Part I - Fonte Nova (01-09)
From Rome to Grossetto, by train of course.  Our host, Marco, welcomed us at the train station (this is the usual day for them to be in town, so he didn't waste fossil fuel especially for us) and took us to his farm and home called Fonte Nova several kilometers north from Grossetto. This is our first official WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) cultural exchange experience. Check out what WWOOF is all about
here. Marco (Italian) and Ulrika (German) Both live on a beautiful property facing south, with great panoramas of typical southern Tuscany scenery. They have about 1100 olive trees which produces extra virgin olive oil sold later mainly through Ulrika's family up in Germany. They also had a winter garden, which had lettuce, cauliflower, fennel, broccoli and other vegetables. Marco has been living there for a decade, escaping his previous stage in life as a businessman. He has been doing everything manually, with no machines, living in his tipi, until he received a grant from the government for being an organic farmer, which "trapped" him (as he says it) to buy a tractor, build a big house, and other modern luxuries that now he complains changed the pace in his life in a negative way. Anyhow, he didn't save on manual labor with us -  ditch-digging, clearing bushes, sawing wood, etc. We got in good shape. We had simple and good food (they eat mainly vegetarian), with a lot of olive oil of course. Ulrika makes great whole wheat bread. They buy only organic food, and we had no objection to this policy. Once we also went to a town on the beach nearby and had a nice walk after failing to find soy gelato. We finally figured out how to use our carrier with Momo on the back, and if she's in the mood, we can do a lot more things with her, like cooking and hand wash laundry. Sometimes we just put her on the ground as we both work, and she occupies herself for a long time, eating mud and grass, cleaning rocks, with occasional EC/pee pee breaks. We had a few very cold days, which made us think we should get to Spain soon, but at the end of our stay Ulrika's mother came down from Germany and brought us a whole bag of used winter clothes for Momo from Ulrika's sister, so we decided to take our time.
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Part II - Siena (09-11)
We stocked up on Organic produce in a local farmer's shop, said arriveaderci to Ulrika and Marco, and continued to Siena. The old (and interesting) part of Siena is closed to cars for non-residents, which makes it a nice place to walk around in, and so we did.
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We went for a day-trip to San Gimignano, another medieval town.
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Part III - Firenze (11-15)
We got a sunny and tiny room in Firenze (Florence) owned by a man from Somalia who gave us a good deal. The local natural food stores provided us with organic whole sugarless biscotti (traditional in Italy and in Firenze especially). In the picture, Momo is experiencing one of the many kinds. We went to the museum of science, where you are officially not allowed to take photos, but the monitors allowed us to take some of Momo. OfeK tried to skillfully catch some of the antique gadgets on display in the background. Firenze has electric buses that run around the city (6 hour charge time for 30 km), they make no noise at all, they don't pollute the air, and they sure raise the standard of living. In the picture, OfeK is sitting in the electric bus even though the symbol says to yield to 'women' with babies. Other pictures shown are Michelangelo's Pieta at the Museo Della Chiesa Di San Marco and the Boboli Gardens. We can't walk with Momo for too long because she needs crawling breaks, so we find a park, or the grass outside the train station (picture), for her to crawl, eat some grass, dog poop and suck on HIV infected needles. The last picture is of a friend of the owner of the hotel, who gave Momo a long diamond and gold necklace.
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Part IV - Il_Gabbruccino / Avalon (15-06)
One week later we were off to our next WWOOF farm, near the town Cecina (near Piza) along the coast. Valerio picked us up from the train station (in his old Citroen which for $500 he converted to run on natural gas (methane), which seems to be popular in Italy with many stations to fill up) and took us to his home and farm - Il Gabbruccino - where he and Rosa have lived for the past 8 years They are both city people turned farm people who met at the university. It was a huge and rustic old house which they are constantly restoring. In the beginning the entire roof leaked and they had to fix it slowly room by room. The first 3 years they had no water until they discovered a well which provides water in the winter but runs dry in the summer (so they have to fill up tanks in town). They also had no electricity for the first 4 years but now they have it in half of the rooms. They also started out with no toilet but years later put one in, but they have yet to have a tub or shower.

When we got there there were two WWOOFers already there, a married couple from Monterrey, California, and it was nice to have work companions and share travel and other farm-working stories. Our work day was very casual, starting at 10 o'clock (why get up earlier when it's so cold, Rosa told us) with lunch at 1 and finishing up work around 5. Our work over the  two weeks included cutting down bamboo, 'shucking' it, and building fences, collecting firewood in the forest (with instructions to only take what had fallen or left by others), chopping the wood, and pulling out roots to prepare new gardens. Our meals were wonderful. Rosa ran an organic restaurant in the summers a few years back and loved to cook and she showed us how to make a few dishes. Our first night we made gnocchi (potato/flour dumplings) in a just-picked wild asparagus/garlic/olive oil sauce. The second night we made fresh whole-wheat pasta with a manual pasta machine.  The whole time we were there she was very accommodating, making all of the meals vegan for us, keeping the cheese on the side. We felt very welcomed there, though I think Momo was the favorite guest.

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The carnival holiday has started, and the whole day was preparing the feast for all the friends. Rosa made a terrific vegan cake and pudding. It seems like they like confetti in Italy, we had been seeing it on the ground pretty much in every town we'd been too. They didn't spare it here, either, but they did collect it all in the end for the next occasion. Momo was somewhat in shock, with all the kids and noise and colors, but everybody had their turn holding and playing with her until some of their own kids got jealous. In these pictures Momo is wearing a new sweater that Rosa bought her on a trip she made to Firenze, especially with buttons because Momo was always fascinated with her shirts' buttons.
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Andrea, a German women who over the past 5 years had been visiting Rosa and Valerio, and had recently decided to move in with them, invited us to come with her to visit the commune she had been living on for 2 years - Avalon - for a few days.  We rode there in her van, which has plenty of items hanging everywhere, pots, clothes, musical instruments, she has everything in there, and Momo was mesmerized by all of them on the way.  Avalon is part of a network of 6 eco-communes with over 200 members all in the same area. All the other communes are accessible only by walking for a few hours (or a day). Their goal is to be completely self-sufficient, with some of the communes using solar panels. At Avalon there were 6 members and about 15 'guests' living in a two story house on a mountain with a beautiful view. The hillside below they was all terraced and so they had a different garden on each terrace, each with a different vegetable. They also had many olive trees and so they produced oil for all the other communes. To make money the members of all the communes travel the festival circuit in the summers and sell pizza. You learn to appreciate things while being there - there is no gas for cooking or heating, if you want to take a warm shower, you need to chop wood and feed the boiler, same goes for laundry; there was no electricity; and the W.C. is a shovel and a bottle of water outside. We slept in a loft in the room of the oldest member, the founder, on the second floor of the house.There was also another baby there, 5-month-old Nina, and she and Momo enjoyed each other's company.  The one full day we were there OfeK worked on preparing a lot for potatoes to be grown. The commune was a bit too 'shantipi' (grungy, stoned on couch, 'back from India') for us, but Andrea said the other communes are more serious, with mainly hard working families, but they were farther up in the mountains and we decided it was too cold to go.
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When we got back to Rosa's and Valerio's the ground was covered in snow (first such snow in 10 years),  so we had a few days were it was just too cold to do any work besides chopping wood. After one more week with Valerio and Rosa we headed North to Cinque Terre, but that will wait for the March update.


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