This is a guest post by Pablo, who wishes to otherwise remain anonymous.
A year ago I finished a master’s on Sustainable Energy in Edinburgh and I have been looking for work ever since, without much luck, however. My job-hunting strategy somehow brings me to France and so I find myself with loads of time on my hands and this unsatisfied urge to do something good for the environment. WWOOFing seemed to be a great way to do something about this. Even better, I loved the idea of doing hands-on work in a farm-like environment. And I also wanted to put myself in a situation where I had to speak French non-stop to become more fluent.
I signed up and found a place in the west of France, near a small town called Ancenis and close to the larger city of Nantes. I stayed with a family with 3 kids aged 13, 10 and 8.
This family led an exemplary low environmental impact life:
They collect rain water and use it as their only source of water. After, they filter their grey waters (everything that goes down the drain except stuff from the toilets) with a system of filters made with volcanic rocks and some special plants. They have ‘dry-toilets’ (which means they do their toilet business in a bucket and cover it with wood shavings) and when they bucket is full they add it to a compost heap. The organic residues from the kitchen go in the compost as well. They have solar water heating and solar PV panels to generate some electricity. At the end, the waste that the whole family produces is surprisingly small! — everything else goes back to the Earth. They also eat organic, vegetarian and grow most of their own vegetables.
I loved the lifestyle I had the chance to live: vegetarian, low environmental impact, no other worry but to do a good job. The simplicity of daily life delighted me: wake up, have breakfast, clean up kitchen, work till lunch time, have lunch, clean up kitchen, take a nap, wake up to work till supper time, clean up kitchen, feel a healthy tiredness and sleep like a baby. Of course, it was not always like clockwork. Sometimes the children did the kitchen chores and sometimes I helped out preparing supper.
The work I did was to build part of a floor (from the gravel to the tiles); de-weed a small plot, make mulch, and pick carrots.
My time there became a sort of improvised spiritual retreat. Work became part of my prayer. I felt happy at the end of each day because I know I achieved something and earned my food.
Yet I had this nagging feeling and thoughts in the back of my head. I didn’t like the assumption of my hosts that I would always wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen. it seemed to me that the kitchen chores where not equally shared between me and the family — it made me feel like a servant. I kept thinking whether the exchange of a relaxed 6 hour work day + some chores was equal to a bed and 3 meals.
I had the idea that my work would be to help an organic farm produce and sell its products. Instead, all my work was for the household, it did not transcend to the outer world — this further reinforced the impression of me being a servant. Don’t take me wrong, I did all the work willingly and in a good mood, I just questioned whether my choice of place was correct.
After my time was up, I was very happy because of the many things I learned and the examples I had received:
- It is possible to live a low impact life
- I can survive with a vegetarian diet
- I have an idea on how to cook veggy everyday
- My French became more fluent
- And finally, even people that live such an exemplary life can have points of view that, in my opinion, actually harm the environment. My host would prefer to recharge his PV system batteries with a diesel engine rather than buy electricity produced by a nuclear plant. He also thought that global warming was not man-made (hence the preference for the diesel engine).
I would most definitely recommend it to anyone that enjoys hands-on or outdoor activities, wants to improve a language, and learn to live an environmentally friendly life.
-Thanks Pablo! I love that you still got something out of your experience, even though it wasn’t what you expected. WWOOFing experiences can be quite diverse because the program is made of individuals working together.
Do you have a WWOOFing story? Please share! Short comments can be related below. If you would like to write a whole article like this one, please contact me.