As a student placement in the CCRI, I have personal development time allocated each week to develop my skills and experiences. I am someone who needs to be active and spend time outside, that’s why I wanted this personal time to be an opportunity for me to escape the office. I directly thought about working in farms, because I already did it in the past and I knew it would be a fantastic way to link my studies, my internship at the CCRI and my personal desire. I used the wwoofing organization to look for farms where I could be a volunteer. This organization, meaning World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, was created 40 years ago in England. The “wwoofers” work at the farm 4-6 hours per day and in exchange the farmers host them and provide them lunch. But wwoofing is more than just this exchange; it is also a way to share knowledge about organic and sustainable farming, about permaculture, about a different way of life. It brings different people together, with different knowledge, skills, origins, ideas, strength and weakness. I really think the key point of wwoofing is not the work, but the social relations it builds.
I discovered wwoofing three years ago, when I was preparing the entrance exam for AgroParisTech. I had one year to prepare it and study a lot. This exam included an English oral exam and a motivation oral exam. In order to prepare these, and also (and especially) because I wanted to travel and escape the routine, I decided to try wwoofing. I’ve heard about it before through internet and word of mouth from friends of friends who did it. For my first wwoofing experience, I wasn’t alone. I did it with a friend of mine, Margot, a classmate who was preparing the same entrance exam as me. We registered on the UK wwoofing organization. We found Wonnacott Farm, in Devon. Paul and Rosie were looking for help with their turkeys and other livestock. We stayed here two weeks in December 2013, to help with the processing of turkeys, from breeding to selling, including plucking and dressing. This first experience was really beneficial for me. I learnt a lot about farming, but also about myself. I created friendly and strong relationship with this couple who hosted us. Wwoofing is much more than working for someone else, it is also sharing meals, debate on plenty of subjects, and share ideas.
After this first experience, I continued my studies. I entered to AgroParisTech, an Agronomic “Grande Ecole”, in Paris, in order to improve my knowledge in agriculture, agronomy, food industry, economy, politics, statistics… I am still in this school, for one more year. I want to specialize in livestock production and rural development, and find a job to help people to convert into sustainable farming. In my first year of school, I did one month internship in Pyrenean Mountains, in a goat farm. It was included in my school assignment, but I saw it as another opportunity to volunteer in a farm. I lived with Pascale, Antoine and their two young daughters for one month. I learnt how managing a goat herd, milking them by hand, making cheese and selling it on producers markets. I saw the difficulties of farming, like disease killing the half of the goat kids, bacteria spoiling the cheese (with important economic loss), breakdown of milking machine. But one more time I also discovered the beauty of nature, the social links provided by the direct sells and how clients are grateful to receive good products. I learnt a lot with this family, who just left their previous life (not about farming and even less about organic thinking) to reconnect with nature and environment. After this experience, I wanted to keep on wwoofing. As I started to learn Spanish, I registered on Spanish wwoofing website to look for a farm for the summer 2015. I finally found a ranch in the Canary Islands. This wwoofing experience was totally different: the owners spent all their summer abroad and left the management of the ranch and the ponies to the wwoofers. I found that really surprising, and this was probably my less enriching wwoofing experience, because I haven’t really exchange with farmers. However, I was a wonderful fortnight. The ranch was located on La Palma, one of the most beautiful, wild and conservated Canary Islands. The volcanic past created impressive landscape, black sand beach and amazing views. Even if I haven’t met the owners of the farm, I created strong friendship with other wwoofers who were there with me, and with the tourists we guided during horse riding tours.
The wwoofing I am currently doing in addition to my internship at the CCRI is also really different. I found a farm at 20 minutes from Gloucester, in the splendid Stroud Valley: Stroud Slad Farm, a sheep and beef cattle farm. The context is one more time different because I go there only one Monday every fortnight, and I don’t sleep there. In consequences, I don’t create deep relationship with my hosts. I usually work with the employee, Jason. He is really passionate by his job, and always answers to all my questions. As he told me, the fact I ask questions make him thinking about his job, about what he is doing things in that way and it create a base for more reflection we can have together.
I will continue my wwoofing experience during all my stay in the UK. I will try to go to explore regions I don’t know yet, like Scotland for example. Working with primary producers, in the countryside, far away from everything make me realize how agriculture and nature are important for humans. It is one of the pillar humanity, including the respect of the nature, the welfare animals and solidarity and social relationship that too many people forget. In my point of view, living in city, always connected with phones, computers, overwhelmed by media, publicity, and cheap food in huge supermarket make us forget the reality of life, where everything starts. In trouble times, uncertain about future about climate change, politics and international relations, coming back to the source, to the agriculture and to true relations, helps me to keep being optimistic.