“If you give, the world gives back.”
I have no idea who said that at whatever point in history. Maybe it’s just one of those inspirational quotes, a nice thought to help you be a better person. But, volunteering and giving back to various communities, both at home and internationally, has given me so much in return that I can’t help but agree with the quote.
One of these gifts has been the Les Granges winery and vineyard in Nus, Aosta Valley, Italy.
Tucked in the northwest corner of Italy between France and Switzerland, in a valley surrounded by mountains that always change when you look at them, a hardworking and dedicated family takes in volunteers from all of the world. In exchange for help on their vineyard and vegetable garden, you receive a cultural exchange in the form of language lessons (French and/or Italian), homemade meals, and a comfy house to call home.
Other than the spectacular views, the area is full of small villages and towns. Unlike in Canada where small-town life is becoming eerily empty, in this part of Italy there are people actively living in the villages, with a grocery store, a cafe, and a restaurant available in most. They take pride in their events that bring in people from all over, and this time of year the festivals are wine festivals, chestnut festivals, and celebrating the cows coming home from the mountains. Each summer, the cows go up the mountain to graze on fresh pasture, and when it becomes too cold they walk down the mountain with their bells sounding loudly over the wind. Brings a whole new meaning to ‘when the cows come home!’
This year was my second visit to Les Granges (I spent harvest here in 2015) and I stayed October 6th until the end of the grape harvest on October 25th. Harvest help is always needed here especially since all of the grapes (yes, each individual one) is selected in the vineyard. Basically, each time I cut a bunch from the vine, I had to inspect it for any damage or pests, cut the bad grapes out, and then it was ready for either a crate (to age more off the vine) or a bucket (ready to be made into wine.) Since they are a biodynamic vineyard, there is no usage of pesticides and, at this point in time, there is a devastating fruit fly called Drosophila suzukii that is wreaking havoc on certain grape varietals.
Rather than use pesticides and other environmentally destructive chemicals, they have been planting other flowers and plants to help restore the soil and vine damage, attract more helpful insects, as well as prevent the fruit fly from returning. In the meantime, we all take our time to ensure that each bunch has been cleaned up. By giving back to the vines and the soil, the problem has been slowly correcting itself.
Although my days were filled up with clipped grapes, thinking about grapes, being covered in grape juice and bug guts, and sometimes frigid temperatures, I barely remember these things when I look back on my time spent volunteering. I met incredible people both local and international, shared many laughs in the vines and in the house, listened to many life stories, learned Italian and French, learned more about vineyard maintenance and winemaking, enjoyed fantastic meals together, and so many more stories I could write an entire book on the inside jokes we now have (Backstreet Boys, and soup in the morning, anyone?? Where’s my chocolate cake?) All jokes aside, I ultimately, I knew that my time was being put towards helping a family sustain their business and livelihood.
For those of you reading wondering where and how this experience happened (and other volunteer opportunities), be sure to check out Workaway and WWOOF Italy. Workaway is volunteering globally for a variety of projects from restoration projects to farming to teaching and childcare, and WWOOF is a country-by-country organization that focuses specifically on organic farming.
When the world seems so uncertain, especially lately, I find it that much more important to take time to give to others. Practice kindness, patience, understanding, and the world will give back. You may just find yourself volunteering somewhere unexpected.