A newly-married couple from Los Angeles quit their jobs to work on farms and wineries across Europe. Read it from the beginning...

The Long Road Home

Posted: September 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: New York, Schedule | No Comments »


We’re still alive and slowly winding our way home. The aches and pains of an honest day’s work are finally fading. New York City was great. I saw the UN and went to a fancy event at the University Club (the membership roll lists Rockefellers and Grinnells). Visiting family in Maryland New Jersey was nice. Now we’re on a bus rolling through rainy weather on its way to Rochester. We have a wedding there. Later we’ll be on the West Coast. Wedding there, too. Eventually, I hope, we’ll be back in Los Angeles. Still a few weeks to go.

It’s called “back-breaking” work for a reason

Posted: May 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Schedule, Wales | 9 Comments »

When Devon and I decided to learn about farming we knew it would be hard work. In fact, we were counting on it. And we got what we expected. Farming is, as the saying goes, “back-breaking” work.

Even though we try and avoid bending over too much, it inevitably happens. When we’re weeding we’re bent over, when we’re planting we’re bent over, when we’re shoveling, and hoeing…well, you get the idea. So, we unsurprisingly have sore backs and muscles, almost all the time. Since starting our journey we’ve done a lot of work in gardens and vegetable fields, which is where most of our back-breaking work takes place. Right now, we’re at a vegetable and fruit farm which does everything by hand instead of using chemicals, as it’s an organic farm. They use rather primitive machinery for some things, but all of their farm equipment was probably top of the line in 1950.

The difficult to move irrigation rig

Today is a good example of a typical day on the veg farm. First, we moved their irrigation system (read, very large sprinkler) from one veg bed to a neighboring veg bed. The irrigation system is comprised of 12 hollow metal poles, each about 13 feet long lined with little holes for the water to come spurting out. We walk 4 poles at a time with 2 people coordinating our steps so that we are moving at the same pace. This sounds like an easy task, and it is logistically. But, manually, carrying these poles 3 times across a football sized field can be tiring.

After we moved the irrigation system we went into one of their polytunnels (2,000 square feet of protected soil) and hand-weeded zucchinis. To do this, we’re squatting or on our knees picking out the weeds and placing them in a bucket. Then, after we were done with that (which took us about 40 minutes) we had to weed the walking paths between the zucchini. It sounds silly, but they also need to be free of weeds because eventually the zucchini grows so large it’s hard to get in there and weed. We get it all out while we still can. The walking path is much more packed earth, as we walk on it, and therefore harder to pull the weeds out. So, we use a hand fork or trowel — crouching, bending and kneeling all the while.

When we were done with that, it was tea time so we went inside for some toast and tea. A 20 minute break is welcome at this point as we’re tired of being on our hands and knees. But, we’re right back on them when tea is over because then we planted about 600 brussel sprout plants. The way we did this today was one person takes the plant out of the tray and tosses it onto the earth where the sprout will be planted. Then, following that person is a “planter” on each side of the bed (there are two rows) planting them as they’re tossed down. I’m still fairly slow at planting as my knees get bruised being dragged over the rocks sliding from hole to hole. I’m getting better, but to give you perspective, the paid farm worker here planted two sprouts for my every one.

After planting the sprouts, we headed over the to the lettuce beds where we hoed weeds. Then, we walked over to the broccoli beds where we hoed some more. Although we use an oscillating hoe (i.e. it sits on a hinge and moves back and forth with our forward motion) it’s still hard on the back.

So, basically, farming is a lot of bending over and crouching, especially if a lot of the work is done by hand (which is it here). It’s work like this that makes us see why farmers use pesticides and herbacides. If they didn’t, they’d never be able to create as much crop as they do and a lot of it would be eaten by critters like slugs, birds and flies.

How does one advocate for organic when it’s so much work, more expensive, and at times seems unrealistic? I don’t have an answer, and I’m hoping by the end of our 5-month trip I’ll be a little closer. I see why farmers would choose not to be organic. Where do we meet in the middle? Do we decrease farms in size? They used to be smaller. Do we have people grow their own veg? I really don’t have an answer. Instead, I have more questions. But, if anything, our adventure is bringing the issues to life for me which is a good place to start.

So what, you wake up one day and say, “Hey honey, let’s be farmers?”

Posted: April 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Schedule | 2 Comments »

Something I’m asked a lot is how our trip came about because, as many of our friends now, I am definitely not a farm girl. So, this is the story:

A few months ago, I was advised that having international experience would be valuable for my career and overall life skills. Although I lived in Nicaragua, I could always have more abroad experiences. I went home that night and started researching abroad opportunities. After deciding that, yes, living abroad was an awesome idea,  I turned to Devon and said, “hey, what do you think about living abroad for a while?” Without hesitation, my amazing husband said, “I love the idea!”

From that simple question blossomed the idea to work on farms in Europe – it combines ideal destinations and learning about our passion, food! It also ensures that we’ll have an authentic experience while contributing to something to the “greater good,” which was important to us both.

But how were we going to do this? With Devon’s magic ability to find the best of everything online, we landed on a great web site that posted volunteer opportunities on organic farms all over the world. We just had to pay a one time $35 membership fee and we’d have access to opportunities worldwide for a year. This magical web site is helpx.net. We considered WWOOF, which is almost the same thing, but HelpX was better for our needs, multiple countries.

We decided to start looking in Italy (oh yes, Halbe has been obsessed with Tuscany since seeing Under the Tuscan Sun) and the UK (Devon wanted to visit his namesake, Devon, England). That blossomed into visiting France  and Ireland as well and voila, we had our four countries!

If you’re curious where we’re going the itinerary is:

UK (Wales and Devon) – one produce farm and one goat cheese farm (we get to feed baby goats!)
Ireland (Dublin and Cork) – one goat farm (commercial)
France (Paris, Caen and Bordeaux) – an apple cider farm and a merlot winery
Italy (Tuscany) – a smallholding (a farm under 50 acres) producing wine and olive oil.

Place your orders now!

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