Welsh WWOOF wisdom

Feb 29, 2016

WWOOFers Alessandra De La Pava and Jack Distel chose their WWOOF hosts with care and were inspired by the outcome.

It was raining. Of course it was raining. Our hands were slick with sweet smelling mud as they plucked plump, orange carrots out of dark topsoil. Stinging nettle, an unknown enemy before, made sure fingers and hands were now keenly aware of its power. We were in Wales in the middle of November and as the rainwater began its slow trickle through the neck of our saturated jackets and the Welsh cold manoeuvered down to our skin, there was a pause in the gales. Through wafts of deep, carroty aroma we looked up, locked eyes from across the vegetable patch, wiped the rain off our face with the back of a muddy hand and had one thought simultaneously: ‘Man, it would be cool to have our own farm someday.’

left to right front, Jack, Alessandra, Mareike, Harry; back, Dan and HollyThe adventure had started two and a half years earlier when we left our homes in America to serve with the US Peace Corps in the Philippines. Before arriving we had believed we were going save the world through our projects and influence communities with our third-person view, but we were wrong. The more we immersed ourselves in the tropical archipelago the more we realized how important the relationship between community and nature was.

As all over the world, the Philippines is no exception to environmental damage. Thankfully, Filipinos are appreciative of their environment and very proud of their beautiful island nation. These positive local community members were inspirations and changed our perception on the real power of an individual’s influence on the world. We knew we still had much to learn, though, so we began to look for opportunities outside of Peace Corps and the Philippines.

Dan teaching Alessandra about fencing
On the great World Wide Web there are many blogs and websites with much sought after secrets such as how to travel on a budget. WWOOF is an organisation that comes up frequently on these lists. It is, in short, an organisation which offers opportunities for individuals to work on organic farms in return for room and board at the site. This simplistic synopsis is merely the shell of WWOOF; underneath the surface WWOOF is a school, a connector of communities, and most of all it is an opportunity. Overall, it is an organisation which relies on goodwill and the power of community. This was exactly what we were looking for.

It was raining. Of course it was raining.Finding a WWOOF host was perhaps the hardest part of WWOOFing. First comes choosing the where. Having finished our volunteer service in the Philippines, we chose Great Britain for a couple of reasons. It was a country that fit our travel plans of getting back to America, English was commonly used and, as the founding programme, WWOOF UK is renowned for having a robust community of forward thinking farms. Second comes finding a host farm. Success of WWOOF applications depend on availability, expectations, and a little bit of luck. It is extremely important to take the email applications sent to hosts seriously and to always do research. We heard back from a couple of farms and made the arrangements.

Our hosts, Daniel and Holly, were keen to show us the value of hard work and love for one’s community. During our time in Wales they immersed us in the Welsh way of life, from impromptu language lessons to attending local community meetings. We learned skills in basic construction, farming, how to make biodiesel with used cooking oil, and even the elegant break time which is ’elevensies’. Yet it was the acceptance they gave us which was most impactful and something we had neither planned nor expected. It was one of those amazing moments when everything clicked and we found both a support system and lifelong friends in a blustery Welsh village.

Jack in the Welsh landscapeWWOOF hosts are crucial to their volunteers’ farming experience and to their motivations after they leave the farm. Having seen what individuals are capable of, we understood that apart they were similar to blocks of stone strewn about a quarry. Yet working together they were the foundation of a beautiful environment. As quarried stone needs masons to shape them, a society needs participation of members to shape it. If WWOOF can be visualized as an aspect of this process then it is the mortar which helps to bind the stones.

Our goal that day was carrots, ten bunches to be exact. Harvesting them in time to get them to the market kept us where we were: drop dead centre in the cold, wet Welsh weather. With every nutritious carrot we pulled out of the ground realisation of how far we had come, physically and emotionally, laid patiently in our minds like an old dog sleeping in its favourite sun-drenched spot. From Peace Corps to WWOOF and everything in between, the desire to farm has only intensified but the movement towards a new type of community has already prodded our feet into motion. WWOOF, the great connector, brought us fully into the light. Perhaps one day we could even become farm hosts ourselves and keep paying it forward. Seeking to become masons of the world, Alessandra and Jack.

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