My youngest sister is heading off tomorrow on her journey as a WWOOF-er. I am a bit envious, but mostly just super proud of her. This organization is called “willing workers on organic farms” and it connects sustainable and organically run farms all around the world with the willing workers who want to learn from them, help out and receive a place to stay while they work and globe trot. It’s a genius idea, and is pretty well known and respected. My sister, totally undirected by me, found this organization and signed up. She’s starting in California, then after a Christmas visit to relatives in British Columbia, she’s off to New Zealand, Hungary, Qatar, and many other countries that I cannot keep straight (sorry Mel!!) until the end of June next year. Each farm that registers with WWOOF has to get checked out and approved, and the site allows reviews and feedback from the WWOOF-ers after their stay, so one can plan most appropriately for what types of farms you’ll be most compatible with.
We spent a few hours together last week to catch up and say our goodbyes over some delicious vegan food at Hard Times Cafe in Minneapolis, after I’d delivered our CSA boxes. I’m so impressed with Mel’s vivaciousness, her sweet, kind and outgoing personality that has been obviously shining all kinds of people to her. She had just returned from her very first WWOOF experience, which took place in Iowa. I’d been giving her a hard time about this place before she went, as it seemed like a hobby farm. I kept asking- but what do they do to pay the bills? Why would they be hosting workers if they don’t run a real working farm?
Well it turns out Mel had an amazing time there, and she shined her light, did crazy amounts of work and exuded her amazing happy energy. The Iowa “farm” wasn’t just the hosts’ place, it was also some land they had bought and are selling to a new farmer near them, who is beginning a permaculture installation on 140 acres. There was lots to do between the two places, even though I, the skeptical big sister, hadn’t seen it ahead of time. Melanie was taught how to properly run and operate a chain saw, fell a tree, identify the local invasive plants, deal with and manage other WWOF-ers who were rather lazy or not ambitious, and she also learned how to work a brush hog. All this in IOWA. I loved to hear her tales of commiserating with the owners (who adored her) and finally being so adopted by them they didn’t want to let her leave. Atta girl!
So, as I stuffed my sandwich in, a Bahn Mi sandwich with house-made seitan, Mel told me her stories from Iowa. Suddenly we had this moment when she realized what I’d been asking all along—how do they make a living from their farm? This particular farm doesn’t earn a living from their farm, they are retired professionals and now land-owners and stewards who want to share farm skills and an incredible experience with WWOOF-ers. They are homesteaders, and that is awesome, and then Mel say to me, well isn’t homesteading farming? Ah-ha- here it is! Homesteaders are reducing their imprint on the earth by providing for their own needs. And that is awesome. But are homesteaders also farmers? Or are farmers entrepreneurial people who grow lots of food for more than just their own use, who must do that to make a living? I leave that to the individual to decide. It’s just a matter of semantics I guess, but one that I am fascinated by. I don’t want my sweet and ambitious sister, who I sense has a calling to be an entrepreneur/farmer, to travel the world being exposed to hobby type farms, where the family feeds themselves, but doesn’t make their living by it. We had this moment——AH-HAAAAA, of clarifying that. She’s viviacious, clever, intelligent and hard working enough to run a farm-based business someday. I told her this was it- if you find farm type/food type work your calling, shouldn’t you get paid to do that as your job, if you figure out a business plan and view it that way before you begin? And that was the moment it all became rather clear in my head as well. You should be able to make a living as a farmer, if you want to be a fulltime farmer.„,AKA… quit your day job. Hey we’re still working on it over here, it is NOT easy peesey. I laugh to think about how much I got bi-weekly in my paychecks, compared to how much we spend on our farm every week to feed our animals. We’re making it work, but it’s tight. Let’s just say I have severely scratched up lenses in my glasses and we do not have insurance or the disposable income to just go get new ones.
A farmer should be able to build a business to provide for their needs. A farmer has a very important job of growing food for others. A homesteader and self-sufficiency type has only to take care of themselves, and usually they have day jobs, are independently wealthy, or retired. They are both wonderful things and one can lead to or include the other, very easily. That’s a fine line I’m learning as I transition from a homesteader to a real full-time farmer.
Many of the places she’s heading to are full time farms, and after seeing so many different places, techniques and approaches, I know Mel will return full of even more enthusiasm and excitement. We’re here waiting for you Mel, I just love you so much. Safe and wonderful travels to you!
End of August happenings. Dramatic sky preceeding a wild storm last night. Butchered 3 of the kid goats for our member dinner, happening tomorrow (note to all a 30 lb goat will yield 7 lbs of dressed meat- WOW. Most of their live weight is in their vouminous rumens.) Andrew’s birthday chairs, made by our local craftsman Paul Fischer. Gorgeous tomatoes from saved seeds from last year’s Goldie Volunteer- perfect offspring!