Some may not be quite familiar with how WWOOFing works so heres a quick synopsis…basically after paying a small membership fee you are provided with a book and website that are full of hosts local to your selected country. In New Zealands case, WWOOFing is quite popular so the number of listings is quite high (somewhere around 1,300 though I’ve never counted). Hosts are divided up by region and each includes a short overview of what it is that they are doing and the type of work they require WWOOFers for. Based on these descriptions and the region we are in or trying to get to, we narrow down our selections and send emails out to make contact with the farm. Like applying for jobs, we have been over applying so to speak in order to ensure we end up with something and our emails don’t just end up floating around the web. Some, like Karl & Louise (our current hosts), are quick to respond while others may take a week or more to get back to you by which time you usually have found something else. It can be a bit stressful trying to ensure you’ve secured your next job especially when wifi is hard to come by, but there are plenty of jobs out there and as spring time comes around many people are in need of help and are as happy to host you as you are to have a job.
While we are indeed using WWOOFing as a means of traveling on a budget (hosts exchange accommodation & food for half a days work), we do have some specific interests we would like to accomplish while we are here and topics we would like to learn more about. As we go on we will undoubtedly get better at narrowing down what it is we are looking for and be able to tell from posts and correspondence with hosts whether or not they will be a good match for us and vice versa. That said, we certainly have lucked out with out current hosts. Karl & Louise own a 20 acre plot just outside the town of Lumsden along Hwy 6 where they run what in NZ is known as a lifestyle block. This means that, for now anyway, the property is run not as a business but as a means of providing for themselves and living a “alternative” lifestyle as it is often described in contemporary culture. On the block, they keep several animals including 15 sheep, a pig named Sally who just had 11 piglets several days before we arrived, a handful of chickens and a few ducks all in addition to several different vegetable gardens. All of these sources supplement the couples food supply and often yield far more than they need which allows them to sell some off or share with their many friends in the community.
We arrived with little to no idea of what we were getting into other than that the couple was living off the grid as they described it and, at the current moment, they did not have a place for us to stay so they were going to have us stay near the river that flows through their property. While this would normally be a bad sign considering accommodation is half the deal, there was something about it we had to check out. We pulled in and were greeted by a lovely couple who seemed to be quite thrilled to have us. It was a much appreciated welcoming as we felt at home right away. They toured us through their quaint, though very chic, home before taking us out to introduce us to the animals and show us where we would be staying. They pulled down one of their SUVs to park with our car near the river so we could each sleep in one of the vehicles and left us to settle in. Right of the bat we were both quite excited about the place and the fact that we were sleeping in the cars mattered little to us. The view by the river was great and we were quite curious as to all there was to learn from the two owners. That night they had us up for the first of many delicious meals and we shared stories after they shared the list of what there was to be done around the farm in the days to come.
The first day of work was excitingly difficult which thrilled me some after the rather monotonous tasks we had at the last job. We started the morning collecting, moving & chopping firewood to fill up the wood shed near the house after which we had a mid morning tea and Karl queued up the the next tasks. The remainder of the day was spent hustling around the farm following Karl around completing tasks he seemingly had been waiting several weeks for help to accomplish. We were all over, moving bales of hay, harvesting potatoes, digging holes, preparing to pour concrete the next day and taking care of anything and everything that required more than two hands on the property. By the afternoon it had gotten to be quite warm and so Karl proposed we have a break for a swim in the river before heading out for some fun work: sheering the sheep! We laughed and headed for the river, stripping down to our underwear to have a dip. The water was extremely cold considering the majority of its source was snow melt from the large peaks in the distance so our dip was just that…a dip to say we had done it and no more.
The tasks continued to be varied and working with Karl proved to be a lot of fun. We learned a lot and got to get a short experience of what it was that they were after while living off the grid. We worked on all sorts of projects around the farm from mixing & pouring concrete to sheering and slaughtering a lamb. There was a certain sense of a cyclical way of life as our first days work splitting wood heated both the house and the water during our stay and the adventure of the slaughter provided food for a BBQ on our last night. I found it very rewarding spending time on the property and we both got the sense we were contributing to the cause. The main concept that struck me was the couples goals for their endeavors. They are not necessarily striving to be 100% organic or 100% self sustainable, instead, they are living to be non-vulnerable. This meaning, capable and knowledgeable enough to take care of themselves no matter what situation may occur; locally or globally. Society's attempts to become more independent have in-fact resulted in us all being more dependent and thus more vulnerable. Louise explained it as being prepared for when the hypothetical "zombies" come. No, it most likely will not be literal zombies but the ability to care for oneself will be crucial no matter the outcome. I am excited to see where Karl & Louise’s dream takes them and how the property will continue to evolve. We are very thankful for some exciting fun tasks working with Karl and some delicious often glutenous meals provided by Louise. In just under two weeks Max and I have shared more experiences than I could ever record and made some memories that will never be forgotten.