We have been traveling the world for a year and a half already to produce Foodorama documentary on initiatives for more sustainable food. From Vancouver to Santiago, on more than 9,300 miles of recumbent bikes, we had long thought about this moment when we would pause for a while.
Need to stop, relax in one place, learn more about permaculture and no longer just be witnesses but “put your hands in the ground”.
Wwoofing, Work Away, Help X, these 3 platforms offer fairly similar formulas, a few hours of work per day against food, meals and sharing of know-how. We were immediately won over by the idea, an economical way to travel, meet, learn and participate in a sharing economy without monetary exchange.
After some research, we chose to focus on Help X. Why? Wwoofing is the oldest reference site. It is dedicated only to organic farms but the registration (paid) is only valid for one country and for one year. Without knowing exactly in advance, the offer on site and where we will stop, this formula did not suit us. We had heard some unfortunate experiences on Work Away and we had met happy Helpers using Help X a few years ago in Iceland. So we focused on Help X. Especially as registering with HelpX has the advantage of being valid for 2 years worldwide.
Like Work Away and unlike Wwoofing, Help X offers volunteering not only on organic farms, but also with other professionals (youth hostels, motels, camping, small shops) as well as for individuals (Gardening, construction, babysitting, English lessons, animal care, cooking, cleaning etc.).
We browse the many ads by choosing our area and including a few keywords. As with the “Warm Showers” accommodation system that we used a lot during our bike trip, we find the opinions left by the volunteers. This is very important for us because we want to stay there for 1 month (the announcements vary from a few days to several weeks) and we know that there are sometimes volunteers who are disappointed with the reception given to them.
We come across an advertisement for a large property near Cordoba, Argentina. The comments are unanimous and positive, the families on site seem very welcoming, the activities varied and interesting and the food seems very good (it matters a lot, we will not hide it).
We get in touch with Thierry, a Frenchman who has lived in Argentina for 25 years (we didn’t know he was French and we spoke in Spanish until we arrived). He confirms that we can spend 1 month with him.
When we arrived, pleasant surprise, the two other Helpers – Brenda (Argentinean) and Jay (English) – prepared us a great meal with vegetables from the market and the garden.
Thierry makes us discover the property. There is his house, where the helpers live, the house of Diego and Analia with their children Violetta and Khalil, 2 domes to study astronomy and astrology, a vegetable patch, a chicken coop, sheep, dogs, cats and even horses.
Suffice to say that we feel immediately very good. We have our own room in this house (over 100 years old). Our activities will be shared, every other day, between Diego and the maintenance of the biodynamic vegetable garden and Thierry who has painting and wood work to do.
We work 4/5 hours a day, 5 days a week. This working time includes meal preparation, washing up and cleaning the house. It’s perfect for us who love to cook, so we have a big half day free every day to enjoy the region.
In the activities proposed by Thierry, there were also constellations to draw in the dome. Jay is an artist. In collaboration with Thierry, he proposed his interpretation of Orion, an athlete who jumps a bar.
In the vegetable garden, we water, weed weeds, plant seeds etc. Everything is done by hand while respecting biodynamic. Each week Diego leads workshops on biodynamic and we learn a little more. We are discovering how much this form of farming requires knowledge and constant attention.
It is not only organic farming, nor only agriculture deeply connected to its environment such as permaculture which recreates an ecosystem and gives pride of place to associations of plants and natural fertilizers. It’s all this but much more.
Here the earth cannot be conceived without its relation to the cosmos. The alignment of the stars and the phases of the moon will determine when to fertilize (natural fertilizer), plant or harvest. The preparations to be applied in the vegetable garden are done in the form of rituals of which we do not always understand the reason (mix a preparation with the arm for 1 hour, apply with a branch of a tree, etc.).
Without necessarily being convinced of the effectiveness of biodynamic on other organic farming techniques, we discover a form of ritual, of belief, a spiritual agriculture which aims to connect as much as possible with what surrounds us, the cosmos and the living. We also feel that it is in this ritual that Diego draws his energy and his joy from working in his vegetable garden.
He tells us about his secret in the event of a cataclysm, a small bag that contains the essentials: a few clothes but above all a whole arsenal of … seeds. The main varieties of vegetables are in his bag, if he had to leave and rebuild everything elsewhere.
To thank him for letting us attend his workshops for free, we made a short video presentation of his work which is as follows:
When we are not in the vegetable garden and we are not painting, we take advantage of our free time to do things that we did not do much anymore: playing cards by the river with our friends who we converted to the coinche (so we logically invented the verb “cuanchar” in Spanish), playing with the children in the garden, cooking desserts, reading, and above all doing nothing lying in a hammock. We reclaim time, the space of a month.
It is also an opportunity to climb the mountains of the region during weekends. This is what we did before our departure for our last days of rest with Thierry and his friends: climb to the top of Colchiqui, a sacred mountain at 5,000 feet above sea level. Stunning view!
This volunteering experience completely convinced us, to the point that we have just found a new volunteering with Help X, this time in New Zealand, on the construction of an “Earthship”, an eco-responsible construction made of recycled materials. To be continued in the next episode!