I opened my rugged, brown diary looking at our carefully made plans for a summer of WWOOFING and as I did so I couldn't help but feel simultaneously nervous and excited for what was to come. I had spent the last few weeks preceding our trip ringing up farms and community small-holdings and asking them if they would be interested in having an art student and a teacher arrive at their residence to help them achieve their horticultural and agricultural goals. Before we go further, let it be known that I did not just fly through the farming directory and simply ring anybody with a carrot. Instead I signed up with WWOOF UK and carefully selected places that were looking for volunteers. If you have never heard of WWOOF then apart from it being the only word in a dog's vocabulary it also stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms and is a global non-profit organisation which was established so that farms can advertise for voluntary help in return for room and board.
My girlfriend (now wife!) and I had already spent three months volunteering on a non-certified organic vegetable farm in Louisiana so we felt fairly confident in regards to what would be expected of us and what our sleeping and eating arrangements would entail. After spending a few days in busy London with a friend (who is no WWOOFING novice herself) we were both eager to get out into the countryside. I opened my diary and looked at our plan to see 'Next stop, South Wales, Pembrokeshire' written in thick, black ink. Two chuffer trains, one bus and one lost mobile phone later we arrived in Newport town with no way of contacting our hosts to tell them we were there, hence heightening our sense of anticipation. Fortunately for us, David and Anne (our hosts) had been good enough to look for their future Wwoofers and they found us floundering around at the side of the road, walking the wrong direction out of town. Immediately we knew that they were pleasant folk, full of interest and intrigue as to who we were and where we were from and as we took the short journey back to their house the sense of anticipation began to wane.
Their house was at the end of a narrow, single track lane surrounded by trees which were themselves encompassed by the rolling, green hills of South Wales. On arrival we were shown our sleeping quarters which turned out to be delightfully quaint, residing in an old caravan with a wood stove, a fridge, a cooker, and a composting toilet. After immersing them in conversation we discovered that Anne was a potter and David was predominantly a cabinet maker, although looking around the house and the actual house itself it seemed there was nothing he could not produce out of wood. Their aim was not to be a working farm but to be as self-sustainable as possible through their garden, only buying staple
foods in bulk where possible; we did not go short of food. A typical morning breakfast involved freshly made porridge with raisins, apricots, molasses, yoghurt, syrup and a choice of green or ginger tea. Lunch and dinner were even better, heightened by a home-made special brew which was pretty potent! Treated so well with food, we naturally wanted to do our best to help in the garden and our tasks included planting leeks and beetroots, weeding, digging a drainage tunnel, producing beds, and picking Fat Hen (a delicious edible weed that can be added to soups).
Despite the fact that we knew we were only staying with David and Anne for a week it was hard not to feel at home with them and develop a routine. Waking up on only my third morning I distinctly remember writing in my diary 'just had my usual breakfast' as if I had been there months. On getting to know our hosts better, it transpired that Anne's father was no other than John Seymour who was a prolific and innovative author of books on sustainability in the 1960's. The sheer amount of knowledge Ann must have been able to acquire from him was evident and although he had passed away, his wife (Sally) still lived with them in the house. She was a wonderful artist who had unfortunately lost the use of her voice and her drawing arm in a stroke and so had valiantly began to pursue drawing pictures with her left-hand. The amount of rehabilitation and patience required to do this could only leave me with a feeling of admiration for her.
David's knowledge of the local area was fantastic and when we were not working in the garden with Ann he would take us down to the ocean to discover edible beach plants such as Sea Beet and Samphire. We also had the opportunity to visit ancient burial sites, take walks around the old twisted oak forests and even go to a local dance-a-thon led by an African themed musical group called 'Baraka'!
Time flew by, a day turned into a week and it was time for us to leave David and Anne for our trip to our next farm. WWOOFING is different every single place you go and experiences can be very varied ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous but in regards to this particular small-holding I can honestly say I can't remember another time where I have learnt so much in such a short space of time. Not only was I able to develop my skills in sustainability but also in communication, compassion and confidence. I would recommend it to anybody.