I’m back again to fill you in about my adventures through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), which I have decided to participate in during my “gap year” between high school and university.
I wrote to you last from Scotland, where I stayed during the month of September in the beautiful hills of Glendevon. Since then, I have arrived in France, where I have been working on my language studies. For the last three and a half weeks, I have continued my WWOOF journey at an olive farm in Provence, where I am currently helping with the autumn/winter harvest.
View of Vaudoret
I arrived on a sunny Monday afternoon, awaking from a nap to be surrounded by mountains and wild fennel bushes. Mouries, France is considered by some to be the “olive capitol” of the country, and upon my arrival it struck me that I had never seen an olive tree in person; they are as romantic as Van Gogh depicted them.
Mountains of Provence
Vaudoret is a third generation olive farm that in 1997 added its own oil mill and is certified organic. The farm is 35 hectares and has around 9000 trees varying in age, growing 6 different varieties of olives. A typical work day starts at 9 AM, breaks for lunch anywhere from 12:30 to 1 and usually ends around 6 PM. The work itself can be weather dependent: the wind here gets to be very strong. This is a problem, especially when the olives are at their peak of ripeness, as they are blown off the tree and begin to decompose, which is why efficient methods and planning are very important during the harvest.
Harvesting the olives
I have found that gender binaries are heavily applied in life on the farm: there are jobs “pour les filles” and different jobs “pour les garçons” (nevertheless, I sneak my way into heavy lifting of stones and cases when I can, perhaps a product of my pride, and have bulked up my biceps and triceps as a result).
My room, shared with two other WWOOFers
Some decor to make it feel a little more like home
The harvest usually lasts from the end of October through the end of December, but this season the olives were unusually late. I began picking during my second week here, where before I had done other odd jobs such as moving rocks and dead branches. I work with three other WWOOFers, as well as two paid workers and the son-in-law of my host, however there are all sorts of things going on at all times in different spots of the property (it truly is a family operation). For the picking of the olives, large nets are set down to catch the olives that are removed by hand and with combs (par les filles) and battery-powered rakes (par les garcons) – once we have gathered a sufficient amount of olives, we load them into cases. That evening, it is necessary to separate any leaves or branches from the olives to prepare them for oil. The amount of olives our group gathers in one day can vary, but both today and yesterday the olives amounted to around 350 kilos.
Olives ready for de-leafing
Olives to be made into oil
Leaves in my hair after a long day of work
Ginger, the farm dog.
It takes an average of 5 kilos of olives for one liter of oil. I do not help with the production of the oil, but have the pleasure of having fresh oil from the farm with baguette at dinner each night, which is a vibrant green when it is first made. However, Vaudoret produces a number of perfumed oils, including some made with wild fennel found on the farm, which I did help with cutting an infusing in oil during my first week. Although the fruit is made primarily into oil, the farm also produces a small amount of tapenades and preserved olives (both of which are divine). I find the harvest to be very therapeutic, even in the bitter cold, so it is no surprise that many tourists, French and foreigners alike, come to the region to clear their heads among the oval-shaped gems.
Overview of extra virgin olive oil production
Olive oil producing contraption
Olive oil is a vibrant green which settles into the familiar translucent-gold.
Bottled oil to be sold
We work hard, eat well, and laugh a lot here. I am off to other travels come the 19th, but I hope to be able to fit in more experiences of farm life through WWOOF after Christmas; come a few months, you may be hearing from me in either southern California or Quebec!