Growing Roots in the Local Organic Farming Scene

May 1, 2024

By Aurora Moxon

Hello, I’m Aurora, a thirty-two-year-old who is happiest in a pair of muddy wellies harvesting apples for scrumpy making, sowing veg for the year ahead and learning hands-on how to make cheese. If my hands aren’t covered in soil, scrumpy or curds, then chances are I’m reading or writing about food and farming (you can find a link to my blog here / at the bottom of this page: https://oldgreenbeans.wordpress.com/blog/). In this article I reflect on my WWOOFing journey which started in southern Italy but has really taken root in Cornwall where I now live. While WWOOFing as a means of travel is a hands-on way to learn about other food cultures on a shoestring, WWOOFing at home has allowed me to learn about growing food around the year in my local environment. It has also given me the opportunity to become part of a local network of people who also believe in food systems that nourish people while protecting the local environment.

It was towards the end of my undergraduate degree, when friends who were heading off to London for graduate schemes asked what I was going to do next, that I started replying with ‘I think I might go WWOOFing’, knowing full well they had no idea what I was talking about. Seven years and two further degrees later and I finally made it happen. Traditional subsistence farming methods in the southern Italian region of Calabria was one of the subjects of my PhD. My research involved spending time on remote family farms in the Aspromonte mountains where much of the land is occupied by family smallholdings.

I interviewed farmers and learnt how the ricotta, sausages and bread I had been eating was produced each step of the way from milking goats, raising pigs and sowing grains to the final product. These experiences fuelled my passion for quality produce using production methods that have sustained people and their ways of life for generation after generation even if, today, they are in decline. After completing the PhD I returned to Italy for more sun-drenched soil and WWOOFed in Calabria and Puglia where I helped out during the olive harvest and watched organic extra virgin olive oil being produced in the local press. I turned a recently culled pig into cured cuts and sausages, learned how to bake bread twenty loaves at a time, prepared the vegetable patches for Spring, pruned olive trees and got hands on making pecorino and ricotta. But then it was time to head back to the UK.

Within a month of returning I moved to Cornwall where I have since started WWOOFing on Saturdays. Heading over to Cusgarne Organic Farm, whether the day involves feeding the cows, sowing vegetables or helping out in the shop, has helped me to feel rooted. The farm has been producing organic food since 1988. Today, a steady stream of customers catch up with Greg and Teresa in the farm shop. WWOOFers from around the world meet here to commence or continue their organic farming journey nestled in the Cornish countryside. It is a lush, green oasis, a world away from the crowds of tourists in St Ives and Perranporth. A herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle roam the fields, hens are busy laying eggs and rows and rows of vegetables grow in polytunnels and outside. There is also an apple orchard full of native varieties. Come October the apples are pressed and made into juice which is one of the best selling items in the farm shop. Here you can find everything from fresh fruit and veg, fresh and frozen locally sourced organic meat, all the pantry items you might need as well as eco-friendly cleaning products.

Before volunteering at Cusgarne I spent a number of weekends helping a neighbour out who is learning to become a soil consultant through the Soil Food Web and who has since signed up to WWOOF. She is working to bring life back to the soil in her field where she grows her fruit and vegetables in the hope, down the line, of creating a market garden. Her house is a wooden cabin she built with friends, with sweeping views of rolling hills and ancient woodland a stone’s throw from the Atlantic rollers that pound the north coast. It was here where I learnt about a much simpler way of life (though physically harder and mentally much more stimulating); about hugel beds, harnessing solar power and keeping compost loos alive. As part of her course she learnt how to make thermophilic compost. Half the effort required involves gathering the necessary materials. Depending on the batch, this could include beer mash from the local brewery, horse manure from the local stables, cut green material from her land and hedgerows and brown material like straw and rotting leaves. With her, I learnt how to layer and turn the compost piles as they heated, control the moisture content and check that the temperature did not exceed 71 degrees celsius. I have peered down her microscope to watch dancing Nematodes, Fungi and Protozoa; a sign that her compost will bring back healthy life to the soil.

Weekends on organic farms was what WWOOF originally stood for at its inception in 1971. Weekend WWOOFing in my local area offers some unique opportunities, providing me with a weekly dose of practical activity away from the computer screen while learning new organic farming skills, all the while building ties with like-minded members of the local community. Cornwall can be a strange region to live in in your thirties. It’s a place of stunning natural beauty with lots of fun to be had in the sea, on the coast path and in its vibrant arts and cultural scene. However, it has been a challenge to feel rooted in a place where it seems everything is in flux: people come and go en masse and the weather is quick to change (the cause of frustratingly unpredictable surf conditions). In my experience it is also a place that attracts people who want to ‘find themselves’ and who, in the process, have a tendency to go hot and cold. Weekend WWOOFing is a constant. Vegetables continue to grow, customers continue to arrive in the shop and I continue to learn while nurturing life-long connections with people and the land.

Here is a link to my blog Old Green Beans: https://oldgreenbeans.wordpress.com/blog/

Find me on Instagram: @from_farm_to_table_writing

Please contact me for writing enquiries at: auroramoxonwriter@gmail.com

Photos: Aurora Moxon

We’d like to say a massive thank you to Aurora for sharing her inspirational WWOOFing story with us. THANK YOU.

Do you have an inspiring story to share from your WWOOFing adventures? Email them to: editor@wwoof.org.uk

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