The Sweet Aroma of France: WWOOFing with aromatic plants in the south of France.
When Kristen asked if she could provide us with a story from her time in WWOOFing in France we couldn’t refuse! This is a guest post is provided by fellow travel blogger Kristen Grennan. Be sure to check out her full bio below. All photos in this post are provided by Kristen.
While sitting on the front lawn of my French WWOOFing hosts’ modern home, I can’t help but stare in awed silence at the 12th century church facing me. One week later, standing on the deck of my second WWOOFing home, I sip a glass of red wine and admire a lush green valley in the Cevennes Mountains while chatting with a friend. This was not what I was expecting while WWOOFing in France.
After having spent 7 months teaching English in primary schools in Le Havre, France, I decided to travel to the south with my just-enough-to-get-by paycheck. The solution to my lack of funds? WWOOFing.
To give you an idea of the craziness of this idea, let me tell you a little about myself: I’m a New Yorker from the suburbs of Long Island; I have never set foot on a farm and my parents think buying organic food is a load of crock; I grew up on Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese, Chef Boyardee Ravioli, and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup. However, I had some friends who had done (and really enjoyed) WWOOFing and I had this romantic notion that I would be pushed to work really hard on an isolated farm in the middle of nowhere in France (which, for some reason seemed really romantic). Boy, was I surprised.
One thing about the farms I WWOOFed on in France was that they were not really “farms” at all. At my first WWOOF location, my host and her “ami” (Here is where I learned that “mon ami” means, “my boyfriend/partner,” and “un ami de moi” means, “my friend.” Tricky!) grew aromatic plants and vegetables on two small plots of land about 10 minutes drive from their home. The second farm also grew aromatic plants and vegetables in a garden behind their home (they also produced and sold essential oils). Both families lived in small villages near larger towns, not out in the middle of nowhere, and the lands they farmed were more like large gardens, as opposed to the massive farms I’ve seen in the US.
I also thought I would learn a lot about the physical labor of farming and how an organic farm is run. While I did learn a lot about the physical mechanics of running an organic farm, what I was really surprised to learn about was the culture of organic farming. More specifically, I was surprised to learn about all of the different and naturally growing medicinal plants there are out there. Did you know that sage, juniper, pine, dwarf pine, eucalyptus, and rosemary have all been found to be effective in preventing and even treating osteoporosis, with pine oil being the most effective? According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “A number of studies have reported that lavender essential oil may be beneficial in a variety of conditions, including insomnia, alopecia (hair loss), anxiety, stress, and postoperative pain.” BBC News reported in 2007 that essential oils were successful in reducing the levels of infections at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester. Making herbal teas (tisane in French), adding dried herbs to garnish your meals, and using essential oils topically or orally, are all amazing ways to treat an array of medical problems, from cramps and high blood pressure to depression and anxiety. With all my college education, I stood in the middle of the garden illiterate, unable to read the language of the earth and what it could tell me about improving my health.
Another thing that astonished me was how rich the French countryside is in terms of history, culture, and ecology. The first farm was in the Dordogne region of France, also known as the region of 1001 castles. Where I was staying was right near hiking trails, within biking distance of medieval villages and a cave with cool stalagmites and stalactites, and within a car ride of several chateaus and an ancient village. The second farm was in the Cevennes mountain range and had breathtaking vistas, beautiful hiking trails, and streams and ponds to swim in. I was also lucky enough to sit in on a concert in a small roman church for middle school children featuring different instruments made of glass. It is not necessarily that I thought that these areas would be deficient in nature and history, but I just did not expect there to be so much of it. In these areas, I was continually amazed at the beauty of both natural and historical structures and I really left both places feeling that I had not stayed long enough to see everything that I had wanted to.
WWOOFing in France was an eye opening experience to say the least. I now think about everything I put into my mouth, whether it is meat, vegetables, or even medicine. I also have a richer understanding of France and its people as well as country living in general. Going into this, I thought it would just be a unique and cheap way to spend three weeks. Now, I can’t wait to WWOOF again!
Kristen Grennan runs her own travel blog called Kristen in Paris and is a managing director at Sensible Reason – a music, art, and politics blog. After finishing her year of teaching English in France, she now works as a festival coordinator for HeadCount, a non-profit that seeks to register voters and encourage non-partisan political and social activism.