Sunday, October 4, 2015


Autumn has arrived to Villetale Haute.

She is everywhere, not only in the sounds of the beasts but also in the sights of the changing colors of leaves, now bursting with hues of oranges and yellows, dappling the mountain canvas of a once deep forest green into a vibrant mix of colors. With the sharp chills of sun-bright mornings and darker evenings, erupting goosebumps if without a sweater, Autumn makes her arrival known.

Moo-AH…the bucks of the French Alps are calling. It’s a guttural sound, something in between the call of a cow, gorilla, and what your boldest imaginary beast sounds like. Day and night, we’ve been hearing them in the not-so-far distance, daring each other to step onto opposing territories to fight antler against antler. The best buck wins his mate. At least this is the story my farm friends here in Villetale tell me. While I think I may have heard some antlers clashing last night before bed, it's still too early in the season for the battles to have really begun. In either case, these are the sounds of Autumn.

Her sky, enchanted by super moons and lunar eclipses, reveals Earth’s shift into a new season.

We too, have shifted. With the last of our harvested honeys Lavande and Provence extracted, we've shifted our work towards jarring our honeys and selling them at many different markets in Nice, the closest largest city to us on the gorgeous Côte d'Azur. While there is still work to be done in caring for our bees, the focus is onto selling what we have harvested rather than harvesting more; since now, we want to make sure our bees have enough honey for themselves to survive Winter. 

It's a sweet life for a beekeeper.

So it's been less traveling to the sties where our bees are now in Valberg and Roua, but more traveling with our honeys jarred and labeled to Nice for these big markets. Last Saturday, we had two markets on one day. Without extra wwoofers to lend hands, since the ones who were supposed to have shown up had a change of plans, I was left to work one of the markets all alone! Philippe, our chief bee keeper and owner of the farm, had a wedding to attend, so stopped by to drop off more supplies for me but then had to leave soon after.

One of our beautiful local market table set-ups.

I was a little nervous, never having run our market stands alone and usually just the girl who bags the honeys, how could I do this alone?! But, like the shifting seasons, it was time for me to shift as well. I had to be the Queen Bee of our stand that day, ready or not. So, I stood confidently behind our table of sweet honeys and behind all our hard work. With my broken French for all the French, handy English for all the tourists, and lots of pointing and showing, I was able to get by and actually sold a good amount of honey to earn us a solid chunk of euros that Saturday. But, really, I just let our honeys speak and sell themselves.

With every spoon taste of honey I offered curious market folks, my favorite part was watching their faces light up. Whether it was for our richest and darkest Châtaignier (chestnut) honey, to our most unique Sarriette, Thym and the ones that never let down: Montagne (Mountain), Provence and Lavande  (Lavender), I didn’t have to say much. I believe each taste told each person who tasted a short story about our honey. I imagine the story to be something like: this is how wild nature and flowers taste like with a bee's magic touch, this is how sustainable, organic and ecological beekeeping tastes like, this is how honest, laborious, painful bee-sting work tastes like.



Magical tales of honey and Autumnal mountainscapes aside, you’re probably wondering what it actually means to be a wwoofer, pronounced woof-er (like the sound a dog makes) and what wwoofing is all about. Well, I can only speak for myself and my own experience, my first and only wwoofing experience in the Alps of Southern France; but truthfully, to thoroughly write about all the beautiful, heart-pounding, heart-wrenching, body-aching, spirit-soaring things I’ve seen and felt here would be impossible. But I’ll share particular pieces of the pie, or here, it’s dollops of Peach Jam with you.  Come walk with me and I’ll show you what it means to be a wwoofer. 

Just keep them coming...

Peaches of Entrevaux, a neighboring village to ours, were the taste of Summer. They were truly the best peaches I had ever tasted. And we had so much of them from a friend living in Entrevaux that it was peaches at breakfast, lunch and sometimes even for dinner. 

Some nights when we ate sweet instead of salty for dinner, we had warm, cooked peaches with créme fraîche, pain d'épices, and of course we can't forget the honey. With Estelle, another fellow wwoofer whom you met in an earlier post, "Lavender Fields Forever..." we made Peach Jam...loads of Peach Jam. All together it took hours to peel the soft and oozy peaches, then to cook them with sugar and a touch of lemon. But on long Summer afternoons in July, there is time to sit around a table with friends to peel peaches and watch them cook over a stove while sharing life stories, passing a French-English dictionary back and forth. It takes patience and time to communicate between two languages in which two people know little of each other's language. But the time is worth the stories and the Peach Jam in the end. I promise. 
When life gives you peaches, make Peach Jam!

