With WWOOF I learned to grow ancient cereals
Tired of the work and the sense of discomfort that I felt for some time, in 2014 I talked with my wife Annalisa about my desire to live in the countryside but at that point it seemed only an unattainable fantasy because we had no experience. So we decided to join WWOOF and in April of 2015 I left for my first trip.
I arrived at the Boschi del Castagno Valmorel Belluno and at the station I was picked up by Eugenio who runs the farm with Isabella, two fantastic people. The first thing I asked him was am I doing the right thing to leave everything and start this uncertain journey? I will never forget his answer: "I do not know if you are doing the right thing, I only know that I regret not having done it earlier".
The second trip was with Annalisa and our daughters. We found ourselves at the Icolao, a small farm run by Laura and Francesco who made us passionate about ancient cereals. Here I discovered for the first time spelt, the oldest cereal in the world, which to us ignorant citizens was completely unknown. I discovered (and still continue to learn ...) how to recognize the ears of various cereals, distinguish a ‘Senatore Cappelli’ from a ‘Gentil Rosso’, the milling techniques and in general the different ways of processing flour. I learned how to prepare the soil, how to sow following the tables according to the type of cereal, crop rotation and everything needed for cultivation. Even understanding when a grain is ready is not always easy, colour helps but this is not enough. So they taught me how to taste the grain: when it feels hard enough we start the threshing.
During WWOOFing we discovered a beautiful territory in Abruzzo where we could settle and were we are also lucky to have a nice network of hosts that supports us. Another important meeting was at Rucasa 1130 with Ciro and his family where we further enriched our knowledge on bread making and cereals. I understood the difference in yield and processing of the various flours, how to use the yeast and a technique of folding and dough that gives excellent results.
Soon we will begin to give life to our project in the realization of a small workshop with a mill and pasta factory where we can directly transform our grains.
I arrived in Italy thanks to the University of New Hampshire in the USA, which organizes some 2-3 month internships in Italy as part of the "Eco-gastronomy" training. After this experience I wanted to return for a longer period to a farm I knew and so I discovered WWOOF.
I shared all aspects of the art of living with sobriety in the countryside and I learned many self-production practices. For example, I understood the wheat cycle: it starts in the autumn with the sowing of a mixture of different varieties, then in summer the crop is brought to the mill. With the flour obtained I learned to make sourdough bread, pasta, desserts according to what we needed. The bran and the husks of the wheat instead went to the hens so that they gave us good eggs and a bit of meat when, alas, it was time to slaughter them.
In the vegetable garden it was exciting to follow each cycle from the birth of the seedlings in the seedbed heated by the hens, up to the harvest in the field of vegetables that went directly to the table or the fruit for the production of seeds for the following year. Right there in the garden I learned the importance of managing rainwater: with a pond as a reserve and a good mulch with the straw from our wheat, you can guarantee the water needs without using water from the communal network. From the energy point of view, the wood and solar panels helped us to not to depend on external supplies and I have experienced that it is much more fun to cut wood than to... pay the bills!
Talking of waste, I have to say that by reducing your purchases you produce very little waste: between the animals and composting everything ends up in the closed cycle of the farm without using trucks and landfill.
The secret to not buying? Eat what is there!
If you do not think so, you need to imagine what marvelous ravioli you can make with your own flour, vegetables from the garden and the ricotta from the neighbour ... In fact we often exchanged our surplus with other foods produced on farms around, for example milk and cheese. This is another important aspect of self-sufficiency for food sovereignty: networking with those who live like you, around you.