use WWOOFing to plan your future

Jul 8, 2017

Lizzie Garthwaite, WWOOFer, traveller and blogger has been on a carefully planned, life-changing WWOOFing journey with her fiancé, Dan Persson…

WWOOFing is something I have already experienced before, in 2011. I absolutely loved my time at various hosts and was eager to do it again. Flash forward to 2017, and it’s me and my fiancé Dan deciding to set off on our summer adventure. We wanted a lifestyle change, and WWOOFing seemed the perfect way to start.

We sat down in March and really thought about what we wanted to get out of WWOOFing. We made a list of what we wanted: work with animals, go to places that grew food, and also places that had a range of business styles, (so we could see how to make a living from our interests).

The WWOOF website made it easy to list hosts with the same interests. We decided on an area, and chose a two week limit to get the most out of the time we had free. We ended up with three great hosts and are now coming to the end of our summer journey, having spent time at all three.

me cooking my first pizza in the wood fired oven

The first place we chose was Tracebridge Sourdough and Fermenteria. This host jumped out at us as Dan has been interested in bread making, (they run courses) and they make fermented foods for market and also run a pizza evening. It seemed like a great place to start our WWOOF journey.

We struck absolute gold with Tracebridge, with Katie and Gordon being excellent hosts. We were immediately made to feel part of the family and we quickly settled into our routines. Both Katie and Gordon really took the time with us to find out our interests and try to accommodate us whilst we were there.

we foraged for fresh wild garlic

Our tasks were varied, but Pizza nights were the main ‘work days’ which included shopping for local produce, preparation and, obviously, making pizzas! We also foraged for fresh wild garlic to be included on the toppings. I’ve never tasted better pizza and the locals agreed because we would serve up to 100 people on these evenings.

I’ve never tasted better pizza

Whilst we were there we also had the chance to help out at Frome Independent Market, which was a great experience. With this under our belt, Katie felt confident about letting us run another of her stalls at the local farmers market in Wiveliscombe. It was really good to talk to other stallholders about what they produce and how they got started. Meeting other people who are interested in the same things was part of the reasons to go WWOOFing.

Our next host was up in Shropshire, at Smiling Tree Farm. We chose here due to the micro-dairy, the mob-grazing aspect and that there would be a few WWOOFers there at the same time.

Smiling Tree Farm is in a beautiful setting

Smiling Tree Farm is a beautiful setting. Christine is a thorough host, ensuring that we had everything we needed and she is incredibly open and sharing with her knowledge. We were shown how she milks her cows, and she took us around the farm, always explaining the reasoning why she has done something. As the animals are mob grazed, Christine explained about the whole concept, getting us to measure grass and describing the process.

sow and piglets at Smiling Tree Farm

Our tasks were initially to each check on a different animal, so I would check the rams and heifers. We also had more practical jobs, which mainly included a lot of ‘thistle budging’. We also spent some time mulching trees, (using wool from her sheep) which was a novelty for me! Talking of wool, we also helped out with shearing one afternoon. That was a great hands-on day, guiding the sheep and then separating some of the lambs as they were going to be sold the following day.

Dan helping with the shearing

I felt that Smiling Tree Farm taught us best practice and the ultimate standard in caring for animals. We learnt that Christine hadn’t had a vet out in three years, which I think is testament to how much care and attention she gives her animals. Another great factor was being there with thee other WWOOFers, as we all talked about our ideas, previous experiences and it helped us to formulate plans and possibilities for the future.

But all too soon it was time to move on to our final host, Haddon Copse Farm.

Again, we felt like we’d picked a winner. Haddon Copse stood out to us on the WWOOF website, mainly due to the range of animals they had. Arriving, we were made to feel completely at home. Tom and Mark were really eager to explain about how they got started and how the farm worked, and took us on a detailed tour, showing us what our daily tasks would be; so the next day we felt completely confident in just ‘getting on with it’.

day old chicks at Haddon Copse Farm

The daily tasks consisted of food, bedding and water for the pigs (and very cute piglets!), three different sets of chickens, the new young chicks and the geese. (I am now a confident goose herder.) Tom and Mark showed complete confidence in us and it’s been great to get on with our tasks every day, as this is what we would be doing if we decided to perhaps have a smallholding ourselves. We were completely spoilt food-wise here, as they are real foodies, so we had lunch cooked for us, but had space on an evening to cook for ourselves. Lunches tended to run on (by an hour or so!!) because we were chatting about all sorts. They were very supportive of listening to our ideas and questions, and we never feel like we couldn’t ask something.

collecting eggs: is this one mine?

Other tasks were varied, ranging from clearing out the chick shed ready for the new chicks to arrive, to picking raspberries and strawberries, to strimming thistles and cutting down docks, to preparing the bell tents for a yoga retreat, to haymaking. Dan was shown how to use the tractor, and I had the chance to try using an air rifle, (with the idea of controlling the hungry crows that are preying on the smaller chickens).

haymaking at Haddon Copse Farm

Now that we are coming to the end of our WWOOFing summer, it seems to have gone by all too quickly. Both of us have learnt so much, and I think it has really given us the confidence to change the way we live. I’m eager to try new things, such as fermenting my own foods, foraging, and am more certain that whilst we are not quite ready to dive in and set up a smallholding right away, we will certainly be looking to at least have an allotment, or large garden where we can maybe have a few chickens and grow some more food for ourselves. I am inspired to look more closely into who I do buy my food from, and having a market stall is something I’d really like to look into.

Not only that, but we’ve both felt like this is the happiest we’ve both been: we’re finally surrounded by our ‘Tribe’: people who think and care about the environment the way we do. We also feel that our quality of life has been hugely improved. We are outside in the fresh air and sunlight every day, we eat extremely well daily, we sleep well from a good day’s work done, and we have had the chance to do simple productive work, enhancing the land as we go. Between us, we’ve discussed the ethics and morals of eating meat, and the lifestyle choices we want to make going forwards.

We’ve met truly inspiring and knowledgeable, passionate people, who I have no doubt we will definitely stay in touch with. I love WWOOFing and it’s something that I would always recommend. 

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