WWOOFing in France: Discovering a New Beauty Regimen
After spending five months studying abroad in Strasbourg, France, I thought I had, more or less, seen it all.
I had stayed in hostels, hotels, and my host family’s apartment, and done everything from pouring Guinness in Dublin to haggling in the markets of Morocco. But when I decided to stay in Europe for the weeks between my semester ending and my visa expiring, I stumbled onto something entirely new: life working on an organic vegetable farm.
Twenty euros and a few emails later, it was settled: I would spend two weeks working on a co-op in Aquitaine, France.
I knew that I wanted to see more of Europe in the few weeks I had left, but the idea of traveling solo was both expensive and daunting. Instead, I decided to look into something a friend had once mentioned about an organization that places people on farms around the world. For the price of a one-time membership fee, Worldwide Opportunities in Organic Farming allows anyone to live and eat for free on organic farms around the world in exchange for labor. Twenty euros and a few emails later, it was settled: I would spend two weeks working on a co-op in Aquitaine, France.
For practical reasons, travelers are often confined to cities, which offer the most convenient accommodations and the highest concentration of entertainment, landmarks and museums. But those who visit only urban areas see only a slim percentage of what a country has to offer. During my five-month stay in France, I had seen Paris, Strasbourg, Reims, Lyon, Nice and several foreign cities, but I had never spent more than a brief wine tour in the countryside. WWOOFing seemed like an ideal way to round out my experience in Europe.
In two weeks in Aquitaine, my sole expenses were my train tickets.
There are also obvious financial benefits to WWOOFing. The farmers who participate make it clear that it’s no free vacation, and many people who sign up leave after only a few days when they realize they’re actually expected to work. But at the same time, my time at the farm involved more than enough siestas, market days, campfires and trips to the beach to justify the work I put in. For those looking to see the world on a shoestring budget, WWOOFing is the perfect opportunity. In two weeks in Aquitaine, my sole expenses were my train tickets.
Of course, WWOOfing is a far cry from a luxury vacation. I’d never thought of myself as particularly fastidious before, but living in a caravan on a farm for two weeks forced me to readjust my standards.
The very first day on the farm, as I approached the (outdoor, cold-water-only) shower, I found in the tub a spider the size of a two-euro coin. Formerly, a spider that size would have merited a cry for help and a 24-hour boycott of the room in which the offender was found. But, in the spirit of adventure, I simply used a nearby plank of wood to remove the spider. Days later, I managed to be (mostly) unbothered when my neighbor found a baby slug among the fresh salad we were eating. And when, at the end of my trip, I found a spider nestled in my backpack, I was less disgusted than annoyed (at that point, it seemed a little like the universe was mocking me).
The very first day on the farm, as I approached the (outdoor, cold-water-only) shower, I found in the tub a spider the size of a two-euro coin.
In general, life at the farm imposed a new beauty regimen, or lack thereof. In my time there, I never wore one stitch of makeup or piece of jewelry. The old shower routine of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face scrub, etc. was replaced by one bottle of two-in-one shampoo and conditioner that I decided could also serve as body wash. When faced with a freezing outdoor shower, I learned to shower in well under three minutes. I also learned not to be bothered by a little dirt. When you spend all day planting vegetables, your fingernails accumulate the kind of dirt that no amount of soap, hot water and cursing can fully remove.
But from a different perspective, farm work is its own kind of beauty regimen. Spending all day planting, harvesting and moving heavy wooden crates of produce is basically a free two-in-one gym and tanning membership, not to mention the health benefits of the organic produce served at every meal.
WWOOFing in France: Discovering a New Beauty Regimen
WWOOFing, in addition to giving you a new perspective, teaches you a new trade. I came away from my WWOOFing experience with plenty of new skills, including, but not limited to: planting tomatoes, peppers and dozens of other vegetables; identifying herbs by their French names; baking bread from scratch; and chasing a pot-bellied pig out of the kitchen. I also expanded my French vocabulary to include words for produce, farm equipment and the kind of colorful language necessary for berating a stubborn pig.
I arrived in Paris sunburned, mosquito-bitten and feeling decidedly un-chic in my rumpled blue jeans and dirty work boots.
Working on a farm also teaches you to deal with the unexpected. One night, for example, you might think you’re relaxing around the campfire with a bottle of Heineken, until the horses break loose and start running through the fields and quick, somebody get a flashlight and some rope before they eat all the lettuce we just put in the ground.
At the end of my time at the farm, I came away with enough memories to make the two weeks I’d spent WWOOFing seem like four. I arrived in Paris sunburned, mosquito-bitten and feeling decidedly un-chic in my rumpled blue jeans and dirty work boots. And, though the return to the world of indoor plumbing and hot water was a relief, I knew that, through WWOOFing, I had stumbled into a lifetime of opportunities. WWOOFing connects its members to a limitless global community. Now, the next time wanderlust strikes, I know that the only things I need are plane tickets and my work boots.
WWOOFing in France: Discovering a New Beauty Regimen photo credits by Unsplash and Maggie C.