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WWOOFing in the South of France
“Un autre rouge?” asks Jean-Claude. Waiting only a moment before pouring fabulous wine in stubby drinking glasses.
The wine is from a local producer in Cote du Rhone, in the south of France where Jean-Claude Regamy and his wife Nathalie Duriaux operate an organic farm. Here in the kitchen of their stone home, wine flows from plastic jugs. There's no need for a pretty bottle here, it's what's inside that counts. It's mid-afternoon, the sun is beaming on the fields, so there's nothing better to do than sitting around the kitchen table, drinking wine and sharing stories.
On an organic farm, producers don't use pesticides; weeds are plucked by hand to make room for vegetables to grow. Jean-Claude and Nathalie share their farm duties with members of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Members volunteer on farms in exchange for room and board. My husband and I signed up for this experience knowing it was the only way we could afford a holiday in France.
We lucked out, in exchange for a little bit of drudgery in a breathtaking landscape we were compensated with incredible meals, fabulous wine and great company. We've arrived in late July during the tomato harvest and savor the juiciest and most flavorful tomatoes we've ever tasted.
Our after lunch discussions center around politics, organic versus mass-produced food and different places in the world Jean-Claude has traveled. He recounts stories about India in the sixties, Afghanistan long before its current troubles, being in prison in Guatemala and other adventures in South America. After seeing it all at 39, he settled down, bought a run-down stone house that was missing a roof and rebuilt it with his own hands.
Using rocks and sand from the property and the help of good friends, the house came together over a period of 10 years. Walls of a stone house can only be built 40 centimeters a day.
The body, they tell me, rebuilds itself in three weeks. That means the bag of chips I eat two weeks ago is still in my system, but the good news is this “cleanse” of organic food and pectin-full red wine will stay in me a little longer.
Apparently after two days of being picked, fruits and vegetables loose important nutrients and don't taste the same. Nathalie's fabulous moussaka is made with aubergines she picks minutes before chopping them. If she cooks them right-a-way she doesn't need to salt the slices because they haven't turned bitter.
Thursday is harvest day. We start work a little earlier, cultivate some carrots, zucchinis, wash tomatoes and put them in trays. The complex and weird shapes of this produce makes me wonder about the perfectly shaped tomatoes and carrots I buy at the grocery store at home.
The vegetables will be sold at the market tomorrow along with bouquets of flowers. Friday early morning the truck is packed to the brim with tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers, aubergines, onions, carrots, herbs and flowers. The bustling market in the tourist town of Dieulefit in the southern department of Drome Provencale, includes dozens of sellers attracting hundreds of people on a sunny July morning. The town's population of 3,000 doubles in the summer with tourists mostly from Holland and Belgium, the richest populace among EU countries.
Regulars come by the stand to pick up their weekly supplies of fresh organic produce. At other stands they find renown local products such as lavender, olives, honey, and goat cheese morsels called picodon. The butcher offers several different cuts of meat and wine sellers sell five-liter boxes or jugs of wine as well as regular-sized bottles. Dozens of artisans display their pottery, handmade wicker chairs and paintings. Local artisans fiercely compete against resellers that import clothes, wood carvings and jewelery from India, Thailand and Morocco. But amidst the sprinkle of resellers out there to make a quick buck from cheap exports there's people like Nathalie and Jean-Claude who work their land and sell the fruits of their labor.
From Paris take the TGV (high speed train) to zip down to Montelimar in less than three hours. Than take the bus for 30 km to Dieulefit. The small town is very compact and easier to get around on foot then by car. Ask the tourist office for trail maps and directions to the medieval village of Poet Laval, about two hours away on foot.
Pottery, lavender, honey, olives, nougat and picodon goat cheese
Where to Stay
Le Beffroi, a small auberge in the center of town with rooms priced between 25 and 35 EU, call 011 33 4 75 46 88 22. The upscale L'Escargot d'Or charges up to 61 EU for a more luxurious room, visit www.auberge-escargot.com or call 011 4 75 46 40 52.
A campground is located near the heart of the town, within walking distance of all attractions. Le Camping Municipal Les Grands Pres is open from March to October; 011 33 4 75 46 87 50.
The market runs year round every Friday morning. The busiest months are July and August.