The host experience by Adrian Parsons

Sep 1, 2022

WWOOFing – my experience

by Adrian Parsons

We contacted Adrian and asked if would say a few words for us because he writes ‘Farmer Adrian’s Blog’ for Rush Farm who are hosts in Worcestershire; a family run farm but not in the traditional way. The farm is now community owned and a pioneering model of sustainability which is transforming land ownership. Adrian’s blog is a wonderful slice of life on the farm combined with comments on the news stories from the wider world.

 

At the age of 65 Anne and I discovered that our children had acquired a 190 acre bit of land. Land which had been either used for set-aside
or raped for wheat. The infrastructure of the farm had gone, no gates, ditches not working and no water supplies to fields. The place was a
shambles, and of course, Anne and I were not as young as we had been and in any case our experience of farming was, in my case
limited to being a young farmer for a few weeks at age 14 and in Anne’s case to being the daughter of a farming father with three sons
who did not believe that women could actually do what men could do.

In our first years what was important was to establish some kind of structure. This coincided with Mr Blair’s decision to allow Polish young
people to come to this country in large numbers. As a result we found ourselves taking on board two undergraduate Poles who were happy to work for us with the view to earning enough money for the next year of their university life. They came and stayed with us
until they’d got their PhD’s and of course became almost part of the family!

We heard of WWOOFing but never bothered to take it seriously. This was for a variety of reasons not least the fact that it looked to be a
total gamble. One had such little control over the person you were agreeing to have join you.
By chance a young woman from Hungary who had been working on a nearby farm had reached the point of such disgust with her living
conditions that she was looking to go back to Hungary. She came to stay with us for a week and actually stayed three months. She was our
first WWOOFer. We learned a lot, she learnt a lot and, we came to understand how well the whole thing could work if the right person came.

 

One of the issues with WWOOFing is not merely the inability to have proper discussions before they come – especially under the data
protection act – but also the fact that WWOOFers need attention, they need looking after, managing, they need care. This is a working farm,
it’s not a hobby farm and primarily, at least nowadays, a stock farm. Cattle and sheep. This is often something that is quite demanding for
WWOOFers to cope with in the early days.
We made clear that we were particularly interested in taking young people who were interested in improving their English.
Not least because from our point of view this was an opportunity to learn a great deal about other countries, particularly countries behind
the iron curtain. This was important for me because donkey’s years ago I had taught English as a foreign language, also because I like
young people, I like my language and I like sharing.
Thereafter we had a run of up to four WWOOFers at a time, we never took more than four. Until Covid the WWOOFers would have lunch
every day with us, very often joined me in the afternoon to watch test match cricket and left feeling as though they were part of the family.
Covid disrupted everything. We have only just started again taking the occasional WWOOFer. We started with an American girl and after her
the brother of somebody who came and stayed with us five years ago.

For WWOOFers the attraction is actually quite wide. We are an organic biodynamic farm, farming in a way that is uncommon and not
particularly economically sound. We are driven by values rather than finance, and they come because they want to learn. To learn about
England and to improve their English. What is important for us is to make sure that they have plenty of opportunity to speak
and to listen to English. To hear all the different accents of the people in this part of the world and to be able to ask questions
and to be willing to answer questions. Talking to a WWOOFer who came to us from Chile, well, what does the average Englishman know about Chile!

We are a family farm which is a huge bonus. Our grandchildren live on site and there is a family atmosphere. I said it is a working farm but
that does not mean to say it is not a very human place. We care for each other, we look after each other and we do our best to make sure
that everybody who stays here feels they are part of us.

Over the years we must have had 30 to 40 WWOOFers, of that number I think there were three for whom it did not work totally. By and large
most of the WWOOFers we get come from the countryside and they are accustomed to working, they are accustomed to using their
initiative, they are almost invariably educated to university level. The ones that didn’t work out, our only failures, if that’s the right word,
were taking a couple of city Italians who had no idea what life on a farm was actually like and a young English lady who faced with the
raw realities of nature found life less than comfortable.

The simple truth is that unless you have spent time on a farm you really have no idea of nature’s indifference to you. You see every aspect of life and even though you may have large numbers of animals, you respect them because that’s part of the code of behaviour on this farm. That we respect ourselves, we respect each other, and we respect the animals. I would like to think that we project an image of the world which is perhaps not commonly found these days. I don’t suggest that I believe in doing everything by the past, you cannot be a farmer these days without being a scientist! An advantage I had was that having once been a high-level bureaucrat I was better able to deal with the government and the idiocies of Defra, but farming is not just about pouring fertilizers and herbicides onto the ground. It’s not just by treating animals as products. It’s about making the world a microcosm of how you would like the whole world to be.

You can listen to these words from Adrian on YouTube here.

[Photo credits: All photos by Rush Farm – with thanks]

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