WWOOFing at Fundació La Plana, first volunteering experience in Spain. December 2015

My new WWOOF hosts

For my first WWOOFing experience in Spain I had chosen a place called Fundació La Plana, which is situated few kilometers from a small village Santa Maria d’Oló in Catalonia and about 70-80 km north from Barcelona. There, hidden in the picturesque high plateau of Moianès region in over 100 years old masia a wholehearted group of 8-10 people run a foundation that receives throughout the year various organized courses and retreats related to human body and mental health and care (like yoga, meditation, psychological courses etc.) La Plana exists since about 30 years, but became a foundation in 2002. One of it’s residents, a girl named Flor, was precisely responsible for a vegetable garden project where she tried to implement permaculture and biodynamic principles. 

fundacio-la-plana
Photo credit: Fundació La Plana

I arrived in La Plana on the first day of December and stayed for nearly 3 weeks. Masia, which is a type of rural construction common to the Catalan countries was very big and representative. As a typical example of architecture of mountainous areas it was made of rough stone and had 3 floors. The place could host over 130 people in its rooms with bunk beds. Besides, the property had a modern and very cozy private library with a study hall and lots of books from various categories and in many languages. I spent there most of my evenings reading and studying. There was also a yoga hall in a separate building, workshop rooms and private dorms. The place was partly surrounded by forest and partly by neighboring fields. It was very peaceful and views were enchanting. Unfortunately except a dog, two lovely donkeys and a horse there were no more farm animals. 

Quickly I noticed that even though not very far from Barcelona, but being already in the mountainous area the climate differed a lot. Mornings and nights were pretty cool by that time of the year, somewhere below 10°C, yet some of the days were still pretty sunny and warm and on occasions I could work in a short sleeve. In the mornings the air was very refreshing and awaking, which together with nice views made it a great start of the day.

My WWOOF tasks

As a WWOOFer to my main task belonged helping Flor in the vegetable garden. But since La Plana received on every weekend and bank holiday various groups of people coming to attend courses, everyone from the live-in community was involved in helping with organization around them. That of course included me during the time of my stay. While I WWOOFed in La Plana we received groups on two weekends, one of which was an extended bank holiday and on that occasion came around 110+ people. It was a lot of work! Courses where organized from outside but we were responsible for the accommodation and meals. I was helping with the preparation of dining rooms and serving the food. Seems like not a big deal, but with this amount of people setting tables and serving meals took about an hour or hour an half before every meal to get it all ready. Of course we took shifts, so that I had to do it usually for one or two meals a day.

Our cooks were amazing! Concha lived in La Plana and also cooked every day for all members of the community. While the assistant cook came in only during these courses. Each time they prepared separate food for people with all sorts of special diets – gluten-free, diary-free, vegetarian or vegan and so forth. Besides that we had a Brazilian guy whose name unfortunately I have forgotten, who made different types of sourdough bread. Delicious treat! 

la-plana-spinach

During the week time we all gathered to eat together at lunch time, while breakfast and supper everyone ate as pleased. One day I made typical polish food for my hosts. With help of Flor we made 100+ handmade pierogies with two kinds of stuffing (one of it was spinach from our garden!) and a soup we call Ukrainian Borsch. For a dessert we had an apple pie. Everyone loved it! But for me the best out of all suppers was the one with seafood. To celebrate the fact that they managed to make some decent money on selling scrap metal we had delicious meal of all sorts of seafood. From what I remember we had clams, squids, octopus, mussels, prawns, langoustines, razor clams, some kind of sea snails that are called in Spanish búsanos and more. All of these were prepared in a typical Spanish way. It was a real feast! Too bad I lost the photo of these delicacies.

Vegetable Garden

img_20151202_161638The vegetable garden was placed on the lower terrace – flat side of the property that received a good amount of sun. Since it was early December and the temperatures were not too high we didn’t have a lot work planting and harvesting in the garden. However, we cleaned two of the parcels from the remaining previous crop and planted beans and garlic. When it comes to harvesting we had some spinach, arugula, cauliflower, parsley, onions, swiss chard and lettuce that we picked. Spinach for instance I used for my pierogies stuffing and it was delicious.

