From City Dweller to WWOOFER
For the past three years, I’ve watched from the sidelines as New York City’s community gardens and urban farms took off. I’ve listened to city gardeners and tagged along vicariously as countless 20- and 30-something-year-olds with dreams of building a better agriculture system became farm apprentices or opened small farms.
Were these new agrarians nuts? A bit naïve?
If anything, they were passionate. One young woman described wanting to throw herself over the “bleeding body” of modern farming —a system she lamented erodes the soil and wrecks the earth.
Now I too am ready to learn first-hand what it’s like to farm sustainably. I’ve signed up for a 10-day working assignment on an organic farm in Northern Portugal through Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), a network of organizations that links volunteers with organic farmers. I think of the organization as the Peace Corps of sustainable agriculture. Volunteers — referred to as “wwoofers” (pronounced woofers) — help farmers with everyday farming chores in exchange for room and board. The goal is to build a global community of organic farming devotees.
I will be staying on a 30-acre farm called “Cimo de Vila”, the “Top of the Town,” in the mountains of Portugal’s “Minho” region, the same region where my grandparents once farmed their land. The farm is within walking distance of Castelo, a quiet town with cafes, restaurants, one grocery store, and in a nod to its medieval history a small castle.
What will I — an inexperienced farm hand — be doing? Hopefully not herding the farm’s Minho variety cattle – scary long-horned beasts that terrified me as a child. Though the farm is looking for help in moving the “very self-sufficient cows to new fields for grazing” — a trek through remote mountainous areas of the Minho — I’m told that I’ll likely be spending more time weeding garden beds and working in the farm’s two large greenhouses, which grow lavender. Other possible chores include digging garden beds, planting, picking wildflowers, clearing land, and setting up to sell at the farmers market in Porto, a major city one hour away.
Now the next question: Why am I doing this? For starters, any self-respecting blogger should know his or her subject inside out. Rather than writing about farming, I’ll be experiencing it — and that should theoretically make me a better, livelier, more authoritative blogger. But there are other reasons for my Portugal farm adventure, beginning with a desire to be outdoors and to smell and feel the earth and experience it the way my grandparents did when they worked their farms. Maybe I want to see the world as they saw it. Or maybe, just maybe, I want to look into the eyes of those magnificent long-horned beasts and no longer be afraid.
I will be leaving for Portugal tomorrow to spend a week with my family before heading to Cimo de Vila for 10 days. If I can get an Internet connection in the mountains of Northern Portugal, I will post updates on New York Bounty, hopefully with video of the farm.
If not, New York Bounty might be quiet for a while. It will be back, though, with updates before June is out.