Teresa Donohue has been WWOOFing for three years and we first became aware of her when she gave some great advice to new WWOOFers on our forum. Here are some excerpts from her reflections on three years of WWOOFing.
My decision to try WWOOFing came about (like for many people, as I later found out) at a time of confusion; a turning-point; perhaps because it’s a great way to instigate change. To literally shift yourself into new surroundings, seek new company and swap normality for something totally different, can really do the trick in gaining a fresh perspective. Having run away from an internship, I was feeling increasingly disillusioned by my current career path, was weighed-down with self-doubt and badly in need of direction. So, I chose north, and the wilds of the Scottish highlands.
there’s nothing quite like a change of scenery
In May 2014, I boarded the Caledonian sleeper train in London Euston, for what would be my first real stay in Scotland and my first ever WWOOFing experience. I was headed for a tiny village on the west coast, and my head and stomach were heavy with the mounting anticipation of it all. I had planned a one month stay, and had no idea whether I would be any good, or what the people hosting me would be like. I worried the whole way about all the transfers on my convoluted journey, wondering if I’d make it, or just get lost at the first hurdle in Glasgow. Now, nearly three years and over twenty hosts later, I’ve WWOOFed my way from Scotland to Wales, England, and most recently over to Ireland, and I’m not entirely sure it’s over yet! After my first experience I knew I’d found something worth holding on to and exploring. And the more I explored, the more I was curious, so I kept going. I’ve helped sustain this lifestyle with a few months’ paid work each winter, but otherwise have become somewhat nomadic – living out of a backpack, and staying in each place from days to, occasionally, months. Through WWOOF, I’ve discovered and become immersed into so many different ways of life, been welcomed into the homes and families of wonderful people, and found myself in amazing situations, doing things I could never have imagined myself doing.
Many of the hosts I chose were small, market-garden enterprises such as community groups and box-delivery schemes. I went wherever I was most drawn towards – the sea and rural, isolated areas, including several islands (Scotland is good for this) – where I hoped I could get the most ‘raw’ experiences of nature.
I remember how awkward and alien it all felt in the beginning – using hand tools, planting out delicate seedlings, spending long periods of time with my eyes to the ground and my hands in the soil. But I was lucky that my first hosts gave me a great balance between instruction and independence, satiating my hunger for both learning about the garden and exploring the countryside. I was happy to have the daily responsibilities of watering, opening up the polytunnel, and harvesting to re-stock a roadside stall, or to be shown something – like how to sow a tray of lettuces, then left to carry on with it.
For bigger jobs we would all work together, and the days were punctuated with tea breaks, hot soup, and temperamental but thrilling blasts of Atlantic weather – sideways rain, sleet and snow, bright sun, stampeding wind. It was such a refreshing and fun way to learn, at the same time as being useful. And as time went on, I really began to feel my physical effort transform into tangible, edible rewards – a kind of job-satisfaction I’d never experienced before!
As I continued my travels, I found that staying long-term in a place could be particularly enriching; to see the seasons progress, and get a deeper understanding of the cyclical nature of farm work through the year. WWOOFing then also becomes so much more than just about work, through the close bonds that form with people over time. One family I stayed with welcomed me into their home for over three months and included me in everything from birthday outings to dancing around in the living room. Generosity and kindness like this from people who are basically inviting complete strangers into their lives always amazes me. In this way, it’s not only skills and knowledge that can be exchanged, but a sense of community, and ‘home.’
The flexible nature of WWOOFing allows everyone to make of it what they want, and perhaps helps cultivate a little more trust in a world. For me, it’s been a gateway into other ways of thinking and being, and has helped me connect and find my place in the world through self-discovery. In learning to look after plants and animals, I’ve cared for my own personal development. By stepping into different lives in so many places, I’ve been challenged, suprised and very grateful. And in working for free, I’ve been much more inclined to find things that really interest and motivate me.
such pride for my salad seedlings