Archive for ‘HelpX Stays’

March 19, 2012

Marlborough Farmers Market

by Johnny

Our week of hard work and fun (mostly just fun, though) at Windsong Orchard culminated at the Marlborough Farmers’ Market.  Jennie and Bob helped start the Marlborough Farmers’ Market and are still very active in running it, so we all got up at the crack of dawn to set up.  We’ve been to dozens of farmers’ markets on our trip, but we’ve never thought about all the hard work that goes into setting one up before this.  I don’t think we’ll ever look at a farmers’ market the same again.  At around 9:00am, the crowd started to trickle in.  Anna helped bag and sell plums (the last three varieties out of the 25 Jennie and Bob grow), blueberries and table grapes at the Windsong Orchard booth while I helped out Chef Chris Fortune at his breakfast booth, from which all proceeds get invested directly back into the farmers’ market.  Unfortunately, I nearly sliced off my thumb while chopping tomatoes (I guess there’s only room for one chef in this family), so it was back to the Windsong booth and selling fruit with Anna, which was just fine with me.  Like Anna mentioned in our last post, we had really reconnected back to our food source while working on the orchard, and it was truly enjoyable to be able to talk to and educate customers on what they were buying.  Personally, I loved the face to face interaction with the local community…something that’s often missing from my job back home.

The Marlborough Farmers’ market is more than just a place to quickly grab some fruits and veggies.  It’s a place to bring your kids, grab a freshly brewed cuppa, listen to some live music, catch up with your neighbors, and, yes, buy some delicious local food.  It definitely had Anna and I inspired to get more involved with our farmers’ markets back at home.  Here are some scenes from a great day:

We can’t thank Jennie and Bob enough for an amazing week and a perfect way to end our time in New Zealand, and we hope to bring some of the lessons learned at Windsond Orchard back home with us.

March 18, 2012

WWOOFing at Windsong

by Anna

There couldn’t have been a better way to conclude our tour of New Zealand than with our week-long WWOOF stint at Windsong Orchard in Renwick. For those unfamiliar with WWOOFing, it stands for “Willing Workers on Organic Farms,” or “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms,” and New Zealand with its bountiful agriculture is chock full of amazingly hearty and scenic spots to WWOOF. While having the opportunity to learn about organic farming practices and gain a more intimate local experience of the community, a WWOOFer volunteers his/her time in exchange for lodging, food and knowledge from their WWOOF hosts.

We have to thank Kate and Matt of TwoPackedBags for our discovery of Jennie and Bob and their orchard. Kate and Matt WWOOFed there last May, and upon reading their post, we knew we had to experience this place!

First off, Jennie and Bob are two of the coolest, headiest and kindest people we’ve ever met, and their passion for their fruit (which is, by the way, insanely delicious), their local community and working towards a sustainable future is immediately contagious. So are their fun-loving spirits and appreciation for the simple pleasures life has to offer. We loved listening to stories of their adventures.  They met in Mexico…Bob was down there sailing and Jennie had hitchhiked her way there from Canada…and since then, they’ve spent their time sailing the world (they spent 1 year and 1/2 sailing from California to New Zealand when their kids were younger), teaching ski lessons in Mammoth, CA and throughout New Zealand and beginning Windsong Orchard. Bob is a SoCal native and Jennie a tried-and-true Kiwi, so they now spend their time split between Renwick and Santa Barbara…not a bad combo!

Needless to say, Jennie and Bob made us feel at home right away, and quickly got us acquainted with our “blueberry cottage” attached to their work shed and surrounded by blueberry bushes on one side and plum trees on the other. The cottage was stocked with every type of spice and cooking ingredient, as well as home-grown veggies and herbs from their garden and fresh eggs from their chickens. Each day we’d throw on some gumboots and meet Jennie and Bob in the shed at 8:30am. We’d then go to work, which included tasks like planting new blueberry bushes, trimming table grapes to get them market-ready, picking and grading the quality of blueberries and plums, and a little weeding. At 12:30pm, we’d head across the lawn to Jennie and Bob’s place for a delicious spread of Jennie’s home-baked bread, scones, plum and blueberry muffins, and her home-made hummus, chutneys, etc. Then the rest of the afternoon we were free to explore the surrounding vineyards and breweries either on foot or on Jennie and Bob’s bikes. In the evenings we’d cook up a storm with all of our delicious, fresh ingredients and read our books while watching the sun disappear behind the plum trees. Could it get any better?

