Farmville, in real life

The rabbits, chickens and pigs were all fed, and it was time to lock the barn up. I hollered to the dogs that had followed me in, as well as the goat that thinks it’s a dog.

The dogs filed out — but not that goat, that damn goat.

I walked outside and started to push the sliding steel door closed, when I realized the goat had halted mid-exit. I stared at him.

“Really?”

I started to move forward, and he moved backwards. I resumed my post at the door, and he stuck his head outside, and once again, halted mid-exit. As soon as I’d shift, he’d shift back.

“Really?”

Damn. Stubborn. Goat.

After about three minutes of this, I grab both of his horns and drag him outside, slamming the door shut with my body. As soon as I let go, the goat merely walks away.

This has been my life for exactly one week, and it will continue to be for one more.

After spending a lovely New Years in Brussels with friends, I trained down to the Poitu-Charentes region of France for a little real-world Farmville.

My boss for these weeks, Kim, owns a small farm in a tiny village of 100 people. The houses are out of a storybook, and the farm is a continual work in progress. Kim moved here from England five years ago and she’s got big dreams for her land. What started out as plains of tall grass and rickety tin shacks have already grown to a sturdy farm, with goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits and ducks as well as loads of fruit and veggies. Now she’s building a smoker and a second greenhouse, all the while keeping her farm running and working as head chef at a nearby restaurant.

She’s busy, all right. I’m amazed she can still stand up. She works full days on the farm and full nights at the restaurant, with zero days off. She can’t afford to take time off, she says. There’s always work to be done and money doesn’t go too far in this part of France.

So, where am I in this equation?

I’m doing a help exchange through helpx.net. It’s similar to WWOOFing, or Workaway, where I give Kim a day’s work and she feeds and houses me. There are people who travel the world this way, and Kim says she’s had some truly amazing people walk through her door.

“Some people nicknamed it, ‘Survival Farm.’ You either survive, or you don’t,” she said on my second day on the job. She was cackling in between sips of tea.

“People really don’t survive?”

She looked at me gravely and shook her head.

Apparently some people can’t take it, and they leave. Perhaps the work is too demanding, or it’s not the traditional farm labor they were expecting. Maybe they thought the village would be livelier, with a cafe or bar to head to in the evenings, instead of a television with 12 British stations.

Regardless, Kim says she’d never throw anyone out, so long as they weren’t completely awful people.

So I don’t think I’ll get thrown out — I’m mild enough, and I make her coffee each morning and clean the kitchen every night. That means survival is on me — I can’t bail out early just because I am dreadful at farm work.

Five bunnies are on the loose, somehow. It takes me about ten minutes to saw through the rope around a hay barrel. And I’m small and weak. And I’m awkward. And I’m not exactly picking fruit out here. It’s winter work — it’s feeding, weeding, cleaning, moving, lifting, building and destroying.

There are moments where I stop and think, why am I even here? I’m pushing a wheelbarrow of dirt from one end of a farm to the other end. I could be exploring a new city, trekking through wine country, or cuddling up in my bed in Brussels, finally getting around to watching “Breaking Bad.”

But then there are other moments — pressing my weight against a log while Kim hacks away with various power tools, walking three dogs through the never-ending countryside, gathering fire wood while the stars shine brilliantly — where I remember that there is too much to learn here to become jaded. Even if I couldn’t live forever in Kim’s world of quiet self-sufficiency, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it.

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