WWOOFing Diaries: The Kitchen Garden

Every fellow WWOOFer I’ve met has crazy stories to tell. About a year ago a college professor of mine invited his five advisees to family dinner. It turned out three of us sitting on the same side of the table had all WWOOFed within the past few years. One woman volunteered in North Carolina for a few weeks for a secluded, cult-like farm that swore they weren’t a cult. The man sitting towards my left went to Hawaii with his girlfriend; they figured if they were going to farm anywhere that’s the place to go. But the farm they ended up at was poorly managed, they were overworked and underfed and the owner made a new WWOOF profile every time someone left her a poor review. Another kid I know hitchhiked across America stopping at farms with a few friends but was turned away at most. I’m telling my story bit by bit here.

Doing anything new is an adventure. For my travels, I like to mix preparation and spontaneity get prepped so I can live in the moment more. Follow these essential pieces of advice to ensure your WWOOF adventures are safer and more enjoyable:

  • Read the descriptions carefully. It’s rumored people use WWOOFers to fix up their houses. That may not be a bad thing if you’re into construction or learning how to build clay and straw houses. Yes you will do chores, it’s polite. But if farming is your number one priority find a place that says the same thing
  • Find someone who communicates well before you even get to the farm. . . or on the plane
  • Realize you do not have to work 16 hours everyday; eight yes, maybe or whatever you and the farm owners agree upon. Everyone is different and we can only improve a situation if we share our thoughts and intentions so be honest. Be honest with yourself too about what your expectations are. If you’re feeling sick or need a nap, say so.

I narrowed down my WWOOF search by:

  • region
  • family-run
  • vegetables only (no animals for consumption, I’m vegetarian)
  • horses a plus

But I did not realize there’s a difference between farm and garden. I didn’t even conceptualize the difference between working alone with someone and working around three other volunteers until I experienced both, but that’s also a factor to think about! I ended up at one farm in Puglia and one farm in Abruzzo (in southeast Italy).

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A majestic farm dog in Melendugno, IT

The farm was huuuge, like sky-country huge. Although I’ve never been to sky country. I could have seen for miles if ancient olive trees hadn’t bordered the property. Walking across the farm took about ten minutes, or three by tractor. Set in the middle of the countryside some neighbors came by to pick up wood but the few vegetables growing in early March were sold at a farmer’s market the nearby city, Lecce.

 

While I was there we spent everyday it wasn’t raining chopping and moving fallen trees to sell as firewood. Well, some of that we did in the rain too. Most of the farm part felt more like foraging, trying to find the bits of broccoli that weren’t flowering and the wild edible plants in between the rows of not-yet-harvestable crops. I didn’t expect the winter weather, the rain, the wood chopping, the errand running or the Monty Python movie watching but those bits were what made my stay an experience.

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A homemade greenhouse and a tree for taking a break under in Fossacesia, IT

The garden in Fossacesia, IT was also more than I could have imagined. The family I stayed with had a kitchen garden, five horses, twenty chickens and too many volunteers to fit in one room. Again only about a third of the work was plant related. The rest included feeding the horses and chickens, scooping manure, wheelbarrowing “black gold” up a hill to the garden, making bread, cleaning a guest house and tying up olive branches.

 

Both places felt like their own little worlds.

So why am I writing about this now two years later? Aside from WWOOFing still being one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life, I now spend some of my days in another plant microcosm a garden behind a children’s afterschool center.

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This week in the garden I remembered something I didn’t even know I had a memory of! (I have a horrible horrible memory and people around me tell me the story of my life, like The Notebook, except I’m twenty-two.) On the Italian-kitchen-garden-farm, a few days before most of us volunteers were set to leave, I was given a brown paper bag. The bag labeled “fiori” was full of hundreds of flower seeds that were planted annually along the backyard fence. No one knew what type of flower they were and while I planted them with one of the two kids who lived there, Lorena, I knew I would never see what and who they were going to be. In my present garden, drenched from rain, something about planting these “Good Bug” seeds in a line around a corner and seeing this one straw, poof of a seed in my hand clicked all these gears in my brain.

 

Our lives spiral back around to places we’ve been before in unforeseen literal and metaphorical ways. Future you waits to remind you of a crazy story you haven’t yet lived.

 

Catch Ya Later,

Caryn

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