By Sue Pritchard
My WWOOFing relationship started at a tough point in my life. Newly divorced, a single parent, with caring responsibilities for my own parents, and running another business off the farm, I was hugely relieved that I had managed to keep the farm – our home – but the enormity of managing it all on my own was dawning.
A frank exchange of views around the kitchen table persuaded me to stop trying and to look around for help. I can’t quite remember how I first found out about WWOOFing – but I am grateful to this day.
Sue’s Welsh Mountain sheep who provide their valuable fleece for spinning.
Our first WWOOFers were young engineering students from France. Two young men who didn’t know much about rural life, let alone farming, taught me a lot about being clear in my instructions and setting good boundaries. Yes you do need to get up before midday, indeed before 9am, because that’s when the animals need care. And you will occasionally get a bit muddy and dirty because yes this is a farm… Highlights included: looking out of the window to see how they were doing putting some hay out for the sheep, only to see small piles of straw dotted round the paddock; and wondering how on earth the lambs I had so carefully split up into ewes and rams were back together, only to hear that they “looked a bit sad”, so the WWOOFers had opened the gate separating them… I laughed – eventually…
But we learned fast together about how to make the WWOOFing relationships work. I realised quickly that I needed to be more explicit in what I needed on the farm, and more patient inducting new folk into our ways of living and working, when so many WWOOFers are exploring farm life for the first time.
The gentle giants: Sue’s Suffolk Punch working horses.
Over the last ten years, our WWOOFing guests have helped me in ways they may never know.
A young French couple who stayed in the end for six months and brought IT skills as well as interest in and passion for the vegetable garden. The retired couple who had WWOOFed for decades and were now WWOOFing to travel – an excellent cook and a dab hand at repairs, fixing up the stables, as well as pressing a spectacularly large number of apples for cider. The IT consultant who needed a break from London and the IT world and brought with him excellent construction skills and a brilliant playlist for rediscovering the joy in dancing in the kitchen. Our fabulous American WWOOFer who came back and fore over three years – the most talented baker and crafter – who spun and knitted a beautiful lanolin infused jumper for my husband-to-be from our raw Jacob fleeces and baked the spectacular cakes for our wedding. The family that came to us in a crisis when they lost their home, – and then stayed for two years in their yurts in our field. Skilled livestock managers, tree surgeons, builders and gardeners, they brought us the joy of watching their babies grow, as well as teaching us woodcraft, making us everything from bookshelves, benches, and spoons. By this time, I was married again, and working in my new job, mostly in London. Our WWOOFers also brought much valued company and support to my family, creating a community on the farm, while I was away.
The projects never end…. fleece for felting.
As I write this, I’m so conscious of how much we’ve benefited from the lovely people who’ve come to stay and work with us. I really wouldn’t have been able to stay on our farm without them. I like to think they enjoyed their time here too – we’re still in touch with many. And therein lies the joy of WWOOFing: the simple and generous reciprocity of exchanging our resources in work that has meaning and purpose, and which adds to the sum of what is good in the world.
Aside from the looking after the farm Sue has another very important role in life, as the chief executive of The Food Farming & Countryside Commission; an independent charity set up to help implement the recommendations of the 2019 report, Our Future in the Land (which was carried out by the FFCC and cites WWOOF in the research)
We are very grateful to Sue for taking time out to write about her WWOOF hosting experiences and for permission to use the photos from the Llananant Farm Instagram page.