Tom (39) is English and Joanna (29) is Polish. In early 2019 they decided to move permanently from their home in England to a 2.7 hectare (6 acre) plot in the foothills of the French Pyrenees; by car roughly an hour South of Toulouse and an hour North of Andorra.
They are working towards a self sufficient life, with the aim of organically growing enough food to feed a family and to produce enough energy to heat and light their home off-grid, 12 months of the year.
Their plot is on the South facing side of a lush green valley overlooking snow capped mountains. There is a small ‘modern’ (1970s) house where Tom & Joanna live, with a separate double garage alongside it. The terrain is roughly 50% grass / paddock, and 50% woodland. Wild cherry, walnut and plum trees are dotted around and on clear days the sun hits the slope from dawn until dusk.
The land sits 100m below the pretty mountain village of Roquefixade. The village is well known for it’s ruined castle, (Château de Roquefixade) and steep limestone cliffs that protect it from the Northern weather. In season, the Gite d’Etape in the village serves as a good local restaurant / bar, and the two lovely towns of Lavalenet and Foix are 10km away with many shops, bars, restaurants etc. Both towns have weekly farmers markets selling fresh seasonal produce.
A young orchard has been planted and a 35ft polytunnel has been erected on a newly landscaped ex-paddock. Crops on two large growing terraces will be cultivated from Spring 2019.
The couple have a small tractor, chainsaw, mower and tools; mains water, mains electricity & a good WiFi connection.
Help with Eco Projects
DIY and building projects
Help with Computers/ Internet
This project could involve children. For more information see our guidelines and tips here.
The Ariège is one of the least populated and most beautiful areas of France. Volunteering at this smallholding offers the chance to spend time in a stunningly beautiful, tranquil space, to experience rural life in France, contribute to (and learn from) a project aiming at true self-sufficiency.
Tom & Joanna are recently married. They have a cat and a beautiful dog, Manu. Manu is a big fella, at 11 months old he is 40kg, and a total softy. Joanna is a yoga teacher and classical pianist / teacher. Tom ran a business before the lifestyle change and now heads up the physical aspects of land management. They are fun and hardworking, and fantastic vegetarian cooks!
For lovers of the outdoors, The valley is a perfect place to be. Cyclists, walkers and historians regularly come to explore the area, to visit the castles and lakes, and hike along the valley to nearby Chateau de Montsegur.
The land is situated such that you are sure to find a private spot in the trees or the paddocks to relax, to read, enjoy a glass of wine or just work on your tan :)
Tom & Joanna are looking for energetic, handy people who don’t mind very physical work, and are happy to get their hands dirty. You will have the chance to learn new skills and help with a variety of projects, including:
1. Conversion of double garage into a self-contained dwelling (planning permission granted). This will involve all aspects of construction work including: plumbing, carpentry, decorating, bricklaying, roofing etc.
2. Fencing off areas of land to keep in sheep and the dog, using natural Acacia posts and wire mesh.
3. Basic forest management, including clearing woodland scrub, pruning / planting & disease treatment / prevention.
4. Planning & sowing of seeds in line with the planting schedule. Caring for / harvesting organic crops.
5. Building a stone & Cob pizza oven using recovered materials from the plot.
6. Planting and caring for berry bushes along one side of a 150m orchard.
7. Installing bee hives.
8. Tending to chickens.
9. Design and implementation of a rainwater collection system and irrigation system for the vegetable garden.
10. Building outdoor yoga platform in the forest.
11. Building a rough wooden shelter for tool & machinery storage.
12. Fertilising and digging over soil in preparation for crops. Weeding & watering plants regularly.
13. Helping landscape a grass paddock and erect / decorate 5m bell-tents.
14. Building of a ‘long drop’ composting toilet in the bottom paddock.
15. Design and build of solar shower.
For a single volunteer (or couple) there is a private, clean & comfortable spare double bedroom in the couple’s central heated house. There is also a comfortable second double bed on a mezzanine area above the living room. Additional helpers can camp out under the stars in the paddock, orchard or woods around the house.
Fire wood can be easily foraged from the forest and there is running water available from outside taps. There are plenty of excellent camping spots on the land.
At time of writing the garage plumbing is ready for a bathroom. A shower, toilet & basin are on site ready for a handy person to install them! There are functioning electricity sockets inside too. The space is clean and clear, but currently there is no flooring, heating or hot water.
Your own car, motorbike or bicycle are preferable to see the sights and go to the shops, but for those without Tom & Joanna can collect from the airport and provide lifts to the nearby towns when they are going there. Volunteers should be self-reliant and happy to entertain themselves as outside of working hours / meal times Tom & Joanna like their own space.
There are also plenty of opportunities to relax, hike and explore locally on foot.
All guests have access to the recently refurbished main house bathroom with a beautiful large ‘Italian-style’ hot shower, double basin and flush toilet.
You will be offered three vegetarian meals a day:
9:00-9:30am - A light French breakfast with fresh bread, croissants coffee / tea etc.
1:00-2:00pm - A hot or cold lunch.
7:30-8:30pm - A hot main evening meal with wine or beer.
Tom and Joanna bake bread every day and cook with fresh, local produce, and they value time spent sharing meals. Food is very important to the couple and guests can expect good quality ingredients prepared well.
Tom and Joanna have travelled the world extensively for many years exploring Europe, South America, Africa & Asia. In years gone by they have worked as volunteers themselves so know what it’s like and they hope to be excellent hosts because of that experience!
The couple are very sociable but outside working hours appreciate their own space. On days off and in free afternoons volunteers can canoe, swim or wakeboard at the nearby lakes & rivers. The nearest ski lift is less than 30 minutes drive where you can ski and snowboard during winter months. There are numerous trekking / hiking routes nearby, rock climbing and the beautiful town of Foix with great bars and restaurants is just a 15 minute drive from the plot. Barcelona is a 3 hour drive, and you can reach Andorra (for tax free shopping and great skiing) in around an hour.
Volunteers are asked to help for 25 hours p/week, Monday to Friday; typically starting after breakfast at 9:30am, and finishing at 3:30pm (taking into account an hour for lunch). Your afternoons will be for you to explore and enjoy the area.
Where possible volunteers are asked to bring a set of work clothes and suitable footwear for working outside, but Tom & Joanna have some spare things for people their size!
The couple still like to travel, and enjoy an active social life. They also value their time alone together. For this reason they typically accept volunteers for a maximum period of 2 weeks.
Limited internet access
We have pets
We are smokers
Can host families
We have a decent wifi setup allowing access to data throughout the property and on the terrace. Digital nomads welcome!
We have plenty of space for a camper van at the house, with the possibility for an extension lead to provide electricity & an outdoor tap for water
We have a dog, two cats and chickens. All are very friendly and dogs often visit to play with Manu. Manu is super friendly with all dogs but he is big (50kg)
5 hours a day, 5 days a week
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