When I decided to do a two week Eurotrip I knew I wanted to spend one of those weeks working on a farm. I truly had missed waking up early and working with plants. (If someone would’ve told me I would say that when I was in high school I would’ve said you were full of it.) So I did my best to find a farm in France with the best vibes that I knew would provide an unreal experience. I came across a farm in a tiny village on the eastern border of France that seemed to be a perfect fit. La Brouette was first and foremost a brewery which immediately seems like a perfect fit. It also houses a few greenhouses for personal use and some beehives. For quite sometime now I have been interested in the brewery process and was eager to get firsthand experience. I also have an affinity for bees and hope to someday own a hive of my own despite being highly allergic. After chatting to the lads who own the farm I was so stoked to start my trip there.
It was time for me to leave when I started to realize how small of a town this village was. The closest airport to the farm was in Paris which was two hours away. This meant I had to fly to ole Paree, spend 24 hours there just to say I semi experienced Paris, then I had to hop on a train for two hours to Meuse, after that it was still a 45 minute bus ride to St. Mihiel. I quite literally travelled in planes, trains, and automobiles to get to this farm. When I finally made it to the bus stop I was greeted by a guy with dreads that hung passed his shoulders in a beat up car blasting French reggae. Martin was one of the three lads that decided to forego normalcy and follow their dreams of opening up a brewery of their own. Their mission was pretty cool. They wanted to provide a local brew to the community. They have no desire to take their company global just to provide an excellent product that brings their community together. The brewery acts as their main source of income, but they occasionally sell their honey and veggies at markets. The actual farming aspect of this place is limited to a few greenhouses for their own personal use. Stocked full of various types of tomatoes, squash, peppers, and eggplant the operation is attempting to stay as off the grid as possible. It is kind of inspirational, to be in that remote of an area where you rely on your self and partner with a few neighbors.
After the tour of the farm I was getting really excited about my upcoming week. Though it was near the beginning of winter and not much was required in the green houses, I was excited to finally be back working on a farm. The first night I was able to meet the whole crew, all of whom spoke little to no English. It was quickly apparent this was going to be a completely different experience than the one I had in Hawaii. At 3rd Day Nursery I had a set schedule, always something for me to do. However, La Brouette was incredibly laidback. At first seeming almost too quiet. I had like one thing to do a day even after asking for projects. From harvesting tomatoes to preparing seeds for next spring the jobs dealing with plants were incredibly limited. This didn’t take away from having an awesome experience. I was initially bummed that there wasn’t a ton of work to be done, but everyday I was able to experience what it meant to be French. Every night there was a new face at our dinner table. We broke bread and drank beers with anyone who came off the street. There was even a guy who was passing by on an amazing homebuilt bicycle they invited in for a few drinks. They were incredibly hospitable to anyone who came across their path.
When I look back to this farm stay it was truly a whackadoo experience. Here I was, sleeping in a renovated fire truck in a village that was so small it took you less than 10 minutes from one side to another. I was working with people who could barely understand my English, and yet it was perfectly okay. Though I wish I could’ve had more to do in the sense of work, it was amazing to get to know the people and the culture. Every Wednesday the brewery hosted an open bar for the community. They would all pack into the farmhouse, drink the amazing beer they made on the premises, and just genuinely enjoy one another’s company.
I think by far the coolest experience of the week was our attendance of a local house party. Meuse is known for its fruit, and every year during the summer months people come from all over for seasonal work. Now that the season was almost over people were starting to head home and it was time for a going away party. As I walked into this house it seemed to be a crazy boarding house. Apparently it was someone’s grandmother’s house that now plays home to all the seasonal workers. To be honest it was like walking into a scene from La Boheme. The house was full of probably 30 or so people all with a unique story to tell. For starters there was the leader of the pack. She had the presence of a French Patti Smith. With a glass of dark red wine in her hand and a raggedly rolled cigarette dangling from her lips she created an entire feast for all of her groupies. The food was amazing and the drinks were forever flowing. After dinner, as if on cue, accordion music began to float through the haze of the room and the party goers started dancing and singing like a vaudeville troupe. It was a bizarre and wonderfully magical experience that once encountered you can never forget. The scent, the scene, the sound and the strangers who for the night were your dearest friends will be forever imprinted as a memory that I will cherish.
My time in France might have been short, but it provided many lessons. Any trip I go on I learn quite a bit and maybe that is why I travel. In the heart of France for starters I learned that if I’m going to work at a farm in a tiny village in a foreign country I should probably learn a bit of the language to get me by. I learned every farm is different and it is so incredibly important to go with the flow. It is vital to keep busy and keep an open mind and eye towards everything you can learn, even when that lesson is to slow down, relax, enjoy a good glass of wine and see who interesting might pass right by you if you are not looking.