It’s 45 years since Sue Coppard thought of the concept of WWOOFing and in October 1971 made her first WWOOF visit. We’re the original exchange organisation and we want to turn this year into a year of celebration – culminating in a birthday party at our Members Weekend in October. We’re sure there are members with lots of memories/ photos/ reflections/ quotes/ birthday wishes to share, and we’d love to harvest them to help us celebrate and to turn the autumn newsletter into a legacy edition. Sue Coppard is starting us off by sharing some of her early memories of WWOOFing. Please send all contributions to email@example.com
My/The very first WWOOF was at Emerson College’s Tablehurst Farm in deepest Sussex with two others. They gave us rural housework to do – cutting back brambles and clearing out ditches, and chatting while the sun shone down. We were given a wonderful strawberries and cream tea in the barn, sitting on the hay with nearby cows mooing and pigeons cooing aloft in the rafters. I slept in a little bedroom in one of the farmer’s cottages with fragrant herbs hanging to dry from the rafters and the full moon peeping in through the window. Magic!
Tablehurst Farm was where I first saw glow worms. And the first time I did hay making, helping load the wagon. It felt like being in a Constable painting. Not to mention the wild pool in the wood where you could swim when it was swelteringly hot. There I learned the special pattern for loading bales onto a cart so that they remained a totally stable, rock solid block of hay. This knowledge came in useful at a later WWOOF, also in Sussex, when I went haymaking with the farm manager and his son – which meant a lovely ride on the back of the tractor through beautiful lanes edged with foxgloves and elder blossom. Seeing them loading the bales very incompetently, I volunteered my professional knowledge and taught them The Pattern – it worked a treat. I found it very funny that I, a London secretary, was able to teach two full time farm workers something they didn’t know!
Emerson was where I first met Don and Maureen Pynches, plus son Simon, from Lewes. We were a fair-sized gang picking up swedes and throwing them into the trailer as the tractor slowly progressed along the rows. This necessitated a lot of fun and joking. After supper we made our way down to the village pub and had a very mellow evening until it was time to return to the College to see a demonstration of Eurythmy, that is an anthroposophical (Google it!) dance form devised by Rudolf Steiner (Google him). I think that was the last time since school days that I got a fit of the giggles I could barely suppress. It was for all the world like a skit by Joyce Grenfell (the one who does the school teacher saying: “George… Don’t do that.”). A few years later Don and Maureen took on the heavy job of running WWOOF Main Office, which they did brilliantly for many years. We used to hold the Organisers’ Meetings there, and one year we took to the streets for a memorable Bonfire Night procession and firework displays.
An early and superlative WWOOF was one very happy Easter with three others at a smallholding on the Isle of Wight. We dismantled a hen run, dug, sowed, heeled in and heaven knows what else, all the while with bright sun shining and a million birds singing. We also went to the beach to collect seaweed to put down on the garden. And our hostess took us on a walk to show us where the ley lines ran, and organised an Easter egg hunt for us around the garden!
A real education was when we went to WWOOF for Hugh Coates, then Chairman of the Soil Association. He sat us down on the Saturday evening and gave us a long talk about the whats and whys of organic farming – which turned us into converts. There was also a sweet donkey there, but I didn’t have a lot to do with him.
At another place, we helped to make bio-dynamic (BD) homeopathic spray by stirring fine quartz powder (I think it was) into a barrel of water with a broom. Once a deep whirlpool was created you reversed the direction and stirred hard in the other direction, and so on and so on. Most strenuous! It went on for what seemed like hours and was very tiring. However, the excellent results seem to justify BD methods: in Australia, a group of farmers started farming bio-dynamically with the help of their very successful local BD expert farmer, and a man from the ministry came down to ask them why they were no longer using chemical fertilisers!
Another unique WWOOF was one in Somerset when we did cider making in the traditional way: first throwing the apples into a giant mincer, then spreading the resultant mush on to layers of straw, building up a great layered cake of alternating apple-and-straw. When the press was full we wound the ‘lid’ down (also strenuous!) and pressed all the juice out into containers. From then on the apple juice would ferment and turn into cider.
I can truly say I never went on a WWOOF without learning something valuable, meeting lovely, interesting people and seeing new and ravishing parts of the UK.
It enhanced my life immeasurably.
2 May 2016
Tablehurst farm logo ‘borrowed’ from their website