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My first WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) host, Silvia, greets me with an exuberant smile and an aura of positivity as I sit waiting at a small French sandwicherie in a small town called St. Martin-de Londres. St. Martin-de-Londres is a setting of ancient stone buildings and cobbled alleyways which could have been ripped straight from the pages of The Three Musketeers and is just a short bus ride outside of Montpellier. I grab my travel backpack and my camera as I stuff the last morsel of a Panini into my mouth and I load up into Silvia’s silver mini-van.
Down twisting roads, we drive, veering left or right as the road splits at odd intersections; past trapezoidal plots of grapevines and fields full of small, round bales of hay sitting scattered about like checker pieces in the midst of a game. Everything is glowing like amber in the Mediterranean sun. It’s hot, but a good dry heat, and the gusting wind from the opened windows of the van is playful and invigorating as it flows past my outstretched arm and open hand with a soft, invisible pressure. Silvia, with her wavy, brown hair tied back in a vibrantly colored bandana and skin as dark as rich mahogany, is one half of the two-host team that I will be staying with. Even without looking at her, you can hear that her voice is smiling. She talks in a welcoming Italian accent which spills over into her French and English, both. We talk about my misadventures in Montpellier, about my home, my travels, and about her and Stèphane’s small organic farm, La Ferme du Lamalou, where I will be volunteering and learning about organic agriculture for the next month.
As we pull into the drive, we are welcomed by two black and white border collies, tongues lolling and tails wagging, running ahead of the van as they direct us to the van’s usual resting place. The farm is a beautiful form of organized imperfection sitting at the foot of a magnificent mountain called Pic St. Loup (pronounced Peak Sahn Loo). The fields are a configuration of juxtaposed plots placed wherever they will fit in a way that is reminiscent of a simple, stained-glass window. They are bursting with life as young plants push forth through the clay soil and open their arms to the breeze and the radiant sun.
We step out of the van to be officially greeted by Lily and Diego, Silvia and Stèphane’s two border collies. Silvia asks me if I would like to walk with her to the small river which runs through the property to meet everybody else. I accept, and she points out the various plots and plants, relaying some of their names in French as the small fields meet us around the gently winding footpath. Through a tunnel of small, wild plum trees so low that you have to crouch to pass through, down a gently sloping forest pathway, Silvia leads me to the Lamalou River. When we arrive to the opening at the bank of the river, the air is noticeably refreshed by the chilly, slow-moving river. The water is clear and reflects a light aquamarine in the sun. The rivulets of water, trickling over moss covered rocks in small cascades, collects in a 10-foot deep pool big enough to do laps in; a handful of small tadpoles swimming lazily around. At the river I am greeted by Stèphane, tall and sturdy, with unruly brown hair, a full beard, baritone voice and a thick, French accent that is jovial and confident. Elior, Silvia and Stèphane’s 4 year-old son, is barefoot, blond and lightly tanned as he runs around, full of laughter and mischief. I also meet Merindah and Adam; the two other WWOOFers that I will be joining for the next couple of weeks. As we swim around and take turns plunging into the icy water from the rope swing, we share short introductions.
A Very Special Meal
After we are fully refreshed, lunch is prepared. The first question Stèphane asks me is if there is anything that I don’t eat. I honestly respond, “No. As long as it is organic and humanely raised.” He says mischievously, in his thick, French accent, “Good, because we have a very special meal for today.” Outside, on a thick, wooden-slab table under some shade trees, are bowls and platters brimming with grated beets in heaps of deep purple, yellow zucchini cut into small cubes, large, hard-crusted loaves of bread, seasoned couscous, and various homemade jams and spreads, ranging from sweet tomato jelly to spicy pepper reductions. A platter of various goat-cheeses is presented and all is placed around a large, shallow skillet filled with tiny morsels of the special mystery. I take a healthy serving and upon my first bite I immediately recognize what it is—escargot. It is absolutely, positively…..delicious. Stèphane shares with a laugh and a smile that they are straight from the farm and collected by himself over the course of a few days; over a hundred snails, that once wore shells the size of large cherry tomatoes.
I don’t think you could ask for a more diverse table. Sitting around, conversing in a lively fashion, there is Silvia who is originally from Italy, Stèphane from Normandy in northern France, Merindah from Australia, Adam from Israel, and me from Kansas, smack dab in the middle of the United States. We talked, laughed and shared stories. At this point, there is no doubting it; this is going to be an incredible experience.
Il n’y a rien de mieux qu’une table avec de bons amis et un bon repas ! Bon appétit!
And if you'd like to share the experience of a truly French meal in your own home, you can find Stèphane’s method of preparing escargot by clicking here. Read all of Russell’s adventures (and misadventures) WWOOFing in France by clicking here.
Next in the series: Learn more about Russell’s WWOOF hosts as he shares their philosophies and how they started their small, organic farm in the south of France.
Previously in the series: Journey to My First WWOOF Destination
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