The biggest task in the garden, which took me few days of work was building raised bed in a shape of number eight. I made it with Flor’s help. We used stones that we plastered with combination of clay with sand, straw and water. It was so much fun! I had never before worked on this kind of projects. I found out how much pleasure it gives to build something from a scratch with your own bare hands. That was also when I realized my interest in natural building, which I tried to explore some more on my further trips. As a finishing touch on the top part of the deep bed we made a mosaic from pieces of some old colorful tiles. It turned out very nicely and super pretty. We hadn’t planted anything as Flor wanted to do it later closer to spring.  

lp-deep-bedlp-deep-bed-mosaic          lp-birds-house

As I loved so much creating things I also decided to build a bird feeder. There were lots of birds and winter was coming so remembering how back in Poland when I was a little girl we used to prepare bird feeders with my father I took the plunge to do it this time by myself. I made it from a wood fruit box I found in the shed and cut in half and few small boards for a canopy. As a final touch I painted it red. It wasn’t the prettiest bird feeder I’ve seen but I’m sure birds appreciated their own little red house on the tree!

Taking first steps in making homemade natural cosmetics

la-plana-making-cream2

Flor besides having knowledge about plants knew also a lot about making homemade natural cosmetics. As she finished a course in aromatherapy and learnt secrets of making wonderful natural creams and oils, now she was willing to use her skills and teach others what she knew. One magical evening she showed me how to make herbal distillates (also called hydrosols) of rosemary and rose petals. It’s actually pretty simple but to prepare it you need a distillation apparatus set. Nevertheless, after doing a little research on the topic I found out that there are ways of making hydrosols using for example a coffee pot. It all reminded me of my chemistry class back in the high school years where we used to do many experiments.

la-plana-making-creamThe other day we gathered together with few other women and turned one of the kitchen-dining rooms into “real” lab. We had many different oils, essentials, powders, hydrosols, fresh calendula flowers and necessary equipment. After few hours of brewing potions like some kind of beauty witches, we received three different creams – for face, eyes and butter cream for body. Too bad you can’t smell these wonderful essences! The creams I made as a present for Christmas for my Mom and some small samples for my besties in Warsaw. Making homemade cosmetics is very pleasurable, natural and not that complicated as long as you have good recipes, ingredients and proper equipment. I hope in the future I will make some more! 

Always in search for more knowledge

Besides homemade creams I also tried to learn how to use the sewing machine. The goal was to make for my friends little aromatic pillows stuffed with fresh rosemary. I made around 10 or 12 of them and felt very satisfied with my job. I think that to know how to use a sewing machine is a very useful skill. My Mom used to have one when I was a child. Maybe one day I will get one for myself and learn how to make some clothes!

Driven as always by indefinite curiosity and interest for knowledge while in WWOOFing in La Plana I decided to take an online course – Introduction to sustainability. This course was 8 weeks long, had great video lectures, readings and tests. I found it on the coursera.org website which is an education platform with world’s top universities and organizations that offer courses online. They have a vast amount of different programs from almost all fields of interest. What’s curious – it’s for free! Of course if you would like to receive upon completing the course an official certificate there is some fee required, but still it’s not a big sum. I can honestly recommended this platform to anyone interested in broadening their knowledge. My course on sustainability was created by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It was very informative and interesting, explored how today’s human societies can endure in the face of global change, ecosystem degradation and resource limitations.

But of course in my free time I also went exploring the surroundings. There were some walking trails with gorgeous views and nice paths for running. It turned out of course how out of shape I got in only about a month and a half break. Well ok, also the fact that I was not used to running on hilly terrains was the reason for it. I enjoyed it anyhow!

In nearly 3 weeks I already got used to everyone and it was sad to say goodbye. However, I know how to find them and as they said, I’m always welcome to come back. Now it was time to go back home for Christmas, first time in 3 years! I was looking forward to it for a very long time, longing white polish holidays so with excitement reaching the zenith I took off to repack in Barcelona and catch my flight to Warsaw!

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Fundacion La Plana location
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