Rockin' the farm life
Barbara's apron sure looks good with these gum boots!!!
#1 Be part of the family
For four weeks, I lived and worked at Mountian Apple Farm as a WWOOFer. WOOFing or World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms, is a network where individuals volunteer 4-6 hours a day in exchange for learning about organic farming while being provided room and board). My hosts, Barbara and Rob, were so welcoming. They opened their lives to me and made feel at home. I became fully immersed in their lifestyle: helping make dinner and cleaning up afterward. After working in the gardens and orchards, we spent the nights watching Kiwi movies in the living room and went to their Tuesday night yoga class. On Thursday, Rob took me to an open mic night at the Park Cafe and we both performed and danced, and other nights we played music together in the living room. We spent over 15 hours on Friday and Saturday baking and preparing for the Sunday Market. It was a whirlwind of stirring endless pots of apple butter over a wood-fired stove and learning to make gluten free crackers. At 6:30 am on Sunday, Rob and I were off to set up their organic produce and gluten free stall at
After that first week, I was a full-blown member of the family. I felt the warmth and gratitude from Rob and Barbara, but I also felt exhausted.
#2 Be a morning person
The fall morning is slow to break into day. As the sun slips from beneath its' sheets of mountain, it explodes across the Brooklyn Valley. Each drop of dew is exacerbated by the reflection of the pink of the sky. These billions of gems sparkle across the long grass of the goat paddock, dripping from the electric fence wires and soaking lightly through the mesh walnut bag under my bum.
My typical routine would be to set my alarm 20 minutes before I have to be in the house for breakfast. After hitting snooze once, I am left with ten minutes to get out of my bed and make it, brush my teeth, put on warm clothes and gum boots, and walk a few meters to the front door of my WWOOFing hosts.
Bam. Sleep maximized (clearly I am not a morning person).
After that first week, I realized that I was not taking the time
I needed for myself. Additionally, living on a farm in the winter means committing most daylight hours to working outside. If I wanted my own time, I had to make it. So I forced myself to wake up early. Some mornings I went and visited the goats for a still meditation in the brisk morning air. Other mornings I would just sit with a coffee and have some time to myself at the table in the apartment next door where I stayed. But most mornings, I took my mat into the yoga room and stretched.
After a week on the farm, Agathe, a French girl about my age, joined us. For two weeks, we did yoga and acro yoga together in the mornings before breakfast. When Caroline and Neil came, Caroline and I also did yoga but in the warmth of the apartment.
Despite the agony of getting out of a warm bed, these mornings were much more valuable than 40 extra minutes of sleep. I got to connect with myself, other WWOOFers and found the balance I needed to start a long workday.
#3 Try not to be a product of your culture
Everyday after being milked, Helga has a short daydream as she surveys the view of Brooklyn Valley from her barn.
blood burns to be active, to move, and to use each moment efficiently. In our western culture, we no longer spend hours after meals talking and relaxing. We get right back into the groove of the day. Lunch is a break, a short resting place before you dive back in. But on the farm, we often took hours to break for lunch where Rob, Barbara, other WWOOFers and I all sat around the long wooden table in front of a picture window. A wooden bowl overflowed with greens, grated beets, and radishes, toasted walnuts, avocado, and apples (all of these ingredients were harvested on the farm and most picked that day). Over cups of hot coffee and tea, we basked in the warmth of each others stories, bellies full. English, Belgian, Kiwi, French, and American, we connected over the similarities in our various upbringings and the differences. We laughed at Agathe's stories of peeing her pants from laughing so hard and Rob's stories of dark nights around a fire in a TP with his Men's Group. Barbara grounded us with her incredible knowledge and journey with health, while Caroline and Neil inspired, sharing the adventure their life has unexpectedly become.
(They are a kiwi couple from Christchurch living and traveling the country in their van!)
I struggled to adjust at first. I had a garden to weed, apples to sort, firewood to prepare, and horses to move. There was always something, and as I sat there idly, it clawed at me from the inside. As the days went on, I fought the internal struggle to leave the table and forced myself to relax and enjoy those long hours at the table, the stories, the connections, and the rest.
Now, I can't imagine ever rushing a meal again!