And, the beauty is, it can get even better. Because with extra peaches which don't fit in one's Peach Jam pan, one can get creative and make mint peach sorbet with mint from the garden. It's possible; we did it. And enjoyed it for days after.

when life gives you extra peaches...
make peach and mint sorbet!

One characteristic of farm life which I have adored so much is the opportunity to cook every meal. Not only is it a luxury, but also it is a necessity. This is where the circles of luxury and necessity blend. Some days, when all I have are more courgettes (squash), and I am out of ideas, I wish to just get in a car and go buy some food or go out to eat, but that is just not possible here. We literally live on a mountain, high up and far away from the one restaurant in the closest village of Guillaumes and the one market which closes early. So we have to cook what we have from our bountiful garden, even if it means the deer have eaten all our carrots, cabbage, newly planted radishes and green beans and all we have left are courgette. Of course we also buy from local farmer's markets veggies we don't have. We eat what is very local, right-outside-our-door local, seasonal and organic. And that is what I love. It's truly a gift to be so connected to the food one eats, to have nurtured the soil and vegetables which the garden offers.

Even when we are low on creative ideas and think we've run out of ways to make a salad or cook courgette, there is always inspiration to be discovered. A few weeks ago, the culinary stars aligned. But actually, this culinary story began weeks before that. I had discovered some seaweed in the pantry for making sushi and kept my eye on it since. But, there was always some ingredient missing: no rice one time, no carrots another, no cucumbers, no more soy sauce. But then, one afternoon, I had just harvested a few cukes, some carrots and we had more rice and soy sauce! We even had avocado, which is a major rarity to see in our kitchen. This was the day, I thought. Vegetarian Sushi here I come!

I have never taken a sushi-making lesson, and perhaps I have made it once before this time playing around in the kitchen. And, since I had been inspired by a fellow foodie and wwoofer Lucas from Solingen, Germany, to make every meal a "Farm Haute Cuisine" meal, I went a little further and made some garbanzo-flour-battered carrot tempura. I garnished my sushi dish of carrot, cukes, brown rice and avocado with the carrot tops, so fresh and peculiar tasting. The best part was sharing it with my wwoofers. They all appreciated every bite and that made all the chopping and awkward rolling of the delicate seaweed more rewarding. 

Farm Sushi: cukes, carrots, brown rice, avocado and tempura carrots. 

Lunch time with fellow wwoofers: Angela, Lucas and Jorris. 

Cooking to me is already a sensual experience in itself. One sees, touches and smells food, layer by layer, ingredient after ingredient. Within each ingredient are different textures and within each smell are new memories made or old ones evoked. To share with your friends what you make with your hands and for your friends to appreciate your efforts, tasting love as the main ingredient: that's when cooking becomes something else entirely. 

Having a fellow foodie by your side in the kitchen to throw ideas back and forth like potatoes and deconstructing dishes down to their basic ingredients, then building them up again, you can understand how dinners, sometimes lunches too, took 3 hours to make and late nights were typical at Le Rucher des Gorges de Daluis. It's so thrilling to cook with a like-minded chef who enthusiastically appreciates fresh ingredients and bold flavors. Then you're not the only one alone standing still for a minute in the kitchen, eyes closed, smelling freshly harvested thyme from the garden again and again, thinking how can I use this today! Sharing creativity and culture in the kitchen with people from different parts of the world and walks of life has been one of the most enriching aspects of wwoofing for me. 

Lucas, always ready to cook, Haute Cuisine En Route to Antibes on the coast.
Lucas' "Bratkartoffeln" w/ sautéed mushrooms, onions, & green beans.

Lucas has gone back to Germany to continue his studies, but I'll always remember that night he shared with us his "Bratkartoffeln," a typical German dish of fried potatoes and how he would ask, "so what are we going to make for dinner?!" during lunch. And, I'll always remember his gratefulness and optimistic outlook on life, his thoughtfulness and value for family, friends, travels and good food.  Who knows when or where our next haute cuisine dish will be, but I know it'll be fantastic. 

From Germany to Guatemala, I'll never forget the afternoon when I learned how to make Empanadas from Pedro, our wwoofer of the Summer. It began as an idea that popped in my head; well, maybe the craving for Latin American food popped from my tastebuds rather than my head, but coming from LA with all the delicious Mexican and Latin American foods, I wanted more than our usual sautéed veggies and salad. So I tossed the idea out at lunch one day and asked if Pedro would take the lead and show me, since, I actually had never made Empanadas before. And so it was set, the next day we would make Empanadas, and did we make some delicious veggie Empanadas! Even without an oven, we were conquerers with a stove pot which was designed to heat like an oven. 

