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WWOOFING: Lessons Learned Living on a Self-Sustained French Farm

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Having the ability to create your own adventures outside of the office is important to enhancing any career. The Edelman Escape is a unique program that provides select employees with a mini, one-week sabbatical and $1,500 to escape from their work duties to pursue a dream, goal or experience that will enrich their lives. We had the opportunity to travel to the South of France as a part of the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms organization (WWOOF), a program that links volunteers to farmers who offer food, accommodation and opportunities in exchange for work on their farm.

As true foodies, the ever-evolving food movement is one that we are both passionate about– personally and professionally. We witness shifts in consumers’ food consumption and spending habits on an almost daily basis in our client work, as new issues and trends seem to pop up each day. With an unparalleled-interest from consumers in food issues, such as ingredients, sourcing and wastefulness, our role in counseling clients to evolve with this growing movement has never been more important. True to our commitment to show up differently, reading the news and studying trends from our desks just wasn’t enough for us. We wanted an invaluable, immersive experience that allowed us to gain a first-hand (and first-taste) perspective on how food plays an integral role in our daily lives across regions, cultures, traditions and personal wellness from field to fork.

We chose France, not just for its delicious cheeses, but its international recognition in the “Slow Food” space – a global movement dedicated to preserving traditional cuisine while encouraging France_Farm 263 embeddlocal farming and sourcing. Since movements travel quickly across cultures and geographies, we took off to the South of France to a little farm known as Atelier Coralis through the program WWOOF. We were welcomed with open arms by an older French couple, Michael and Sylvie, who spent the past 25 years creating a business focused on sustainable water filtration systems and aquatic landscapes. While this is how they make their living, the 13 acres of land that they own provides them with everything they need to live –  from growing fruits and vegetables to raising livestock to even using natural materials to expand their home. To help, they often host WWOOFers, including a young German couple who were there during our visit.

Though neither of us had any farming experience, we were quickly incorporated into daily responsibilities and introduced to their simple (and non-wasteful) way of living. We helped with a variety of tasks which were all rooted in sustainability, including picking and preserving apples from their orchard, foraging for wild mushrooms in the forest for dinner, prepping and cooking meals and building a cellar wall out of mud/stones with our bare hands (hope it’s still standing!) A snapshot of our typical schedule included:

  • 8:15 a.m. – Breakfast with the host family
  • 9:30 a.m. – Morning work
  • 12:00 p.m. – Lunch with host family
  • 1:30 p.m. – Nap time (yes, this was real and much needed)
  • 3:00 p.m. – Afternoon work
  • 4:00 p.m. – Tea time (or coffee, along with chocolate and brioche)
  • 5:30 p.m. – Finish work
  • 7:00 p.m. – Dinner with the host family
  • 10:00 p.m. – Bed time

Overall, we have a new perspective on how we view the role of food, sustainable practices and taking action for what you believe in, bringing the following three key takeaways with us.

  • Food as an Experience: Food goes beyond a need to satisfy hunger. It plays an integral cultural role in their daily lives. By law, France preserves the concept of the “family meal.” Whether closing stores during lunch hours or stopping work regardless of the progress made, meals are designed to be fully enjoyed at a leisurely pace together.
  • 360 Sustainability: Sustainable practices go beyond supporting buying local and organic. It’s a full circle process – knowing where your food comes from, the amount of energy/water used, limiting the amount of waste produced, and taking, yet giving back to the land via composting.
  • Power of Connection: Organic is more than just a buzz word. Our hosts explained why they do what they do and how it helps the community. People are more receptive to believing in a “brand” or “idea” when they see that it’s not just a gimmick or words on a page, but a strongly held belief backed up by discernible actions.

From eating bread and cheese with every meal, to scaling trees on makeshift ladders to pick apples, we wouldn’t trade our experience on a French farm for anything. We hope to go back one day or even experience another sustainable lifestyle in another country, but until then, the memories we have of naps in our farmhouse loft each day and slow and meaningful conversations with our host family each night will have to suffice. C’est la vie.

Loren Clifford is an account executive for Edelman in Atlanta.
Ciara Moraski is an account executive for Edible in Atlanta.

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