For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, ‘Wwoofing’ is an acronym for ‘Willing Workers on Organic Farms’, or ‘World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms’. For some reason, when I bring it up in conversation, people mostly seem to stifle a laugh and say something about car parks. I’ve got no idea what that’s all about…
The deal is that in exchange for between four and six hours’ work per day on an organic farm (both ‘organic’ and ‘farm’ used in a very loose sense here), you are provided with food and accommodation for the duration of your stay. At its heart (and depending on which host you pick), this international organisation is seen as a cultural exchange, where as well as the work/food/accommodation part of it, you (and the host/s) are able to meet people from around the world, share in each other’s lives, and learn a whole lot. Which, as I’m sure you’re picking up on by now, fits perfectly with one of our main aims for this trip, i.e. get in with the locals.
The process of finding a host is a whole lot like internet dating. You create a profile about yourself/selves, but instead of adding your most attractive selfies from when you were a few pounds lighter, you add the most outdoorsy/active looking photos possible, to show what well-rounded, adventurous, interesting and experienced individuals you are. This process, completed when we were still in England, was a lengthy one:
“Should we add the pictures from lambing and shearing time?”
“Well, we don’t want to appear too experienced or they’ll expect too much from us. What about photos from that time we went kayaking? That makes us look fun and energetic.”
“Ok, but as long as we can also add the one of us in front of the Colosseum to show how cultured and well-travelled we are.”
And so it went on. You then write a bit of a spiel trying to back up the initial impression you have given with the photos. Following that, you search for hosts (who have created similar profiles, just a little less try-hard), match up with them (you can even put little hearts next to your favourite ones), message them and check your emails every few hours waiting for that reply to say that they have accepted you (or rejected you, as is the case at times, even with our stellar profile), hoping that by the time you arrive in a few weeks, they will have forgotten the claims you made about being sheep handling, adrenaline-seeking nomads.
Wwoofing was always part of our plan for the New Zealand leg of our trip, which filled me with a little more trepidation than James. After all, he is Mr Practical, able to live up to the vast majority of claims made on our profile, whereas I am Mrs Bookworm, really good at explaining accurate usage of the semicolon, but lacking somewhat in the farming, practicality and muscles departments. However, one thing I have got going for me is the ability to get stuck in and have a go with most tasks, and determination to get a job finished, especially if it has a clearly defined end point, e.g. painting a room. And so it is with this attitude that I approached our first hosts, in the beautiful Waitakere National Park outside Auckland.
It turns out I needn’t have worried at all. Our first (Belgian) hosts, Erik and Miranda, along with their three teenage sons, were the perfect initiation into this wwoofing malarkey. So much so, in fact, that we have concerns about whether any future placements will live up to this initial experience. We eat all three meals together, and spend pretty much every evening together, which has been not only a pleasure because they are such great company, but also a real privilege since we have gained such an insight into the workings of a different family, which, when you think about it, is a pretty rare thing outside your own family. The work itself has been fair and varied and totally do-able, even by Mrs Bookworm here. In fact, I get the sense that my vaguely countryside-ish upbringing (or at least my familiarity with the outdoors) qualifies me for these jobs more than plenty of other people who sign up to wwoof. Who would have thought that I’d turn out to be a master grout sealer? Step aside, self deprecation and insecurity!
With this boost of confidence, I have also felt free to embrace my inner hippie, who loves to make an appearance given half the chance. Picture the scene if you will: blue skies; the sun blazing down on my back; my new friends, Nancy and Fiona, treading on my feet to peck at the worms; folk music playing as a backdrop; and me, grubby-kneed and working away at a weed-ridden driveway with nothing but a kitchen knife, scraping at the cracks between the bricks. Bliss. I mean, I’m sure if I were to spend too many more mornings scraping away at that driveway it might get a little monotonous/unbearable, but you catch my drift. Being outdoors is so refreshing, and so very different from being stuck inside a stuffy classroom when the sun is shining. James, with less of the folk music and chicken-loving, has mowed the most extraordinary amount of grass, made a workbench, fixed a garage door, put up a gazebo… the list goes on.
In other news, WE BOUGHT A VAN! He doesn’t have a name yet: suggestions welcome. He was empty when we bought him, so we have been taking various trips to hardware stores in our free afternoons (to the point where we are now recognised by certain employees), and James is now faithfully converting him into a (hopefully) self contained campervan. So far, in three afternoons, we pretty much have a bed which transforms into two benches with storage underneath, and a table in the middle. My husband’s skills never cease to impress me. My involvement so far has been buying car insurance and undertaking the important task of choosing the bedding, and subsequently putting the duvet cover on our new duvet. Which can’t actually go in the van yet.
Van updates to follow.