Marnie Record, LLCC workforce specialist
Today I am turning my column over to Emmi Fisher, an LLCC student and student worker in the LLCC Green Center. She writes about her experience participating in an educational exchange program on an organic farm.
Have you ever dreamed about visiting the lush vineyards of Italy or France? Being able to travel their wine countries and relax while enjoying the best wines, European dishes, and learning more about viticulture? Staying in a castle where royalty lived in the Middle Ages taking care of the castle’s greenhouse? Or maybe visiting Hawaii to enjoy the grand tropical scenery and laying under the stars in a treehouse overlooking a water foundation, while looking after free range chickens when the sun awakes in the morning? Your dream destination might be more realistic than imagined, and better yet, affordable. All you have to do is provide manpower, seek to learn more about another culture, and find a way of getting to the final destination for the trade-off of free lodging, fresh organic food, being able to meet new people from around the world, and learning more about local food systems and organic farming practices.
WWOOFING provides this opportunity. WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, but you do not need to know that a tomato is actually a fruit, that all plants are fruit sometime in their cultivating process, or even that “Zea Mays” is the scientific name of corn. Whatever your interests are, from organic livestock, beekeeping, farm stand or farmers market management, vegetable production, organic dairy production, homestead, permaculture, to even flower operation, there is a farm for you. It would just take applying your motivation for WWOOFing into the online filters on their site and narrowing what specifically interests you the most. The time commitment also varies. One can WWOOF during a day visit for a couple hours to 40 or 50 hours a week. In addition, you can stay longer. Most hosts recommend a day trip or staying two to three weeks, but one can WWOOF up to a whole year, or depending on what the host family and the WWOOFer agree upon.
I found out about WWOOF in fall 2015. I was headed to Puerto Rico to stay on a large tropical fruit and livestock farm. They were hosting 10 other WWOOFers at that time. I would have been staying in the couple’s beautiful villa where I would have a private room and my own personal bathroom. The women of the house practiced yoga every morning and evening and encouraged everyone to join in. My objectives would have been to learn more about tropical environments, cultures and food systems while enjoying the city and beach in walking distance nearby. This farm required you work six hours Monday through Friday and gave WWOOFers the weekend off. This destination is still on my to-do list, but after Zika virus broke out, and being on a college budget, I decided to pick a more local WWOOFing experience, so I headed out to Washington State and WWOOFed in the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Country (Zillah, Washington) on an organic vineyard, homestead and owl hatchery.
After being dropped off at the Greyhound station in Yakima, Washington, I was picked up by the host farmers. During the trip from Yakima to his farm, the host farmer, Paul, showed me the many agricultural productions that were occurring in Zillah, a small town about 30 minutes from Yakima. I was actually very shocked; being from Illinois I thought that no other place would have great agricultural operations like we do. Furthermore, Washington State surprised me with dozens of mid-size operations producing cherries, peaches, apples and even hemp.
Arriving at Paradiso’s Del Sol, I knew the host family would be super fun. I noticed the couple’s high energy and liberal spirits through the colorful artwork displayed everywhere. There were also tree swings, turkeys running the yard, a basketball hoop, and solar panels on the house. It was the perfect hippy place you picture when you imagine Washington State. Barbara, Paul’s wife, takes care of the accounts and does the farm taxes. She showed me around their property. That night for dinner I enjoyed a fresh supper, all from the farm, and learned how to properly sample the many flavors of wine they sold.
The next day I woke up to homemade bread and I coated it in honey from the farm. Then I headed out to work. My agreement included 20 hours of work per week, so I planned to work five days a week for four hours a day. After my shift, I would go running. I wanted to push myself to beat my record of eight miles and had three weeks to do so. I thought this would help me enjoy the new area and push myself a little more physically and mentally.
The third day brought a new WWOOFer, an environmental studies major from New Hampshire, who was also on his first WWOOFing trip. It only took us a few hours to become friends. We started planning trips for the weekend. Our first was to the local Native American reservation that was by Mount Rainier, and a 45 minute bike ride from the farm. We were up for the adventure. We were doing fine until we got to the reservation, then the roads became extremely narrow. Cars were flying by us crazily, but we made it alive. We first went to a Native American flea market. The market was amazing and full of art, jewelry and food for sale. Next we headed into the downtown area to wander through stores getting a grand glimpse of the Native American clothing style. We concluded our excursion with a visit to our first casino experience.
Back home that night I made shrimp curry with farm fresh veggies and large pearl couscous. For dessert I baked chocolate chip vegan banana cookies, and of course Paul offered us instruction on which of his organic wines to best pair it with.
Other WWOOFers joined us along the way including a traveling nurse looking to vacation before she permanently moved to Oregon. Then shortly after another WOOFer from Los Angeles arrived.
By the time my final week came I had learned so much from the previous weeks. From learning and witnessing a lot that goes on in a farm like the different types of management of wine grapes and operations involved, getting the viticulture tips from Paul and asking Barbra the financial questions that she deals with, to understanding the garden ecosystem, fruit orchard care, witnessing a baby lamb just born, reviewing why Paul kept failing in his artificial insemination procedure with their pig, hand butchering a chicken and smoking it for supper, to even being exposed again to the natural world, but this time on an operating farm setting.
On the last night of my WWOOFing we all had a bonfire and slept under the stars. Paul prepared sausages that came from a pig he had raised and slaughtered the year before. I do not eat pork so I made a campfire grilled tuna melt. I used the homemade bread, tuna, fresh spinach and peppers from the garden, herbs and fresh goat cheese they pick up from their neighbors who raise goats.
The final morning came on the farm more quickly than expected. Goodbye to the little homestead, the vineyard, chickens, sheep (my new best friends), turkeys, dogs, owls and the immigrant farm workers who listened to my extremely broken Spanish, but kindly taught me to properly prune fruit trees at a very fast pace. Goodbye also to my new WWOOFing friends who had come to WWOOF because they too were up for learning new farming skills, meeting new people, and traveling away from the area they knew as home. Goodbye to the WWOOFing hosts who were very colorful at times, but had good intentions in developing people who wanted to learn about being more self-sufficient, and help contribute to implementing a better earth.
I highly recommend a WWOOFing experience and will always take one whenever I have the opportunity. My experience with WWOOFing went far beyond learning to garden better. It really was a vacation and it taught me just how adventurous and courageous I really am. When it was all done, I was happy to return home and move on with my life with a better appreciation of wine and the natural abilities of human senses.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Value-Added Local Food, Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, and Baking/Pastry, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.