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/ A W A R E N E S S M A G A Z I N E
M A R C H / A P R I L 2 0 1 1
14 / A W A R E N E S S M A G A Z I N E
M A R C H / A P R I L 2 0 1 1
I considered driving past the
exit to Lima, Ohio on many of
my morning commutes. Lima is
where I worked as a high school
science teacher, manag-
ing ornery teenagers and
multiple-choice tests. If
only that highway exit had
been a multiple-choice
exit, maybe I would have
looked forward to my
morning drive. Perhaps
the options could have
been: Exit A- Lima, Ohio;
Exit B- Lima, Peru; Exit
C- Lima Bean Farm. Most
mornings, I would have
opted for pulling weeds.
One week after my second
year of teaching ended, I drove
past the exit altogether. In pur-
suit of happiness, I put Ohio in
my rearview mirror, the state
that claims to be "the heart of
it all." I felt like that motto no
longer spoke to me.
I drove to a five-acre farm in
the green mountains of Ver-
mont, where I planned to vol-
unteer as a farmhand. My only
gardening experience up to
that point was sitting on my
Grandpa's porch shelling peas,
plus my annual saunter in his
pumpkin patch to pick a Hallo-
ween pumpkin.
When I very first heard about
WWOOFing, an acronym that
stands for World Wide Opportu-
nities on Organic Farms, I knew
I had found an open door into
the country life. I was ready to
step onto the sun-warmed soil
and learn the most basic art of
survival: farming.
I entered the farm life with a
romantic vision, one dominated
by rolling hills, red barns, and
peaceful days spent scattering
seeds and watering plants. Part
of my vision remained intact in
Vermont. I awoke each morning
to fog-shrouded mountains and
rows of salad greens emerging
from the rich black soil.
I visited a neighboring dairy
farm to fill up glass jars with fresh
raw milk, heavy with cream. I
snatched my morning eggs di-
rectly from the hens outside the
kitchen door. I felt connected
with the land.
However, part of my roman-
tic vision had to be adjusted. My
first day on the job, I received
instructions to make a slurry of
chicken manure and compost
and pack it around the base of
each pepper we transplanted.
The pepper, eggplant, and mel-
on transplanting went on from
sunrise to sunset for six conse-
cutive days.
Interspersed with transplant-
ing, I killed cucumber beetles
by knocking them into a bucket
of water and smashing them un-
der my boot. In the shower my
second night, I
discovered a tick
trying to burrow
head first into
the moist skin
behind my knee.
Th e b e a u t i -
ful thing about
WWOOFing is
that there is no
contract. When
I realized that
m y V e r m o n t
h o s t , H e c t o r,
planned on working me close
to 60 hours/week, I said thanks
and goodbye. The ideal WWOOF
arrangement is one where the
volunteer gets good organic
food and lodging in exchange for
a half day of labor. Hector de-
livered on the wonderful food
and accommodation, but as for
the labor, I felt used. From that
point onward, I stayed on farms
for one month increments, not
counting the four-day stretch in
southern California where my
host woke me up to the sound
of his WWII bugle and served
a dinner consisting of leftover
cafeteria food.
After Hector's farm, I drove to
Maine where I cared for a flock
of Icelandic sheep, bottle-fed a
pair of lambs and learned how
to spin wool into yarn and knit.
I also learned how to milk a goat
and turn milk into cheese. The
Icelandic sheep farm marked
the beginning of a more humane
and relaxed WWOOFing exper-
My host, Joan, only required
three hours of work/day, giving
me time to hike the Appalach-
ian trail, kayak, and pick blue-
berries for spending money.
From Joan's Icelandic sheep
farm, I followed a southern route,
WWOOFing on a permaculture
farm in Massachusetts, and then
to the Blue Ridge Mountains of
North Carolina where I lived in
a tepee, turned freshly-killed
deer into hamburger, chopped
firewood, and learned how to
make sauerkraut, applesauce,
and granola.
Clear Creek Homestead of
North Carolina marked the be-
ginning of my sustainable liv-
ing education. Most of my food
came directly from the land:
fried duck eggs, venison burg-
ers, blueberry, strawberry, and
blackberry jam, plus fermented,
fresh and canned vegetables.
Wood provided all our heat-
ing and cooking needs. My love-
ly hosts, George and Whitney,
treated me like family, inviting
me up to their roundhouse ev-
ery evening for a home-cooked
meal. At night, I lay in my tepee
and listened to the soft thud of
deer hooves as the local herds
ate apples and leaves from the
nearby trees. My month on Clear
Creek Homestead was an idyllic
one, accompanied by a brilliant
display of autumn leaves.
After I hugged George and
Whitney goodbye, I continued
on to Salamander Springs in
Georgia where I got a taste of
living completely off-the-grid.
I cooked all my meals directly
over an open fire like a primitive
human, fetched my water from
a natural ground spring in the
forest, and worked with a motley
crew of international WWOOF-
ers to convert a one-acre piece
of forestland into a garden. Our
tool of choice was a sharpened
pick-axe. I felt like I had trav-
elled back in time to the land of
For seven months following
Salamander Springs, I experi-
enced an amazing array of scen-
WWOOFing Around the Country
by brian bender
Top: brian shoveling compost onto the Common
Ground Garden in Eugene. Right: Jane the Goat, my
first milking experience. bottom: Woolamina and
Earl, Icelandic Sheep roaming the pastures in Maine.
(Continued on page 15)
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