WWOOFing meets scouting

Aug 30, 2014

Slovenian scout leader Ziva Pecavar approached the WWOOF UK team earlier this year to find out whether his troop could visit one of our hosts. Although it’s a departure from the WWOOFing norm, Amanda Pearson, our volunteer liaison person, put a call out to hosts to which Debbie and Mark from Sunnyside Farm in Devon responded, and the rest, as they say, is history…  

WWOOFing scoutsThe warmth woke me. The sky seems cloudless; it looks like another gorgeous day. Everything at the farm is quiet. Unless you listen carefully – then you might hear the chickens’ twitter or gentle wind in the trees. But the animals are resting contentedly and most people still asleep, my Scouts taking advantage of the fact that I didn’t, as I did the day before, forget about the time difference and wake them an hour early. 

I get out of the camper and find that one of my Scouts has already started a fire. We don’t need it – we have an electric stove in the caravan, but there’s nothing as pleasant as a fire crackling softly. We’re a Scouting troop from Slovenia. Most Scouts are fourteen years old and we have been together since they were seven. We will only stay together one more year – then the scouts will go to the next level which in Slovenia means they will become responsible for their own programmes and will also become cub leaders. After all the things we’ve been through together, after everything I’ve taught them and they’ve taught me, we decided it was time to do something bigger – to go on a trip. Netherlands, Switzerland, Slovakia… we dared not consider England, since it’s too expensive. Until we found a way. 

At the beginning, WWOOFing was a way to make a trip to UK affordable. The kids (I still call them that, even though they’re fourteen and on average half a head taller than me) knew that we’d be expected to put a lot of effort into farm work and seemed enthusiastic enough about that. Parents excitedly started naming all the chores that their kids could do at home to prepare. My experience with arranging the WWOOFing part of the trip couldn’t have been better. Amanda from the office was more than helpful. The first contact from the farm was just as great – their first email was full of excitement. 

working togetherFor the scouts the main part of the trip was London – all the places they’ve learnt about at school; London Eye, The Tower Bridge, double deckers. I feared that after our day and a half in London their enthusiasm would be gone. But that was before we came to the farm. 

Debbie and Mark were both very nice and the drive to the farm went by fast. Parracombe is an idyllic village set on hills. Old houses, narrow twisting lanes, an elegant old church on top of a hill, a small pub, a telephone box half hidden in the bushes. On the farm road we all gasped in awe of the peaceful pastures on the slopes. ‘Look, cows.’ ‘And there are sheep. Look at the black one!’ ‘What’s that? Llamas?’ ‘No, they’re alpacas.’ 

The first friends we made were Sam and Mitch, the dogs. They hardly left our side for the duration of our stay. Sam loved to play catch and there was no lack of people willing to throw that old bucket lid for her. We walked around the farm with Debbie to meet the animals. There are plenty of them at the farm. The pigs were our first long stop – we just couldn’t leave those cute 10-day-old piglets. I made a mental note to check the kids’ bags on the last day to make sure we wouldn’t have any piglets sticking their snouts out of someone’s bag at the airport.

count the piglets before they leave!Throughout our stay we helped with water – it had been so dry that the water supply was very low. The horses’ creek dried out, so we helped put an old bathtub into their pasture and filled it with water every morning. We filled pigs’ wallows with water and sometimes poured water over them as well to cool them off. They sure got more washing than we did – we decided to do our part for the water situation by not wasting time – I mean water – showering. 

We had a different task every day. Debbie and Mark must have put a lot of thought into setting our tasks – they were achievable, still took some effort and we could see the results and feel proud. Besides, we had fun. 

it's not rocket science ...We cleared two pastures of thistles – digging, cutting, driving them to a pile with wheelbarrows, making sure the horses didn’t run out while we were opening and closing the gate. One day we set up a chicken coop. The parts were waiting on a trailer – base, four sides and the roof. We set out enthusiastically, but the task proved harder than we thought – one brick (for a foundation) is too high, so we dug deeper. But then we dug too deep. So should we dig under the other one now or lift the first one a bit higher? We need to make it completely level, there’s half an inch of open air under a corner of this one. And maybe we should put that half an inch to the left. The emotions were starting to run high, some words less calm than they should were said. Then Mark came to see how we were doing. He threw a couple of shingles under a brick to make it approximately level with the other and said: ‘Close enough. This is no rocket science – it’s just a chicken coop.’ After some giggles and feeling a bit ridiculous about our scientific approach we were finally on our way and soon the chicken coop was standing, as a proof that we can accomplish anything, although sometimes we need someone to show us that life doesn’t need to be too complicated. 

The Hardings were incredibly accommodating in all aspects of our stay – the scouts had a great time sightseeing the village from horseback with Debbie and her daughter Claire leading the horses. We said that we’d like to try some typical British food and Debbie got all the ingredients ready and brought out a cookbook. We loved those Cornish pasties. Our tea party was fun as well. 

on the beachWhen I first communicated with Debbie over email, she told me that her neighbour was a cub leader and they’d love to organise something for us. Debbie and Mark drove us to a beach one night (and we sure enjoyed riding in that 1949 Citroen!). We were all screaming with enthusiasm at the sight of the beach – it was one of the nicest places any of us have ever seen. The picnic with the Scouts from Devon was great – plenty of good food, breathtaking location, outlines of Wales somewhere over the sea. The next evening we went together to a climbing wall. We needed to show them how strong Slovenians are and started by tearing off a board, but after that things went smoothly. Another troop was having a campfire nearby and we finished the day with another dose of marshmallows, s’mores and campfire twist. 

I originally thought that staying at the farm would be kind of a filler for my scouts; boy, was I wrong. Not one said they wished we had more time in London; we were all speechless with remorse when Debbie and Mark drove from the train station. ‘It’s not fair that we have to leave.’ ‘We just got used to our tasks.’ ‘The dogs will miss us.’ ‘I wonder if I could persuade my parents to go WWOOFing. But I’m not sure if they’d like to work on their holidays.’ These were our parting thoughts. One boy wrote: ‘I thought it was very interesting how the farmers put their heart into everything they do and are proud of it.’ An hour later, as the train was approaching Exeter, a storm started. Our coach was full of shouts and whoops: ‘Debbie will be really happy!’ ‘Hurrah, now Clarence (the biggest pig) won’t be so hot!’ 

We became a part of the farm and the farm will be a part of us for a long time!

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