by Anna Locke of Small Meadow Farm
I am a giant fan of WWOOFING. It has literally been the golden key, unlocking my project from one of my biggest challenges, – being a woman in my 50’s now and losing strength, but with an endless list of tasks to complete on the smallholding! I now save those tasks that can’t be done by one person for my WWOOFers weeks. Having been a gardener for over 20 years, my back is a bit broken now and it can freak out if I lift too much, too often. (I’m sure some people can relate to this.) Knowing I can avoid this, brings great reassurance and relief and lightens the mood when I get on with the tasks I can do on my own, over the rest of the year.
Anna and the WWOOFers ….and the woofer
I held my first WWOOFing week last summer and it was simply delightful to meet like-minds that appreciate the small farm I have been struggling to create. In came four gorgeous people ready to muck in! That first WWOOFing week helped create the infrastructure I needed in order to invite more people here to enjoy the space. We made a compost toilet and shower unit, meditation bench in the woodland and we camped together, cooked together, walked to the beach together and convened round the fire for some awesome deep-felt conversations. What was a pleasurable experience, moved the project on leaps and bounds and it was a relief to feel supported and appreciated.
It has been so much harder than I expected to draw from my own local community. I fancied there would be enthusiasm for all sorts of reciprocity and exchanges. Like work for camping, looking after chickens for eggs, but I have not found the collectivism I seek, not from my local town – nor a real validation of what I do (yet, hopefully). Though it seems normal to me to go ‘back to the land’, it’s a bit far out socially and geographically for my more socialite town-orientated associates. I have not only learned that that is fine but also it has actually become fine because of the WWOOFing community!
Lovely WWOOFers… sorting many things that have been stuck…
Galvanised by my first WWOOFing experience, when I was approached by a WWOOFer who wanted to come for two weeks at end of April / beginning of May this year, I gratefully accepted his request.
One of his ‘wants’ for his experience was to improve his English and so my brain started firing and retrieving all sorts of school girl French – a good exchange for both of us. He was a delightful young man from La Rochelle, with gardening and woodland skills. We prepared the site for more people, enhancing a newly dug and level yoga deck. We did maintenance to my horse box and some much needed strimming and other tasks that enabled me to add my small farm to the ‘Hipcamp’ and ‘Nearly Wild Camping’ websites, which with fine weather in June, finally yielded some income. I would not have been able to have my site prepared for this without that timely intervention.
I was then approached by two young women from Lausanne, Switzerland who wanted a working holiday so they came in mid-July. Their tasks were to paint my animal shelter, lower barn and some gorgeous camping signs – which they excelled at! They had no particular gardening skills, which was fine because at this time of year it was the painting that I needed doing to smarten things up for campers and get ahead of winter.
All of these WWOOFers have added greatly to the functioning of the farm and finally after seven years, my infrastructure is starting be up and running as well as looking good.
The delightful young ladies from Switzerland
My hat comes off to the WWOOF community who have worked out a really good exchange rate – five hours of work a day for five days a week, in exchange for full board and lodging – with a weekend off for exploring the beautiful town of Hastings and surrounding countryside. For the WWOOFers’ time off, I have given them the keys to my flat with deep gratitude.
Not only have we connected deeply, shared experiences and had a bit of a laugh, the WWOOFers and I, but I also hope that being on the smallholding has led them to other great things and clarity about their own journeys. One of my WWOOFers went on to create her own ‘happy place’ out on a shack in Australia. My local WWOOFer became an orchard volunteer for me briefly and went on to apply for lots of conservation jobs. I hope the WWOOFers who came to stay, who were at a crossroads in their lives, saw their paths more clearly as a result of being immersed in my project and all it entails.
I have also learned to make a real Italian carbonara using egg yolks (not cream) and learned to flip a tortilla, the Spanish way!
On a personal note I feel inclined to ‘be’ a WWOOFer and widen my own horizons on similar projects that are further down the line from me. It’s always good to be with people on the road ahead of where you’d like to be, for the encouragement it brings. I also feel more secure in my tasks as I know I can save those that I can’t get done without extra hands, by building in a pattern of WWOOFers weeks when I need them. That panic of feeling stuck without help has gone, thanks to all my WWOOFers to date and the established WWOOF UK community that makes this all possible.
Anna Locke is a permaculture facilitator and author of ‘The Forager’s Garden’, Permanent Publications 2021. She runs and develops a smallholding and campsite on the outskirts of Hastings. She loves growing, preserving and cooking farm-grown and foraged food for friends and visitors. Instagram: permacultureanna