World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms(简称WWOOF),即“全球有机农场体验”活动,起源于上世纪70年代的英国,其初衷是面向都市人推出一种“以工换食宿”的农村生活体验方式,而发达国家从上世纪70年代开始轰轰烈烈进行的“有机食品”运动也大大促进了WWOOF的发展。
Earlier this summer I escaped my desk job to participate in an agricultural work exchange program called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). Through WWOOF, my partner Tanya and I arranged to stay on two farms, one in England for three weeks and another on a remote Scottish island for ten days. Working on the farms, though 1)muddy and sometimes 2)strenuous, made for a wonderful break from the office.
Radford Mill in the hilly country near 3)Bath was our first farm. A large operation by organic standards, the 80 acre farm grows vegetables and raises sheep, cows, pigs, and chickens. Everything is rooted in the principles of organic agriculture. The farm plants a variety of crops, uses 4)manure to 5)replenish the soil, and applies no pesticides or fertilizers.
WWOOF volunteers work in exchange for room and board. Tanya and I were given a room on the second floor of the eighteenth century farmhouse. There were 11 other people living on the farm at the time we visited: three volunteers from Germany, six long-term workers from England, the farm manager, Susan, and her 5-year-old daughter. Besides the last two people everyone was in their twenties.
Although in many ways a throw back to the sixties—almost everyone at the farm is a contemporary hippie—Radford Mill is a serious little business. The farm sells its produce in a shop in nearby 6)Bristol and at a weekly farmers’ market.
The typical work day at Radford Mill starts around seven and lasts until around 3:00 pm. In a given day, I planted 7)seedlings, 8)strung peas, packed produce for sale, placed bird nets over the berries, weeded a few overgrown beds and put down manure along rows of young crops.
In addition to produce, the farm sells yogurt and soft cheeses. My favorite day on the farm was spent helping Susan make the yogurt in the small 9)creamery next to the cow shed.
Nights on the farm were pretty quiet but one evening I came across Susan and a German volunteer Inken standing over an ewe trying to give birth two month’s past the lambing season. Susan instructed Inken on how to pull the lamb from its struggling mother. Inken pulled out a motionless body 10)sheathed in 11)embryonic12)fluid. I thought the lamb was dead, but Susan picked it up by the back legs and swung it in a circle. Having reached a considerable 13)velocity, she then bounced the poor creature 14)smartly against the ground several times. I thought she was putting the lamb out of its misery but the procedure turned out to be the traditional method of getting 15)recalcitrant new-born lambs to breathe. It worked as the lamb 16)stirred with a gasping breath and within an hour looked to be doing well.
Our original plans after Radford Mill were to rent a car and drive to our next stint as WWOOF volunteers. This changed when someone on the farm sold us an old car for $300. From Radford Mill in southern England we drove the car over 1000 miles to the Scottish highland town of Oban, and then took a ferry to the island of Tiree.
Tiree is the most westerly of the Inner 17)Hebrides, the chain of islands off the west coast of Scotland. The ferry took four hours to reach the flat island known by its early Celtic inhabitants as “the land below the waves”.
Our new host Elizabeth, a retired occupational therapist in her seventies, picked us up at the dock. Elizabeth calls her house and small plot of land by the water the Glebe House. In contrast to Radford Mill, Glebe House is a18)smallholding where most of the work is for19)sustenance rather than for commercial purposes. There is a one-acre walled garden and a flock of sheep that 20)graze by the sea.
Elizabeth gave us a top floor bedroom with windows looking out on the two-mile-wide Gott Bay. Coming into the room for the first time, Tanya looked out of the window and saw a pair of seals sunning themselves on the rocks.
As it was late June, we arrived after much of the garden work. Elizabeth however found some work for us to do. Her garden is built on a slope broken into 21)tiers. During the spring rains, one tier had begun to erode and fall into the next. Elizabeth asked us to build some sort of 22)retaining wall. The work day lasted no more than six hours, included a long lunch and frequent tea breaks, and left us with plenty of time and energy to explore the island afterward.
The flat, virtually treeless (the winter winds knock them down) island receives more sunlight than anywhere else in Britain. This might not sound impressive since Britain is known for gloomy weather, but Tiree is a very sunny place in summer.
Tiree, which has a year round population of 800 and a summer population of 2000, is crowded only by sheep. With so few people, Tiree lacks traffic, street lights, and the sort of background noise you get used to in urban places. Ten days on the island working in the walled garden relieved me of all the stress built up from my years spent in Washington, D.C.
The program saved us a good amount of money in room and board. We could not possibly have stayed in Britain that long otherwise. But what I liked even more was that the program provided us with something interesting to do. If learning about small farming interests you or if you just want to do some creative traveling around the world, throw some old clothes in a bag, put those boots on, and go “WWOOFing”.