Wwoofer Pedro from Guatemala shares his Empanada dish with us. 
It was a feast of Empanadas for lunch!

Pedro's Veggie Empanadas with beans and carrots. 
Along with his Empanadas, I'll always remember Pedro's kind-heart, calm demeanor and big smile. He always worked so hard and always said "gracias"after we all ate together. He had a rare kind of patience with people and his craft. He is a carpenter and worked with wood on the farm. He's been back with his family in Guatemala, but I look forward to a future lunch of Empanadas again with Pedro maybe even in Guatemala some day. 

A part from tasting delicious foods from around the world, to be a wwoofer also means taking care of a piece of earth which produces the food that we eat. I've been working in the garden here at the farm house: weeding; planting radishes, spinach; harvesting lettuce, tomatoes, onions, courgettes, and carrots. And, like with sharing meals together, it's wonderful to work in the garden with fellow wwoofers. 

Jorris, Philippe, and Estelle working in the garden with me. 

Our little garden on the mountain.

Cabbages, green onions, leeks and the once baby squash. 

It's really a chef's paradise here. With fresh vegetables and herbs, meals are delicious and healthy. I know I spoke about being tired of the same sautéed veggies and salad earlier, while I do feel like that way from time to time, I deeply appreciate these simple and beautiful foods. Gardening and cooking keep my senses alert, alive, and heart-happy. All the colors, textures, varieties of veggies, herbs, smells and tastes to discover, to learn about, to play with, are infinite.

A bountiful harvest from our Garden...

..means tasty salad of lettuce, tomatoes and calendula petals.

Colorful and healthy garden salad for lunch. 
Now that it is Autumn, we don't have Summer lettuce to harvest. But we do have young baby lettuce which I planted last week with fingers crossed my DIY barricade against the deers will work. I'll keep you posted.

It's a nice change of pace to slow down just a little. During the Summer we were very busy driving around different sites to check on our hives, harvesting honey, lifting heavy hives full of honey, transporting hives from Valensole where the lavender grows and our bees make Miel de Lavande to Valberg where our bees make mountain honey. Transporting has to take place over night when the bees are back in their hives. It's a lot of work in the dark and then driving throughout the night. Then once we make it to the place of transport, we have to unload the hives. We were exhausted coming home. We also transported our hives from Braux, where our bees make Chestnut honey, to Roua, where they make Sarriette honey.

In July, we drove from Valensole to Valberg transporting 62 hives.

Here are the hives situated in Valberg.

We transported these hives here in Roua from Braux.
Those Summer days of being on the road to these different majestic sites, checking on our bees, then cooking a picnic lunch to accompany the gorgeous view were amazing. We also took care of our bees at the farm. They were my favorite bees to work with because they are friendly bees. They are called Buckfast bees and less aggressive than other bees, so you don't have to wear a suit when working with them. 

Working with Buckfast bees during Summer. Photo: Jorris

The honey house "Miellerie" below and farm house above. 

In late August and into September, we harvested Wild Lavender, called Lavande Fine in French. There is a field a short drive down from the farm house. We tied a simple cloth sheet around our bodies to hold the lavender as we harvest, cutting by hand with a hand scythe the fragrant herbs. We harvested lavender to distill and extract lavender essential oil, which I wear like perfume. How can a girl resist!

Wwoofer Jose and Philippe harvest wild lavender. 

Dried lavender flowers; I love the smell, but lavender dust makes me sneeze.

To be a wwoofer, it's not always about work. We take breaks. When we're not working with bees, extracting honey, harvesting lavender, gardening, or cooking, we go on hikes near and far, curl up for naps, admire the beautiful view of the gorge from the farm house, roll on the grass, or take a bus to Nice to rest our feet and dip them in the Mediterranean Sea. 

Wildflower bouquet while on a hike in Villetale.

Far away hikes in Mercantour National Park to discover lakes. 

Gorgeous view of the Gorge from the farm house. 

Gris and Carmelita curl up for a nap.

Kan's got the right idea here. 

I took a bus to Nice to rest my feet.

To be a wwoofer means to take a dip in the Mediterranean from time to time.

In the end, to be a wwoofer means getting a chance to travel and live somewhere unfamiliar, exchanging some help for a place to stay and food to eat, a chance to meet really cool other wwoofers with cool stories and dreams, to taste new flavors, to see many parts of the world through a single lens, a lens of gratitude and appreciation for all the beauties of Mother Nature and Human Culture.

*photos by Tiffanie Ma

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