When not working at the orchard, we helped out with set-up, selling, and break-down of the Windsong booth at local farmers’ markets in Blenheim, Nelson and the awesome market in Marlborough that Jennie and Bob helped found (more details to come on this later…). It was such a fulfilling experience to see the process come full circle from soil to table, and have the opportunity to interact with the local community, which is truly passionate about supporting their local growers.

Johnny and I definitely left with a new admiration for the hard work and time that goes into organic farming and the local markets that benefit both local growers and the community. We were also inspired by Jennie and Bob’s way of life and loved feeling reconnected back to the land and earth. It was good to get our hands dirty!

Windsong: Jennie & Bob’s house on the left and our cottage on the far right
Beautiful blueberries
Outside the shed, next to the caravan Grape vines and the window to our bedroom
Loading up the van for the market
Our kitchen Fresh produce gave us plenty of cooking inspiration!
We even cooked up mushroom “puffballs!” Entering our cottage through the shed
Feeding scraps to the “chooks” Our cozy cottage
Johnny’s green (or should I say brown) thumb
Windsong’s fruit stand on the main road Certified organic
Trimming grapes by the quince tree with my helper Nalu the cat
Blueberries! Picking “Delights”
Johnny collecting his blueberry bounty
Bob grading blueberries So many antioxidants!
Jennie’s home-made frittata
Jennie and I workin’ the booth in Blenheim “Don’t be a bum, buy a plum!” – Johnny
Biking around Renwick
Jennie and Bob’s neighbors
So many lovely vines… Wine tasting at Mahi
Vineyards at Forrest
Beer tasting at Moa More brew tasting at Renaissance
Our local watering hole, Cork & Keg Grabbing an evening beverage with the locals
July 6, 2011

Farewell To The Farm

by Johnny

Today is our last day of our first farmstay, and while I’d be lying if I said we enjoyed every second of pulling out weeds and stacking firewood, overall it was a great experience.  Being here for almost three weeks allowed us to really connect with a place and our hosts on a personal level, and it was the first time it felt like we were traveling as opposed to just being on a vacation (which was kinda the reason for this whole trip in the first place).  We learned some new things, made some new friends, got our hands dirty and gave our wallets a much needed breather.  It was experience we’ll remember forever.  Here’s what we’ve been up to for the past week or so…

Courgettes, or zucchinis as you Americans like to call them, have been growing like crazy on the farm, and Yvonne has been finding all sorts of ways to feed us with them.  Besides steaming them with some other veggies and some S&P (still delicious), she’s put some in Russell’s famous curry, made some courgette and brie cheese soup, threw them in a quiche, and stuffed them with some ground beef, onions and corn.  She’s even sending us off with a couple in our bags for our next stop!

Bountiful harvest Yvonne stuffing a giant courgette
Courgette quiche Courgette and brie soup (my lunch three days straight)

Ever heard of Andorra?  I always thought it was a town in Spain, but it’s actually its own principality on the border of Spain and France.  It has duty-free status, so every once in a while Russell makes the trek there to stock up on booze and cigarettes.  He took us on one such trip, and even though we felt a little bit like drug mules, the scenic drive more than made up for it.  For two hours we drove through the Pyrenees, stopping to stretch our legs at small ski resort towns like Ax-les-Thermes.  The route is actually one of the stages in the Tour de France.  We were happy to have Russell navigating the windy mountain roads so we could gaze out the windows at the view.

