci acompagnava quando cucinavamo e poi ogni mangiata e bevuta.
Il tempo che avete passato con Ian. Sono tesori che non hanno modo di quantificare.
Grazie mille e spero un giorno riaverti qui, nella tua casa italiana !