WWOOFing: Engaging with our Environment
It seemed apt to start with a photo of a dog. This is Olive and she was the beautiful puppy on my Wwoofing farm in Portland, Oregon, circa 2013 (?!)
As my year living in San Francisco came to an end back in Spring 2013 there was a window for travel. I was eager to utilise it and explore new places but also save money and perhaps visit an old favourite. These thoughts, along with a drunken night which ended with a ticket to a festival in Tennessee being booked... created a varied trip of heading back up the coast to Portland, Oregon, before heading to the Deep South (Nashville-Memphis-New Orleans-Austin), a plane ride to Las Vegas, and a coach to LA. It was the Portland segment of the trip which explored the idea of wwoofing. A way to save money, to take a break from city life, to immerse in Oregon's environmental and argicultural culture, and to take it easier in one place before being rapidly on the move for a few weeks. My readings of Beat writers and influenced by Gary Snyder's Practice of the Wild also led my enthusiasm for this part of the trip. To connect with nature, to try something new, to get my hands dirty... Being in nature can be so alien to some of our lives, particularly those based in the big cities, those focused on making a living and commercialism, those addicted to social media. It can be hard to switch off and disconnect, reconnect with nature, and in my belief in turn with ourselves. We are so a part of nature, but we can often feel so apart from it. The importance of "getting back to our roots" has only become more apparently important to my life and others' as I have progressed through life, particularly the contrast between my life now (in Australia) and my previous life in London. In particular, for mental health. I have become more atuned to and interested in looking in as well as out. Reading Huxley's The Doors of Perception the statement "such ancient unsolved riddles as the place of mind in nature," stood out. It is not just our physicality that we place in our surroundings. there is also vast capacity for what we might find within when exploring ourselves in nature.
So, wwoofing? "Wwoofing" actually means Worldwide Workers on Organic Farms. It's a trade-off of work for accomodation, food, and learning new skills.
Some people are skeptical of the idea, highlighting issues of exploitation. However, I don't believe for a second there is necessarily more exploitation in this method than in your typical pay system. I have heard plenty of horror stories, particularly while in Australia, of scams and exploitation in cases where you are paid. Thus far I have only had positive experiences wwoofing. I have met kind people who have seemed almost family-like in the short time I've been with them. The opportunities that arose, the things provided, outweighed a mere monetary exchange in many ways. I may not have been increasing my savings, but I wasn't really losing them either.
My favourite wwoofing experience is still my first in Portland, Oregon. I was provided with my own little campervan home and a wealth of delicious, fresh meals, abundant in organic goodies from the farm or local friends. Plus the occasional take-away...! and even that I was fully treated to. The experience was so much more personal and I felt I was fully invested in - I was always being called upon to go somewhere, learn a new skill, come into the kitchen... I felt part of the family and learnt plenty about myself, farming in the best way, the Portland community, and this rad little family on their farm. There was also so much more of a connection between us and our food, organic, nourishing, sharing, time slowly taken for optimum care and yield. Being able to rise in my little trailer, shuffle out into clean air, work with the earth... it was a refreshing change. There was so much time to think too, to be mindful, to grow. I can honestly say it was a 'beautiful' experience, actually. And I still had time to explore my surrounds..!
My experience in Australia was first and foremost to tick off my farm work. However having wwoofed in America I was completely open to doing it again on my travels. Taking into consideration the scams I'd heard about on fruit farms and discovering one option for wwoofing was on a yoga retreat-farm seemed a pretty legitimate reason to opt for that instead. It's a pretty cheap, interesting way to travel as I find it takes you much more into the actual culture than say a hostel would. My work while laborious didn't feel like a job, it was not something I begrudged even when the start time was 6am and the weather could be temperamental. The lifestyle is at such a stark contrast to that of city life. It is something I will be aiming for in later life, perhaps not quite so isolated but the wellness and food culture I now associate with the land and nature is a priority for me. And in the meantime it's a cheap way to travel, a way to explore self and skills and nature, a place to meet other travellers and interesting characters. My time on the Australian farm has heavily influenced my lifestyle (holistic, yoga, natural) and my creative writing...you might just hear a little more about that at a later date.
I thoroughly recommend wwoofing, imagine I'll do it again, and am open to any questions or suggestions about it! And otherwise, be sure to spend plenty of time outdoors beyond the city limits...