Wednesday, July 2, 2008
So you want to live on a farm...
The idea to go WWOOFing (working on an organic farm in exchange for food, shelter and knowledge) had been rolling around in my head for awhile so all my friends heard me talk about it to death. Naturally this lead to a couple of them deciding they wanted to go WWOOFing this summer too.
This couple signed up with WWOOF and started searching for a place to stay while I was still dithering around, trying to rent my apartment and decide if I wanted to stay in state or not. When I asked them how the search was going their response sent me into a panic.
"Almost everybody is full!!"
Eventually they found a place to stay in Maine which is where they are right now, generating their own electricity and swimming on the beach everyday. Meanwhile I sent out a million emails and put in half a dozen phone calls to farms from New York to Vermont and wasn't I surprised to find that nine out of ten places had room and needed help.
How to choose the right farm for you?
1. Ask what kind of work you'll be doing and how much of it.
I was interested in more than weeding rows of vegetables (though there will surely be a fair amount of that in my immediate future) so I chose farms who have livestock and keep bees, hoping to find some variety of work to do. Most farms agreed that five days a week for about six hours a day is enough of a workload to justify the expense of feeding you, but double check. No one wants to work from sun up till sun down, part of being out in the country is having a little leisure time to be bored.
2. How many people are around, who are they?
One farmer I spoke to talked my ear off about his divorce and all the problem Wwoofers he's had over the years and basically told me I'd be completely alone as he worked most of the day and went cross country biking during his free time. Picturing weeks of solitude with the occasional burst of incessant chatter was a turn off. You may want to go to a place with other Wwoofers to hang out with or maybe not...if you're a weirdo.
3. How near is a town or something to do?
You might need to bring a bike or ask if they've got a spare one you can use since most farms are not within walking distance of entertainment. During the boring leisure time you've negotiated you may want to do something, like go the local general goods store and finger the general goods. Or something like a beach, river, swimming hole...Also most farmers know the other farmers in the neighborhood and if you're interested in learning about different ways of running a farm (Wheeee!) they might be willing to send you around to meet people and check out their places of operation.
4. What is there to eat/can I smoke myself to death?
They're supposed to keep you from the brink of starvation so ask what that will entail. Most places are set up for a vegetarian diet since they're growing vegetables but a lot also have animals on the premises for food. If you've got a problem with this ask first rather than have some sort of mental breakdown later. Some also have rules about drinking, drugs and tobacco. The rule may simply be 'don't bogart the doobie' but if you can't live without a constant stream of nicotine don't go someplace you'll be strung up for it.
5. Where will I lay my head?
I'm not a camper (more on that later) and many of the people I talk to will house you in a tent, usually one they provide but sometimes not. If you need the security of a roof and fours walls at night make sure they'll be there waiting for your arrival. Plus, if there are other workers you may be bunking it. You might also want to ask about facilities like showers and toilets (how often you can use either). I didn't...so we'll see where that leads...
6. WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE WANT FROM ME??
This is more ephemeral. It's hard to describe and since I haven't actually gone yet my theories may prove meaningless, as so much in life proves to be. But when I was talking to people I tried to just get a feel for how they treat their Wwoofers- as friends, formal guests, migrant labor...across the board people were pretty friendly, but you never know. Things like if you share meals together, if they'd want you to cook, if they're interested in why you want to WWOOF and ask what you'd like to learn, if they offer to drive you places and show you what's fun to do, those were all telling moments. A lot of the farmers I spoke to had a lot of pride in the place where they lived, its natural beauty and personal history. If they want to share that then it's probably a nice place to go.
Of course, I'm just talking out of my ass. But I've narrowed it down and am heading first to Frosty Morning Farms on Common Place Land Cooperative, an intentional community, then to Cross Island Farm further upstate. Hopefully I've chosen wisely and wont be chopped up and fed to the pigs.
That's Choppy, the two headed pig from China. I should be so lucky to be eaten by him.
Oh, one more thing-don't believe your friends so you have to turn down a dozen farmers who are excited to host you. Take it one or two at a time, you'll probably get the place you want.