Last days at the most amazing farm in Italy…

And I was sick for them.  It started out with a scratchy throat on Wednesday and quickly snowballed into a full blown sinus infection/head cold.  A bummer, but I was in good hands with the Black’s and my amazing co-WWOOFers.  Lot’s of tea, lozenges, naps, tissues, and tears later, I’ve arrived in Firenze for a 5-day tourist stint.  But let me backtrack.

Wednesday we began the olive harvest.  We spent the morning cutting and piling wood for the next few months.  It probably will only last a few months, but I think we were all satisfied to see several woodpiles higher than our heads.  We all clearly adore the Black’s and want them nice and toasty this winter :).  After lunch we headed down to the olive trees right by the main farmhouse.  The olive harvest works like this, at least at this farm:  You decide which trees have a lot of ripe olives on them and lay nets below them.  If you’re on an incline (which you ALWAYS are in Mondaino) you use wooden posts to prop the net up, so any rolling olives are caught up in the bottom.  You then climb an olive tree and/or stand underneath it and use these little colorful rakes to remove the olives.  Basically you rake the branches and all of the olives will fall off into the net underneath.  Or, if you’re Phelan, you set up a ladder on the outside of the tree and climb it to rake the olives off the outer branches.  Once a tree is cleared of its olives, you gather the net and funnel the olives into a crate.  We had a lot of fun climbing the trees and reaching out to those outer branches to swipe at the olives there.  I think the phrase, ‘No olive is worth falling out of a tree for‘ and ‘I’m getting a bit too cocky‘ can sum up the amount of tree shimmying and branch tottering we did.  Is tottering a word?  It sounds right?  Oh well.  We continued with the olive harvest near the main farmhouse on Thursday, and were graced by the sun’s presence all day.  The bright rays filtering through the trees was amazing, and though the pictures give a good representation, you’ll just have to come to the Black’s and see it for yourself in all it’s true splendor.  And that’s just the light coming through the olive trees I’m talking about.  So you can imagine everything else….no really, check out their website for a rustic country Italian getaway.  I know I’ll be coming back…

One of the olive trees produces a different type of olive that is better for marinating in oil, as opposed to pressing for oil.  In my pictures you’ll see very bright green and purple jeweled olives, gathered in my shirt because they cannot drop to the ground.  These olives bruise easily and do not taste as yummy when preserved with bruises.  We had some from the olive harvest two years prior and they were AMAZING.  Fran, Christian, and I pretty much inhaled a bowl Phelan brought down for a snack.

Friday we moved to the olive grove by the second farmhouse, which had many more trees, though not all were flush with olives.  I imagine we got a lot done, but I was pretty wrapped up in my cold and couldn’t tell you much except that you shouldn’t sit in an olive tree and try to saw-off olive branches while balancing precariously on old growths and fighting balloon head syndrome.  If you’re not familiar with balloon head syndrome, it’s when you have a cold and it feels like your head is floating on a string several feet above your body.  I think the mental image will prove it’s not a good idea.  I think a little before lunch I determined I was completely useless as an olive picker, and Suzie told me to come back to the main house with her after lunch to get some sleep.  Yup, that happened.  So I slept through the last afternoon of my WWOOFing experience, and though that seems like a disappointing end to it, I quickly realized that once you’ve WWOOFed once, you’ll continue to do so the rest of your life.  Once a WWOOFer always a WWOOFer.  After all, the organization began forty years ago, this fall, as a way for inner-city people to make it out to the country and get that breath of fresh air they so desperately needed.  You feel it in your bones.  Or maybe that’s just my cold showing me whose boss.  That being said, this isn’t the last WWOOF has heard of me, and I will always be happy to talk about it with anyone that is interested.  Seriously.  If you have an open mind and can handle a bit of hard work (I’m talking about the eating here, it’s hard work – the farming stuff is a cinch) I highly recommend it.  And look at all that I learned!  Here’s the slideshow and the gallery is below!

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Alright, sorry, it appears I’ve built up another soap box so I’ll try and tone it down.  We didn’t get a chance to check out the olive press because it was incredibly busy with everything else going on, but I hope to find one here in Tuscany.  Yesterday I just slept a lot and enjoyed my last day at the Black’s by sitting in the hammock underneath the terrace and reading a book.  It was one of those, ‘sigh, is this real life’ moments I so frequently have here.  This morning Phelan dropped off Fran and I at the Cattolica station, and we had a quick but teary goodbye.  We stopped in Faenza to change trains and ended up at this ceramic museum Phelan had recommended.  It was really interesting but way way way TOO HUGE to see all of in the hour we had.  And Fran found a really amazing market, so it seems like Faenza is on my list of places to return to.  Not to mention there were tons of pharmacy ceramics from the middle ages, etc, which were amazing and beautiful and I wanted to take a bunch of pictures to show Dad but it was NOT ALLOWED.  I’ll have to find some on the internet.  Anyway, here is their website:  You can read up on it, anyway, and maybe see some pictures.

Fran and I ended up taking this beautiful scenic commuter train from Faenza to Firenze.  We wove through the Apennine mountains dotted with fall foliage, and straight across the calf part of the boot.  The countryside was a patchwork, a beautiful quilt with swatches of vines, orchards, fields, forests, and gardens.  Each a bold color and many changing at different rates – the oranges, reds, and golds creating the beginning of a rainbow among the farmhouses.  I think I might be getting a bit waffly, but since no pictures would do it justice, all I can do is paint the picture for you.  With words.  ‘Cause yeah, I’m a terrible painter.  Anyway, I don’t know what it would look like any other season, but I’m insisting Mom and I come back to Tuscany that way in a few weeks.  You hear that Cynthia?  I INSIST.  I hope the colors are still changing then.

We arrived in Firenze and it was just very sad that I had to say farewell to Fran, as she left to go on her next WWOOF adventure.  We just got along so grand it felt like we had been friends for more than two weeks, and I’m happy to say that I’ve made a friend for life.  We had some coffee and tried not to prolong the goodbyes ’cause that’s awkward and we’re adults and had a hug and went our separate ways.  I can’t wait to follow her new adventures and artistic endeavors, and you should check out her blog because she’s amazing and if you’ve enjoyed my blog, you’ll definitely enjoy hers:

Anyway, I must be getting to bed so I am rested up for my adventures in Firenze this week, and more importantly Cynthia’s arrival on Friday.

Here are the olive harvest pictures, and my awesome woodpile that I did solo.  Woo!


2 thoughts on “Last days at the most amazing farm in Italy…

  1. I’m getting my act together as we speak…just pulled out my passport, now on to what clothes to bring, and finishing up some classwork.
    Can’t wait!


  2. Ahh! So exciting all of your adventures! Punkin pah looks -awesome-! This may be selfish, but I can’t wait for your return! So eat lots of gelato and other yummy foods, nom nom nom away and keep on writing! Until then, I’ll stock up on Baileys and Coffee and wait for you!!

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