Andorra’s mountain ranges Ax-les-Thermes
Checking out the view

One day last week it was over 30°C (trust me, that’s hot), so we went over to Russell’s friends house to clean his pool and go for a swim.  Being that we’re on a farm, I was expecting to pull back the pool cover to find sewage water and a dead animal or two, but the pool was actually stunning.  Anna hosed down and changed the filters while I went with Russell to check the attic for dead rats (thank goodness their weren’t any).  We had a great swim, which also counted as my weekly shower.

Not a bad spot for a dip Did somebody order a pool boy?

On our last free day we wandered up to Rennes-le-Chateau, a hilltop village whose church is shrouded in Da Vinci Code-esque mystery.  The once sleepy little town now gets tens of thousands conspiracy theorists visiting it each year.  To make matters more interesting, the town offers a great view of the mountain of Bugarach, which apparently has aliens living beneath it waiting to take people to the promised land in December 2012.  Funky place, this region of France.  Anna and I didn’t find the Holy Grail, and we didn’t score any tickets to the end-of-the-world party, but we did take in Rennes-le-Chateau’s gorgeous views and the peaceful beauty of its mysterious, tiny church.

Rennes-le-Chateau Bugarach…it’s the end of the world as we know it
The calming church at Rennes-le-Chateau

After our looong walk down from Rennes-le-Chateau we decided to try and find Domaine St. Jacques, a vineyard we stare in awe at everyday from our farm.  We navigated a couple side streets, crossed the railroad tracks and finally found some signs that pointed us in the right direction.  After walking for what seemed like hours (wait, I thought kilometers were less than miles?), we made it to the vineyard.  I must say, going to taste wine in France is just the best.  You basically show up uninvited to a chateau or vineyard, which is usually the winemaker’s house, and taste as much wine as you’d like with the premise that you may buy a bottle or two.  The tasting at Domaine St. Jacques was no different.  We made it to the top of the long, tree-lined driveway and admired the garden until out came Monsieur Torregrosa in his slippers.  It seriously looked liked we just interrupted his post-lunch nap.  We tried communicating what we were doing at his place until I finally just said the word, “Vin!”  He nodded and let us into his tiny tasting room.  Monsieur Torregrosa is from Spain but has been in France for 20+ years, so whatever Anna couldn’t communicate in French I could try to say in Spanish.  He filled us up full glasses on Chardonnay and Blanquette de Limoux, the region’s sparkling wine, which hit the spot after our long walk.  After a great conversation (him talking and us nodding our understanding of every tenth word) he sent us off with a bottle of each for a total of €10.  That’s what I call a wine tasting experience.

Anna with our bounty View of Domaine St. Jacques from our farm

Our 4th of July started out just like any other…filling up water tanks from the Aude River and chopping down wild bamboo.  But seriously, Russell and Yvonne did their best to humor us on Anna’s favorite holiday.  We got a surprise American flag in our sandwiches for lunch and indulged in some good ol’ BBQ chicken and potato salad for dinner (and polished off our new bottle of Chardonnay).


So our first farmstay has come to an end and it’s off to Sète tomorrow for the Worldwide Festival.  One of the best things about being here for almost three weeks is that it allowed us to recharge our batteries and get re-energized about the next leg of our travels.  It seriously feels like we’re starting a brand new trip tomorrow, and we’re pumped to finally be heading to the sea!  However, we’ll miss this beautiful farm and our hosts, though we come away with great memories of this experience.  Thanks Yvonne and Russell (and Whiskey, Remi, Pernod and Ouzo)!

June 26, 2011

Six Acres Of Goodness

by Anna

We have officially been at our farmstay in Couiza for one week. We have learned a lot of new things….like how to use a strimmer, how to drive a motorized lawnmower, how to stack firewood and how much hard work it takes to organically grow your own food! Aside from working to help maintain the six acres of land where Russell and Yvonne live, we have been given some pretty awesome jobs, like dog-sitting their four sweet boys, Remi, Ouzo, Whiskey and Pernod, helping to make gooseberry jam and vegetable curry, and the best job of all, sampling all of Yvonne’s marvelous cooking, which always incorporates the veggies, herbs and fruits that they grow here.

