Paris may be the city of love for some, but a few sprawling fields in rural Bretagne did it for me. After a blissful semester in Grenoble, conjugating irregular French verbs until I was as blue in the face as the French cheese, I sought any means to stay in France just a bit longer. I became a WWOOFer.
Google it ‘- but basically, I volunteered on an organic farm, exchanging half a day’s work for a bed in a mobile home and as many extra helpings of vegetables each day as I wanted.
Arriving ‘agrave; la ferme St. Louie, I knew nothing about farming, and my limited French made small-talk stiff. But the French language has no word for ‘awkward,’ so I forged on. I struggled through both French and farm incompetence, and everyone I met coached me along.
I graduated from jobs like untying knotted string to cutting the enormous stems of green onions down to manageable size for market.
The Frenchies could not understand why I was there. An American, 21 years old, a city girl with three quarters of a college degree, what was I doing in the middle of nowhere? Cutting onion tops, no less.
I asked myself the same question. But something stirred inside me when I first saw the farm’s tractor, towering above me, as I stood eye-level with the top of one of its wheels. My skin tingled as I steered the roaring beast through a field of weeds, looking in the rear-view mirror at the neat rows of dark soil, ready to be planted. I loved that when I returned that evening my skin was a different color from the dust, and I admired my sock and sunglass lines.
Soon, they incorporated me fully into the daily workings of the farm. I weeded pea vines, fixed irrigation and planted tiny gourd seedlings regularly.
Market days highlighted the week, because I loved interacting with customers, who puzzled at my accent. When business dwindled, I helped myself to caramel crepes and visited other vendors. Soon my love of farming stemmed only half from the work itself, and half from the people around me.
On that farm, I discovered the satisfaction that comes from working with my hands, relying on nature, and enjoying the products of thoughtful labor. The best conversations happen when you are kneeling barefoot, covered in soil, planting lettuce seedlings with a silver spoon.
Then suddenly, just as quickly as I arrived, I left my beloved farm and all of my French farming friends. A minor freak accident in the spinach patch left me no choice but to return home to Florida for the rest of the summer.
So small farms and everything that follows have become my passion. I’m an urban girl in love with the slow pace, the return to nature and the quality of life when it’s stripped down to the essentials. Now my mission is to sustain that passion in the big city.