WWOOF: How I Summered In Ireland On The Cheap

I was inspired to write this article after reading “Why Everyone Should WWOOF At Least Once in Their Lives” http://alexiawrites.com/

Not so very long ago, during the summer of 2011, I WWOOFed. No, this doesn’t have anything to do with dogs or barking or any other animal sounds (but then again, what does the fox say?). WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities of Organic Farms, is an international organization where anyone can volunteer to live and work on a farm anywhere. You choose the country, and pay a small fee to gain access to that country’s list of WWOOF registered farmers, gardeners, and ranchers. At this point, all  you have to do is find a farm that you like, and you and your farmer-host agree upon a time period and duration for you to live and work on the farm. That’s it. You pay to get over there, but your host takes care of everything else. The host provides housing (this can be a tent, or a room in the house), and they even feed you. All you have to do is work your little booty for a few hours a day (four to six, on average) on their farm.

Work hard, and you may get rewarded with healthy plants, like these onions that I grew with my own sweat and tears.
Work hard, and you may get rewarded with healthy plants, like these onions that I nurtured with my own sweat and tears.

I first heard about WWOOF during my junior year of college. I had made friends with a freshman, but I soon found out that she was actually the same age as me. What had she been doing for the past two years while I was in college? She had been living those years between her high school graduation and college as most of us only dream about: floating from one new place to another, living on farms, exploring obscure areas, and making international friends and memories. She had WWOOFed throughout Europe, and bits of Africa, including Italy, Spain, and Morocco. I would wistfully listen to her tales of staying at a Spanish house just to care for the horses, and helping to make goat cheese on a Italian goat farm.

I always told her that I wish I could WWOOF, and that I couldn’t wait to do it. One day in March, I announced I would the summer upon graduation. I was super stoked about this. But then she just looked over at me and said, “Why not this summer?” After a few silent, contemplative moments, I realized that that was entirely possible. So my friend, using her travel-savvy knowledge, promptly found dirt-cheap round trip tickets, from Orlando to Dublin, with a comfortable five-and-a-half weeks in between arrival and departure date. I’m going to skip the whole whirlwind of going to Dublin, taking a train to Belfast, being told by my host that he couldn’t host me, quickly calling potential Irish hosts, and start at the small town in southwest Ireland, where I had gotten off a bus to await a woman in a red car (this is all the information I had). Was I scared? Yeah, more than a bit. Especially considering I had spent nearly all my money on a bus trip down to Cork that I didn’t think I would be taking. And who the hell was this picking me up? What type of sleeping arrangements would I have? Where was I even going? But when the red car pulled up, and we drove some forty minutes to an even tinier town in middle of nowhere Ireland, I realized all my fears were fruitless. I was home.

And what a beautiful home! Complete with somewhat wild horses.
And what a beautiful home! Complete with somewhat wild horses.

Let’s back up for a second for a bit of background information on myself. I was born and raised in the suburbs of Orlando, Fla. My rural and wilderness exploration at the time was probably scant next to some American kids, but booming when compared to those who grew up in Miami or Brooklyn. I had camped plenty of times (state parks, Smoky Mountains, the beach), and my grandparents had a farm. So, farming was in my blood, right? As I was in the process of working towards my Environmental Studies degree, I loved the idea of living the farm life.

Channeling my inner-farmer with this young chicken.
Channeling my inner-farmer with this young chicken.

I wanted to WWOOF because I wanted to travel, I wanted new experiences, and I wanted to get dirty on a farm. I got those things, but I also got a lot more out of it. I learned to trust myself in uncharted territory and that it’s okay to trust strangers. Most of my days were composed of weeding, replanting, tending the chickens, and “taming” their semi-wild horses. But I also learned what a poly-tunnel is, what wild strawberries taste like, and what exactly goes on at an Irish rave (they start at midnight and only end at 10 in the morning when the cops turn up). But most importantly, I found my inner peace in a meadow, with the sun on my face, a cup of tea and a book beside me, with nothing but gentle hills and mountains of green surrounding me. I got out of the suburbs and not really into the wild, but into the rustic. I made some lifelong friends, and found a second family in another country.

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green and white tents near trees

The meadow, a short amble from the house, where I liked to relax after a day's work.
The meadow, a short amble from the house, where I liked to relax after a day’s work.

I learned a lot from WWOOFing: You have to go with the flow, trust your gut, and trust strangers. I know the last part goes against what we have all had pounded into our brains since we were big enough to crawl, especially if you are a female. The whole “Stranger Danger” lesson has its good points, and it can sometimes be for the best. But WWOOFing has showed me that, for the most part, people can be trusted. We all have each others backs. And once you trust, you can allow yourself to be included in a completely new lifestyle.

So go and WWOOF. Go for a week, go for a month, or go for a year. Hell, you could even do it for three yearsthe neighboring farm was hosting a French guy who had been WWOOFing in Ireland for three years, traveling to different farms for different seasons. You may want to go to learn how to make goat cheese, or to tend to horses, or just to spend a few hours of the day weeding and planting. But, if the idea of WWOOFing sounds the least bit interesting to you, do it (there’s little excuse not to, as there could be multiple WWOOFing farms in your own state). You’ll learn a skill, get dirty, and find out a thing or two about yourself. On the day that I left my farm, my host went into labor at a party. This was the woman who, at 8 months pregnant with twins, showed me how to chop wood with a sharpened ax. Her eldest daughter drove me to the bus station while her mom was in labor. Now, thanks to Facebook, I sometimes see photos of the twins, and I think how much time has past since I left. WWOOFing is one of those experiences that will stay with you forever, with the memories as sweet as  just-picked honeysuckle nectar. To find out everything about WWOOF, visit their website. To learn more about WWOOFing in Ireland, see here.

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