Wwoofing in Elvenhome
Trip Start Nov 05, 2010
138Trip End Mar 27, 2013
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What is that you ask?
Just for fun, let's stimulate some brain cells in the form of providing multiple choice answers for you to pick from. Wwoof means (fill in the blanks).
a) The sound of a dog barking
b) Wicked Wrestling Ontario Officers Federation
c) Willing Workers on Organic Farms
If you guessed c, you are correct.
For 10 ten days (from Feb 22-March 3, 2010), Sasha and Dasha put their hearts and muscles to work on a 40 acre organic farm in Tasmania in exchange for learning about sustainable development, organic farming, making new mates (friends), eating healthy meals and sleeping in a comfy bed (yay no tent!). We wanted to experience much more so it was time to get off the tourist track and put on SPF 60, our sun-brimmed hats, and oodles of tropical Bushman repellant.
Even though Dasha loved the 30+ degree weather in mainland Australia, it was time for a change of seasons. Where else to go where the rest of Aus was smothering with a heat wave? Way down South with endless rolling hills and abundant wildlife roaming the land, where temperatures were in the low 20's and license plates read, "Explore the possibilities."
Aussies referred to this place as "Tassie," also known as Tasmania.
Tasmania was the perfect place to Wwoof. Before we go further, we wanted to give you our "Cole's notes" to what "WWOOF" is and the history behind it for inquiring minds who want to know more.
WWOOFING it up
Basically, any person who is interested in volunteering on a farm can register with Wwoof in the country of their choice just by going on-line and paying a small membership fee. Volunteers work on a farm in exchange for free food and acommodation. It's a great way to meet locals, and of course learn about sustainable living, animals and organic farming. Volunteers are only required to work 4-6 hours a day and farm chores are usually discussed with the farmer based on the farmer's needs.
WWOOF back in the day
Wwoofing was created in 1972 when people worked on farms on the weekends in exchange for free accomodation and meals. An Australian male implemented values of working on a farm and from that point on, the values of Wwoof caught on in more than 50 countries worldwide.
The first day we spent over 4 hours picking plums. For some, picking plums may seem like one of the easiest things to do. First you pick, then you eat, and then pick, than you eat and before you know it, you have a bushell full of plums. Sounds like a win-win situation right? Not always, at least not from our experience. Did you know plum trees have thorns and reaching out for some of the fruit is quite difficult? Neither did we. Many times, we had to work our way through the trees and branches to get to the fruit getting prickled from time to time. Picking plums in the heat could make it less favorable. So the picking then eating theory does apply just with a lot of patience. Nonetheless, we learned some tricks for getting the best fruit for our labor. Outkast once sung, “shake it like a Polaroid picture.“ That my friends was the key to the fruits of the harvest, shaking the tree(s) was the most effective way in harvesting not only plums, but apples and pears galore.
So let’s get back to the plums, after all the riped ones fell on the ground, there was a lot of bending, kneeling and sorting of plums. We had one bucket for the good plums and a box for the rotten ones. Some of the not so good plums had fungus on them. Good and not so good went into a box (important not to overfill as touching spreaded the fungus from one fruit to another).
Graham, the farmer we worked with did not want the bad ones to be left under the tree as it would eventually lead to soil contamination. We were not able to compost that much stuff either. So (and its not such a good idea) we were carrying the rotten fruit outside the electric fence for the wallabies, rabbits and possums. The property had multiple lines of defense against our wild little friends. First, you had a fence. If a bunny dug under the fence there were buried electric cables. The doors to the farmhouse were not electric - but they had a flat aluminum bar so animals who tried to get in the garden would get a short electric shock. Sasha and Dasha had touched the fence once each - and they did not like it too much. The charge was only 12V but that was enough to keep a cow in and the possums out. Finally, if a super animal ever did get inside the compound (usually this would only happen if the gate was left open). Lucky the two year old Jack Russell would be the second line of protection.
Next, plums were picked - processing time! Pears didn’t ripen much of the tree and need to be handled immediately. Graham chose to dry what he could and freeze the rest. So, we basically cut the seed off each plum and placed the halves on the drying net. It’s important to make sure none of the seedless halves touched each other. Then we stacked up all nets in a fruit dryer. The dryer was covered by nets from outside so flies and other insects could not have a feast. Whatever did not fit in a dryer was refrigerated in large plastic bags. Its amazing - one tree produced seventeen plastic bags and filled the fruit dryer (plus the bad ones that went to the wallabies). Usually, I am not one to feed the wildlife because I believe feeding them only encouraged the animals to be pests, but Graham didn't want to waste any of it. The happy wallabies had a fruit fest at least once every few days!
Pears and apples
We did not realize how much produce could be picked from a single tree. Graham averaged over 200kg of fruit from each of his mature trees. This time, you don’t shake the tree. You really need to be careful not to bruise the fruit (and when they didn’t look presentable they cannot be sold). An apple or a pear is usually picked by twisting it off a branch. If two apples grow from the same branch its better if the apples are picked together with two hands. If you only get one of them the other one tends to drop. When an apple is too high you need to use a ladder. Dasha loved climbing to the top of the apple trees while Sasha was standing behind supporting her and the ladder. Sasha did not enjoy climbing the ladder - he would rather climb the tree itself like in the good old days in Ukraine.
