My life is now calm, ordered and a lot more french than it has been for quite a while. As usual the transition back to the french language is proving a challenge, though I do think that I am demanding more and more of myself each time. Conversations are getting easier but in different circumstances my vocabulary lets me down. Imagine being at a table chatting when the subject changes from edible wild plants to the rise and fall Cathars and the influence of religion on european life and bread eating during the last centuries. Not to mention trying to explain what is wrong with my brothers car and how the garage is fleecing him. I need to learn more.
I wrote that last week and things are a lot easier now. My head has found its french area and is well and truly wired for use. There are still plenty of opportunities to get completely lost in conversations, especially when there are plenty of people, though it is a lot easier.
I am WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) with Vivien on a small organic poultry farm in the south west of france. It is quiet and relaxed compared to my last location, yet I am still learning loads. The biggest learn here, so far, is that I know that poultry farming is NOT for me. The feeding, watering and care of hundreds of birds/animals is endless, there are frequent mortalities, especially with the smaller birds, plus a constant need to slaughter, clean and prepare carcasses for several markets each week. Dealing with life and death at close proximity day after day takes a certain type of person and I am finding the whole episode quite tiring.
Differences between french and english view on animal welfare don’t sit well either and I find some of the “approved” methods and practices less than attractive even here. I can only imagine what may happen on large scale agricultural premises, that would be enough to turn me completely vegetarian. I shall be choosier about my meat consumption and its origins in the future. It is a life, after all.
Vivien is one of the team that I am part of. We have joined forces to search for land to start farming projects and build homes to live in. Economies of scale on a tiny scale. The plan is to find a large(ish) plot of land to buy that we can divide up and live on independently, supporting each other in neighbourly ways and sharing the expense of certain tools and machines. Julien is the third team member, he is yet to join us this summer and should be here by the end of the week.
Our host here is an inspiration. A single mother of six children, she left regular work just over a year ago, rented an old farmhouse with seven hectares of land and started her organic poultry business. Four of the children are grown up and self supporting, one of which stays on the farm with her boyfriend for the summer to help out and the youngest two come and go between various family members and holiday opportunities whilst they are not at school. The amount of work that needs to be done here, for one person is incredible, I can imagine that it never ends. Starting with hosting helpers must be like being on holiday for a while, though that does depend on the helper......
We are out in the country in a wide valley with a river and woods to one side and fields and the church spire of a local village in the distance, to the other. Down valley, to the south, are the mountains. Today is the first clear day and they look amazing in the summer sunshine, their peaks still clinging to the remains of their winter snow. When we drive out to the local towns, to the markets and to visit folk, it’s great to recognise some of the names on road sign posts. It is good to be back near the mountains. It almost feels like home.
There are seven flocks of hens here, all of different ages, they arrive at a day old and pass through various pens and enclosures until they are large enough to be kept in check by the movable fencing. Thereafter they have la large area of grassy field to roam in throughout the day and a smart tin yurt to shelter in at night and when the weather is inclement. Hardly the yurts I experienced at my last host, but yurts none the less. There are four yurts out in the green sunny field each with its own flock. The birds then spend a while growing and plumping themselves up on a delicious blend of milled organic grains until they are sufficiently large to go to market. The ducks and geese get a different area with a small stream passing through, so they always have fresh flowing water to paddle about in, though it doesn’t stay clean for long.