Parlez vous farming?

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“It’s very, very strict,” says Clement Hermouet in the bit of English he’s picked up. “I can stay for 90 days in America on my visa, no more.” It’s day 89. In this short time, the French 23-year-old has seen more of the U.S. than most civilians through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), a program where “woofers” volunteer on farms in exchange for room and board. Tomorrow, he leaves Vernon Valley Farm to hop a bus from Warwick to New York City, where he’s taking a flight to Montreal to visit extended family. But before he goes, he’s taking a break from helping farmers Christina Arellano and Kirk Stephens for an interview with Dirt—exchanged on the porch through a series of slowly spoken and reworded questions and answers, nearly forgotten high school French and Google Translate.

What inspired you to become a woofer?

My friend introduced me to WWOOFing. He’s in Norway now. It’s a great concept. Since we live with the families on the farms, it allows us to exchange cultures and learn a lot of new things.

Why choose the U.S.?

The country and its landscapes are very beautiful, with different crops from what we have at home—and the new agriculture here is ahead of what we have in France.

You farm at home?

I grew up on my parents’ farm: La Ferme des Coquelicots (Poppies). It’s in a small town near Nantes, Rocheserviere. We raise pigs on about 450 acres, and sell delicatessen pork at our butcher shop. It’s been in the family for four generations. After I was done with school, I went straight to work as the butcher. I love it.

How is it farming different here?

Everything we do at home is different, we don’t have the same methods: the farms, the buildings, the way cows are grazed, the markets, everything.

Was this the only farm you visited?

No, I arrived three months ago and my first stop was a garden in Miami. After a few weeks there, I went to Austin, Texas to do some beekeeping. I helped build hives, take care of the bees, and attended several meetings between beekeepers—they even gave me my own strap to carry the hives. I was super happy.

From there, I went to a ranch in Los Angeles. There were lots of animals there: pigs, cows, alpacas, horses. I’d wake up at 7:30 to feed the baby goat. It was cute—the best part of my day. Then I’d help out the other farmworkers. In the evenings we did the milking, and sometimes would go out to pick up the eggs.

When did you get to Vernon?

A few weeks ago. I help out with the animals here, feeding the pigs and chickens and helping graze the cows. I love working with the calves. This farm is my favorite one.

Have you left the farm at all?

Yes, I went to see Deadpool 2 at the drive-in with Christina and her friends. I also got to spend some time hiking the Appalachian Trail and exploring Warwick. We got dinner at the Italian restaurant there. It was really good.

What has been the highlight of your trip?

Helping out Kirk and Christina here at Vernon Valley Farm. It was such a unique experience and I discovered so much about animals that I hadn’t known before. I learned a lot about cows from Christina, and crops and grazing from Kirk. The best part was picking up hay and grazing the cows.

We also had a great time just talking and sharing stories over the dinner table—I loved those moments, and they helped me a lot with learning English. If I could do it again, I would without any hesitation. I will never be able thank them enough. They are exceptional people.

Is there anything you plan to bring back with you to the family farm?

It would be a big project to take back to the farm, but I would like to introduce cows and sheep and sell meat at local markets.

What do you miss most about home?

The bread!

Interview by Molly Colgan

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