Packaging is important - and we realized how much waste came with every box of fruit (not necessarily produce). If a box of fruit was shipped to the nearest town (Deloraine) - packing was not needed as the farmer delivered the apples directly to the grocer. However, when apples had to be delievered to Hobart ( a three hour drive) they were loaded on a truck which delivered the boxes to a wholesaler - who in turn - would send them (or might even repackage) to the distribution centre - and only then - days or even weeks after the fruit would appear on the supermarket shelves (with double the farmer’s price). We learned the entire process of how fruit got to the groceries from the farmers and to our tables. We also learned that the amount of time it takes for fruit (or any food for that matter) to get to our plates could be measured in "food miles." Basically, the more miles the food has to traveler, the less nutrients and vitamins it contains. But that's another story...food miles and sustainability.
As you can read folks, purchasing fresh foods such as fruit and vegetables is a lengthy process. Being on the farm and working first hand with the farmer gave us great insight of the importance of not only eating local but the awareness that food touches many hands before it gets to our mouths. By the time we digest it, does it even have the same life force energy it did it was last picked or harvested?
Another biggie we learned about is the IMPORTANCE of organic farming and eating organic foods. Without making this blog a live report, if you are interested in organic food or farming, we suggest you read the book "Veganist" by Kathy Freston. It is a tell all about what it is like to be a veganist but has reports and stats on food, sustainability and the environment.
The signs of true organic produce
Let's just say we prefer organic produce if possible. Sasha used to pick groceries which are labeled as organic in the past. This is not always the right thing to do. To label a product as organic multiple inspections are involved which cost a lot to the farmer. It’s only worthwhile for large growers to get certified as only they are able to pass the fees on to the consumer. Small growers would loose their revenue if they chose to get certified therefore they cannot label their produce as organic. Experience working on a farm helped us to tell the difference between what was organic and came from a farm and what came from a factory. Once you looked at a supermarket and see apples which are exactly the same in shape and size - they cannot be live apples (organic means live in Greek). This means if they are no longer "live" they don't have the full nutrition or life energy left. If you can’t see minor damage from beatles and worms on the fruit - it’s a sign that even the little critters considered our supermarket food not worthy of eating.
So, I think we've gotten ourselves up to our eye balls in fruit and fruit picking, so let's move on to our next favorite thing to do at the farm.
Feeding the animals
Generations ago this was the job of the smallest children. Few adult city dwellers nowadays know how to feed livestock. The cow and the goats are quite self sufficient and get most of the nutrients from grazing in the large fields. We had the opportunity to feed the animals one by one. The reason to hand feed is building the bond between the animals and the masters.
Dasha’s favorite was feeding the chooks (not sure if this is an Aussie word, any English experts?). She would come out to the meadow with a bucket and spread a handful of grain in piles on the farm land. Upon feeding one can observe the chicken hierarchy. Graham has no rooster, just hens. Once a group is established an alpha female comes in on top of the pecking order. The weakest ones have our compassion. They are so afraid to eat when others are out and end up running the other direction when food is handed out. Needless to say, the bully is twice the size of the victim who tried to escape the pecking by climbing a low lying branch into the front yard. That’s when it got in trouble with the master of the front yard - Lucky. Luckily for the hen, he is aware he should do no harm to the chickens and Graham quickly picked up the runaway and threw it back over the fence into the enclosure with the rest of the gang.
Feeding Clover was fun. Sasha loved playing with Clover. Clover always smelt her food from metres away and charged across the field towards her bucket. When feeding Clover, it was best to be careful and always remained in front if they didn’t want to get back kicked. Clover tried to get every single grain from her bucket (and when the food was all gone she keep licking the bucket). Goats Lulu and Lucinda were even more aggressive - when we carried rotten apples towards their enclosure they got so excited that one of them charged through the opening door. It was not an escape attempt - once the bucket was brought inside Lucinda came back in. To make it to the drop off spot within the enclosure we needed to bribe Lucinda and Lulu with pieces of apple thrown aside so they wouldn’t pull the bucket off our hands. That was fun!
In all, like many of you who have green thumbs, working in a garden takes a lot of patience, love and compassion from digging holes, to burying seeds, and picking fruits and veggies. The same can be said for working on a farm perhaps quadruple the above. Living and working on the farm was one of the best experiences of our lives because it gave us the knowledge to experience first hand what it is like to live day after day in a sustainable environment. Granted there is much more that we learned that we decided not to include in this blog and will save for more personal discussions for those of you who are interested.
Most importantly, living a life of sustainability is a choice. We have witnessed that it can be done, it just starts with a choice. When we live a sustainable life, it benefits the human body greatly and planet Earth. We were inspired by Graham and his way of living and hope to grow our own garden of fresh fruits and veggies and also have a compost for waste.
Time to eat some greens!