My first volunteering experience
I started looking into volunteering a few years ago mostly because it makes it possible to stay longer in a place and really get to know the local life. Italy was my first choice and I found the WWOOF organization for volunteering at organic farms. A little study and a checklist got me to the sunny region of Puglia, as a volunteer for an olive farm.
I’m a city girl and I had no experience with farm work so I had quite a few things on my checklist.
In my research, the important things for me were:
1. The type of work – I stayed away from farms that had animals or bees because I don’t think I’d be comfortable working with them. I love cats and dogs but I don’t know if I’d be able to establish a relationship with a donkey for example.
2. Accommodation and facilities – as I said, I’m a city girl. I like sleeping in a bed and taking a hot shower so these were on my checklist.
3. Transport issues – I looked for a place to be reasonably reachable from one of the airports. Volunteering for a farm means you might be pretty remote so you have to take transport into consideration.
4. Exploring options – although I chose a place in the countryside, I wanted to visit the cities around. I did that, I saw Carovigno, Ostuni and Lecce on that first trip. More ideas about places to visit in the region in my 7 days to explore Puglia itinerary.
5. I also hoped there would be other wwoofers on site since I was traveling alone.
Check out my quick guide to volunteer and travel abroad for more details.
How it works
First of all, I checked the WWOOF Italy list and map, then I paid the membership fee to be able to contact the hosts . After I chose a few farms, I wrote to 3 or 4 prospective hosts. An olive farm in sunny Puglia sounded good to me.
I volunteered for an olive farm in southern Italy region Puglia, called I Poderi del Sole. It is a beautiful piece of land with three little houses built around a traditional Trullo, ran by an older couple. The land is covered with olive trees and all kind of fruit trees. I stayed in a 2 bedroom house with two other girls from Argentina. There were also volunteers from the US at the farm.
A typical work day started at 7:30 until lunch, usually at 13:00 or 13:30.
Work harvesting the olives is not extremely hard, though you might have a back ache or heavy arms from lifting all those buckets full of olives. Early in the morning, everything is really quiet and the grass is still wet. We had to clean the olives from the branches and let them to dry for a while. No one was too talkative for at least another hour so that was a very good time to get my thoughts in order.
Olive harvesting is mostly done by hand, hitting the high branches with some long sticks to make the olives fall, or sometimes with a machine that vibrates and causes the olives to fall without hurting the tree. The lower branches are “combed” with a small plastic tool.
After a while we had a fresh snack, some fruit directly from the tree and started chatting more. Nothing beats a fresh pomegranate from the tree, it has nothing to do with the stuff I find in the supermarket back home.
Later in the morning, we started collecting the olives and bringing them in buckets to some large cassettes. There are other things to do like collecting the nets and moving them to another tree, collecting the fallen branches, cleaning the courtyard in front of the house.
The host provided food for breakfast and we ate together lunch and dinner, which were spectacular. Graziella is a fantastic and passionate cook. We’d have a hearty minestrone soup or a pasta before a main dish like polpette (meat-balls) or salsiccia.
In the afternoons we had time to ourselves, until dinner at 7 p.m. For instance, some afternoons, I went to the closest city with the host, and wandered around for an hour or two. A couple of times we went to the Frantoio and saw how the olives are processed into oil.
Sometimes I’d just take a walk through the olive groves. The property is not in a village, but in a beautiful country side with Trulli scattered from place to place, full of olive groves over the red puglian soil. The house we stayed in, built around a Trullo had a roof terrace where we could enjoy the sun, read of talk before dinner.
Volunteering for an olive farm in Puglia was a great experience for me because I got to know the locals, saw how they live and work, tasted regional food, met new people from around the world.
Check out my quick guide to volunteer and travel, and my 7 day itinerary in Puglia, this beautiful region of southern Italy.