It’s spring. I can tell by the traces of green on the hills around our farm, by our latest crop of goat kids harassing their mothers in the barnyard … and by the visitors from Europe appearing on our doorstep.
These energetic, resourceful people are WWOOFers, volunteers who come to learn about farming Yukon style, to practise their English and to glory in the wild Yukon landscape that is so different from their manicured homelands.
They share our work and our community and, at the same time, they share their life stories with us.
As we weed the cabbages and feed the goats and collect the eggs, our conversation inevitably turns to food. Our WWOOFers tell us about the special cheeses, not of their countries, but of their own villages.
They speak of their grandmother’s unique method of preparing sauerkraut. They talk of neighbourhood bakeries, orchards on the edge of town, the unrivalled sausages made by Herr So-and-so and, of course, of the beers and wines from home.
In the past 10 years or so, we in North America have heard a lot about “eating local”. We are urged to take a stand against the industrial food juggernaut to reduce the environmental footprint of our eating by buying food produced close to home.
We are reminded of the nutritional and flavour benefits of freshness and, in our fancier moments, we even talk about the ‘terroir’ from which our favourite foods have sprung.
Our little farm is a part of all of this. But for our WWOOFers “eating local” is as natural as breathing the local air. They have been eating their local vegetables and cheeses and breads and meats since they were babies and it is a part of them … not an ethical decision but a way of life.
And our WWOOFers have created in me the dream of going to Europe to share, if only for awhile, that way of life.
I imagine comparing the olives from this Italian orchard with those from the next valley. I would like to sample cheese from a fromagerie where cheese has been made since the eighteenth century.
On my bike, I would go from bakery to winery, chatting, (with gestures and broken bits of French or German or Italian) with the people who actually make the products.
I would wander through the markets, sniffing and tasting and filling my basket, thinking about our own Fireweed Community Market in Whitehorse and absorbing the feeling of a market that has a history measured in centuries.
I would make impromptu salads, garnished with the fresh herbs of the day and I would smile a lot, urging the farmers and bakers and butchers to carry on doing what they are doing, in spite of the multinational food conglomerates.
No doubt there would be time for the glorious art, the historic sites, maybe even a sandy beach or two, but the attraction of Europe for me is the food and the ordinary folks who produce it for themselves and their neighbours.