Our new home Wheat and wild poppies
Born to Mow! Farmer Johnny
Remi, Ouzo and Whiskey

It has definitely not been all work and no play, as Russell and Yvonne make sure that we have time to go explore the surrounding area. Russell has been an excellent tour guide on some great outings to Rennes-le-Chateau, a castle that sits on a nearby hilltop, Limoux, where the Tour de France will kick off on July 17th, Alet-les-Bains, another nearby town with natural springs where we filled up our water bottles, Esperaza for a flea market and to his friend Gerard’s in the town of Quillan to order firewood.

Our firewood masterpiece Our balcony with a view

On Friday, we took a day trip to Carcassonne. It was an amazing town with a fortress that was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. It was truly a breathtaking site, and we spent the day exploring the fortified village and castle. We hopped on a train home that evening back to Couiza and met Russell and Yvonne’s friends, John and Caz, who were visiting from England for the weekend. They were all set up outside with cold beers and a box of wine, so needless to say, we had a really fun time getting to know them (and trying our best to decipher their accents!).

The fortress in Carcassonne
Cappuccino break Place Marcou

This weekend there has been a festival in Couiza to celebrate the Summer Solstice. We decided to check it out last night, and walked into town around 10:30pm. We had to get geared up in some light reflective vests to walk along the dark road to town, and thank goodness for our headlamps (I can’t believe I ever gave Johnny grief about registering for these!) which lit the way. The little park in town had been transformed with a stage, dance floor, lights strung in the trees and of course a bar and pop-up crepe stands. We listened to all of the French tunes and Lady Gaga songs that Johnny could handle and then trekked back down the road home. There must have been a zillion stars out, one of the benefits of being somewhere with barely any lights!, and we passed by a concert of frogs and toads in the river (it was honestly one of the loudest things we’d ever heard!).

Headlamps? Check.  Reflective vests?  Check.  Box-o-wine?  Check.

This morning Johnny and I rode bikes to Esperaza to visit the weekly Sunday market. There is actually a pretty big hippie culture in the surrounding hills, so the market is filled with all sorts of handmade jewelry, clothing and other “heady” things (aka: Johnny was in heaven).

Esperaza market

We’re now sitting out on the back lawn; it is pretty hot today and will stay light till 10pm. Other than a random thunder storm earlier in the week, the weather has been one of the best parts. Johnny and I sit outside with wine and beers every evening with Yvonne and Russell and watch the sun sink behind the hillside.  They have great stories of all the different people who have stayed with them through HelpX. They said at one point, they had six helpers here all at once, and their house was like the United Nations! One helper from New Zealand, named JJ, taught Russell his recipe for vegetable curry which we tried the other night, and it was DELICIOUS! It is definitely something we’ll be making again!

Russell cooking up some curry

Inspired by the local (and heated) games of Petanque in town, Yvonne found a Petanque set for us yesterday, and we played at sundown in the grass. Johnny is determined to get good enough to go join a game in town…..we’ll see.

Boule! Johnny working on his form

We’ll be here for one more week and a couple days, so we’ll be reporting back soon with more updates from Couiza.

June 19, 2011

Greetings From The Farm

by Johnny

Well, we made it to our first farmstay in Couiza, France.  Although nobody we had met thus far on our trip, French or otherwise, had ever heard of the place, we are happy to report that it does exist…and is actually amazingly beautiful.  We’ll be writing much more about stay here with our awesome hosts Russell and Yvonne (and their four dogs), but here are a couple choice photos from our first couple of days.

Anna and Ouzo getting down and dirty
Peach trees everywhere Zucchini (Yvonne put some in our pasta sauce tonight)
Gooseberries (making some jam with Russell tomorrow) Feeling peachy!
Our new digs

There aren’t any pictures of yours truly yet, but here’s a video: