|WWOOFing in Italy, Part 1: Goats, Elderberry Flower Juice and an Unprincipled Potbellied Pig|
|Friday, 16 July 2010 00:00 | Written by Marita Prandoni | Blog Entry|
It was a good thing I rode in the back seat on the ride from Innsbruck, Austria, to the farm. My knee-jerk braking against the collision that never happened was not noticeable to our Italian driver. Topping out at about 160 km per hour, we ripped through South Tyrol beyond Trento. A left turn onto a narrow, winding road led us up a tight canyon, flanked by conifer and deciduous forests blanketing steep hillsides to the chin of vertical stone faces. Driving past a medieval castle on a solitary perch, we hair-pinned through the village of Mezzomonte. A couple of switchbacks higher lay our destination: La Fonte—an organic, biodynamic farm.
My husband, daughter and I were WWOOFing (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) for three weeks in northern Italy. WWOOF International connects volunteers eager to experience working on a farm while getting to know the local ways. La Fonte is just one in an expansive network of WWOOF farms in 50 countries.
Our host Elisabetta, a single mom with two teens, greeted us as we walked down the chalky, gravel driveway. Her four-story house was built of the same material—limestone in hues of oatmeal and rose, the alpine-style shutters and wooden balconies reminiscent of the province’s membership in the Austro-Hungarian Empire less than a century ago. Tucked into the distant hillside opposite the terrace, a cluster of white buildings and a steepled church twinkled like a little constellation in the misty evening air. This idyllic hamlet is called Guardia, keeping watch over the same castle we had passed on the way.
Elisabetta walked us up to our accommodations, a gracious guesthouse near the top of the steep driveway. Looking back toward the house, we noticed a stout little charcoal pig, flicking its tail across its rump and beaming a smile our way. I asked if he was a pet. She answered yes and no. He was someone’s escaped pet gone feral, who had procreated with another escaped potbelly in the forest, producing three offspring. This family of swine had wrecked the vegetable garden the previous year, and this rascal was the last surviving member.
The first morning, we had the total organic immersion, trudging through a manure-rich pen of lambs, kids and chickens. One of the farm’s two employees, Jitta, a strong Nepali woman with delicate features and smiling eyes, introduced me to their morning feeding routine that included fresh milk from the early milking, which took place in one of several rotating pastures. I held a bucket with a row of latex nipples at the bottom, while the greedy little babes sucked vigorously. My daughter bottle-fed a 10-day-old lamb. Afterwards, we carried five gallons of milk from the thirteen milk-goats and one gallon from the eight milk-sheep to the laboratory, where it would be filtered, sterilized and made into yogurt and cheese.
After breakfast, we were instructed to plant hundreds of vegetable seedlings that had outgrown their popsicle-sized pots. The other employee, Mohammed, a good-natured 19-year-old Afghani, and Jitta cleared garden space by hoeing weeds—more fodder for the kids, lambs and billy goat—while my husband and I planted. Our daughter accompanied Elisabetta and her children to collect elderberry flowers in the nearby hills. These would be used to make sciroppo di sambuco and spumante, elderberry syrup and sparkling juice.
In the evening we counted flower clusters, which, according to the sambuco recipe, needed to soak in lemon juice and water for a few days. Suddenly, Mohammed appeared asking for help, preferably from my husband, he added. We both followed him to a stall where he had captured the feral pig. After cornering him with a wooden pallet, I saw him reach for the livestock pistol. That’s when I quickly fled the scene, returning to the terrace to count flowers.
Dinner was served at 10:30 that night, and a fresh-off-the-farm treat was dished up: cuore, polmone e fegato di porcellino (heart, lungs and liver of piglet) sautéed in olive oil and the ever-present pasta and goat’s milk cheese.
Climbing the driveway to our little house after a long day, my daughter confided that she had made the mistake of naming the pig the night before: George. An apt name, I mused, thinking back on all the troublemaking Georges throughout history.
If our first day was any indication, this would not be a boring vacation.
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Written by Neil Harvey , July 16, 2010Report abuse