#4 Be more connected to your food
On the farm, they produce most of what they eat. All of their eggs and meat are from the livestock they keep (40+ chickens, ten cattle, and occasionally a no longer milking goat). They dehydrate pears for sweeteners in baking, dry herbs for cooking and keep a constantly shifting seasonal garden that puts fresh veggies on the table every day. They use the milk from their three goats to make raw milk cheeses and yogurt. The goats are what first drew me into their farm, and while I was there I
got to milk regularly and even learned how to make feta cheese!
During my second week, while we were all sitting around the dinner table, Barbara turned to Rob:
"Can you catch one of the chickens? We will need it for the stew tomorrow night."
"Oh, yes," Rob said.
"We should get the black and white one that is molting," she added in her strong German accent.
"I would like to help," I said before I even realized it. My heart leapt to my throat as if I didn't recognize my voice.
"We will go after dinner," Rob said as if it were as simple as going to get a wrapped chicken out of a freezer to defrost.
"Ok," I said trying not to squeak. Of course, I did not want to hunt down a chicken in the dark of the chicken coop. I did not want to see it flailing and terrified in its last hours. I did not want to watch while Rob swung the creature above his head in a circle. I didn't want to see its dazed eyes as its head was placed on the same block we chop
firewood. Nor did I want to watch the moment when the ax severed its head from its feathery neck.
But I did. I watched every second. And after, when the boiling pot of water came out, I watched as Rob pulled all of the feathers off the carcass and used his bare hands to remove the tiny, internal organs.
For me, eating meat in a conscious lifestyle choice. Personally, I have a responsibility and an obligation to be aware of where my meat comes from. I have to know how it was raised, what it has eaten, its impact on the environment, and how it has lived.
I am disgusted by the unethical framework of the meat industry and factory farming. Animals pumped with hormones, kept in confined spaces, most never touching a blade of grass or breathing fresh air, and treated like a product...never actually "living." I could go on for blogs about the mismanagement of waste, the byproducts, transportation, packaging and misleading marketing.
The death of an animal for my personal consumption is the inevitable price I pay for eating meat, whether I see it or not. As someone who wants to one day
have a sustainable lifestyle that involves raising and eating meat, this was something I had to see, something I had to do.
At Mountain Apple Farm, these chickens have led a good life. They eat organic grains, and scraps from the house. They are let loose on the property daily to hunt for bugs and scavenge through broken walnut shells. They are allowed to grow naturally and live as an animal should. And when Rob swings the chicken around his head in a circle it disorients it to the extent that the chicken doesn't see the end coming. And at the dinner table Barbara says a brief thank you to the chicken for what its life has provided. I honestly believe that the love and energy animals receive in their life is then passed on, back to you.
#5 When and if you own your own property, five walnut trees should be sufficient
Twenty years ago when Barbara and Rob were just developing their property, they thought it would be great to plant 100+ walnut trees. Well 15 years later they started producing walnuts and for the last five years they have drastically increased in production.
Rob has had to shift the whole way he processes walnuts, building a six level drying rack system, a kiln, and investing in a concrete mixer used to wash the walnuts. Let's just say that "Mountian Apple Farm" is close to officially turning into "The Nut Farm."
After two weeks of full on walnut harvesting, in addition to milking goats and taking two aerial silk classes a week, my hands hurt. I spent countless hours tramping over hills, through paddocks, down one side of a fence-line and back up the other gathering walnuts. And then, repeated the effort at another site up the road. Then two days later I did it again. When the "big drop" happened several days after that, I was grateful that Agathe, a French WWOOFer, had arrived. Together we spent two days back to back harvesting several hundred kilos of walnuts, and then washing and sorting them.
Now, it is not what you think. I am sure you are picturing me crawling on the ground, rolling around in the tall grass and wresting the cow pies for fallen walnuts. However, thanks to a brilliant invention my WWOOFing host invested in, this was not the
Agathe on the Trek Back
The view from walnut harvesting was never boring!
case. I had a harvester. Rob had two prolate spheroids, wire basket devices that easily gathered up the walnuts while I stood upright. So instead, I spent hours, no, days, rolling my rugby ball shaped basket back and forth in the grass like a vacuum cleaner, saving both my back and my sanity.
