November begins the olive harvest season in southern Italy. I traveled to a village near Ostuni, Apulia where I volunteered on an organic olive farm. I arranged my gig through WWOOF—Willing Workers on Organic Farms. Olives have been a passion of mine for years—this WWOOF stop would be an education.
The farm was amazing. Many of the trees were five centuries old, varieties unknown to modern commercial growers. My host Giancarlo was a burly blonde-haired blue-eyed Sicilian. He delighted in showing me the old trees, introducing me to the folks at the local cooperative mill that operates 24x7 through the end of the year.
It was a magical month. The Apulian countryside doesn't have Tuscany’s charm or cachet. Nights were chilly, the days short. But I loved spending hours every day embraced in olive branches, my hair and clothes redolent with the fragrance of ripe olives. My arms ached. We enjoyed big afternoon feasts, the family and workers around the table, wolfing enormous bowls of pastasciutta laced with generous splashes of the farm’s olive oil. Mandatory afternoon nap (il riposto). The day’s work exhausted me and recharged me.
I came to understand it was the process of investing myself each day—learning the culture and connecting to the magic of the olive—that made the trip so memorable and precious.