I often get asked what I do in the winter. Foraging is my trade, and there is definitely an off-season for gathering wild produce here in Canada.
In the Okanagan Valley, wild edibles can be collected from March 15 until Nov. 15. If in Vancouver, the season can be extended another 30 days in both directions, reducing the off-season to just 60 days. Please take a moment to appreciate food can be produced in B.C. for ten months out of the year, without working the land. Also keep in mind that this is the healthiest food available, and will have the smallest 'footprint' out of anything we may choose to eat.
This year I am spending the off-season in Spain, participating in an international program called WWOOF. Willing Workers On Organic Farms. In the WWOOF program, you can live on small organic farms in exchange for room and board. WWOOFers are not intended to replace employees. They fill in spaces where employees are not viable. This results in an eclectic and varied selection for potential WWOOFers. Each country has its own independent WWOOF organization.
In 2012, I spent four months WWOOFing Italy. I visited a total of five organic farms. I had dozens of new experiences, and the food/wine was not comparable to anything in Canada. The food was not made with expensive or outlandish ingredients, just an extra portion of love and tradition. Also, 90 per cent of our diet was local. In my experience, WWOOF Italia (Italy) was very organized and well run.
A brief list of work I did on my previous trip to Italy: gathering chestnuts, raking olives, managing cows, chickens, sheep, pigs, processing natural wine, winter vegetable gardening for markets, baking bread, collecting firewood, and managing a nature reserve. One thing that surprised me was that I was able to teach all five of my hosts about eating the edible plants available on their property. We aren't the only region where the knowledge of wild herbs is fading away. It was a rewarding experience and a two-way exchange of knowledge and culture.
So far, WWOOF Española is not at the same level. They do not have as many farms to choose from (so many regions have zero), there are fewer translations in English for the farm description, and several farms indicated to bring sleeping bags. I don't mind rustic living, but I have had my fill of sleeping bag living during this years mushroom harvest season. I will be checking out the accommodations at each farm thoroughly before confirming my stay.
I highly recommend WWOOFing in Europe. There are no age restrictions and it is free. I have heard of travellers spending $300 a day traveling Europe. A person could spend a year WWOOFing and thrive with $100 a month or less. Trains are cheap.
I'm looking forward to sharing my travel adventures in 2016/17. Time to brush up on my Spanish.
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