#6 Push past your comfort level…but don't overdue it
The ladder on end, I picked a dozen fruit trees. The aluminum, tripod ladder was light and easy to maneuver…in a field. Once you tried to get it in between a few branches to reach those hard to get apples, things got tricky. Despite spending the last few years facing my fear of heights through aerial silks, that fear has clearly not dwindled. Climbing up the 12 foot ladder with a fruit picking bucket was unnerving. The first time I went up the ladder, I had the sensation that I was nine months pregnant with triplets. The huge bucket hangs in front of my body while being strapped to my back, making my front so massive it felt like my arms were barely long enough to reach the ladder.
With each step up the
ladder, the bucket manages to get stuck between the rungs, each time sending a shuddering riff through my body. A whisper came shortly after the riff: "You are going to fall and die." By the time I made it somewhere near the top and got four apples in, I nearly lost my balance twice. By the time it was full, I had wondered how the apples and I would find our way safely back to the ground.
After a few more attempts, I abandoned the bucket. I took a reusable shopping bag and flung it over my shoulder. Though my nerves were still on edge, at least I had more physical control. My bag easily hung on the ladder, allowing me to have one free hand to hold the tree for balance and another to pick an apple. Feeling agiler, I slowly became braver. This bravery was checked when I was on tree three. I had one hand on a small limb for support and a foot on another small branch allowing me to reach a few inches higher. The other hand reached for a far away apple while the other foot struggled to reach the wobbling ladder. I
could feel myself falling as my life flashed before my eyes. But, somehow I managed to stabilize myself and make it, with the apples, to solid ground.
With silks, I am pushing the boundaries every time I am in the air. I am going higher, getting more comfortable with drops, and eager to try more advanced tricks. But my comfort with silks has come from knowing my limits and having confidence in my wraps and ability to hold myself up. Though I need to keep pushing past my fear of heights, doing it in a not so risky manner is clearly vital. Thank you fruit trees for this lesson.
#7 Share your gifts
Since I have left Wellington, I have been traveling with my fold up massage table. It is a way to make a little money on the side, but an even greater way to connect with others. The intimacy and trust that comes with massage is a way to break down walls and connect with people faster. While at the farm, I have been able to help my host, Barbara, relieve pressure on her head, shoulders, and eyes. Doing massage exchanges with Agathe was
a bonding experience that helped us recover from our long days of vacuuming and hauling walnuts. Massage has been a great opportunity to teach others and also learn myself.
Having Agathe on the farm for two weeks was heaven. We worked so well together and on top of that she was excited to learn about both acro yoga and aerial silks. As I mentioned earlier, we woke up early in the mornings and did yoga to start the day. We spent the late evenings sitting around the fire in the apartment next to our hosts house laughing at our attempts of English and French tongue twisters and sharing travel and WWOOFing stories.
I have started once again making nannyberry earrings (earrings out of goat poo), and Agathe expanded on this idea by suggesting I make earrings with chicken feathers. The end product was a beautiful combination of poo and feathers!
#8 Don't waste anything!
They do not waste anything on the farm. Kitchen scraps are divided between the goats, chickens and compost. Weeds are transformed into mulch. Branch trimmings are given to the goats to strip at night and then used to stack onto a
hugelie or hugelkultur, which is a permaculture technique where natural materials are used to maximize moisture and nutrient absorption. Rotten or fallen apples and pears are fed to the goats, horses and cows. Wine bottles are used to store apple cider vinegar, and jars are stored and reused for canning. Baking paper is used and then reused until it is not functional. Cheesecloth is used to filter the milk and after, sanitized and washed for reuse.
Since they grow and make all of their food, their is very little packaging waste. But even these, butter wrappers, and zip lock packaging bags, are washed and stored for some future use.
For materials they cannot grow, such as wheat-free flowers, baking soda, chocolate, other nuts, and spices, they order in bulk from an organic food club.
At the end of the week, there is rarely even a full grocery bag of trash to go to the dump. Impressive.
WWOOFing has been an incredible way to learn about other people's lifestyle habits. You get to see what they do right, learn from what they have done wrong, and be a part of the growing experience with them.
I can't thank Rob and Barbara enough for the lessons I have learned while working with them!
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