Getting Down to Earth as a WWOOFer In Canada

Farm work was alien to me up until a couple of weeks ago when I began my first ever stint as a WWOOFer. For those of you who have not heard of this before, WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities On Organic Farms and is a fantastic chance to work in some beautiful, off the beaten track locations in return for recieving your food and accommodation.

But there is a lot more to it than a straightforward work exchange.

My experience volunteering on a farm

I spent two weeks on a blueberry farm near Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island. It was very pretty…

Overall it was a priceless experience that has opened my mind to a different way of life and given me plenty to think about.

I was lucky to have selected some great hosts, an American couple in their 60s who abandoned city life in favour of sustainable rural living around a decade ago and truly live in a little piece of paradise.

On the evening of my arrival, a flurry of cottonwood seeds filled the air and it was not long before I was delving into the acres of gorgeous woodland around the farm, walking the family dogs.

Growing up with cats, it was nice to get used to having dogs around for a change, and I enjoyed doing my fair share of dog walking.

Just look at this cutie…

What did I do as a WWOOF volunteer?

The blueberry season is not until August, so my work mainly involved preparation. I spent a lot of time weeding amongst the blueberry bushes.

This might sound like boring, tedious work, but I actually found it to be extremely therapeutic and loved being outside with the bumblebees buzzing above my head as I made my way down each row, plucking unwanted growth out of the ground.

It is not just blueberries growing on the farm. There are strawberry plants and various vegetable patches. I got to plant carrots and beans and learnt how to prepare the ground, raking the soil and making it even.

For the first time ever, I began to think to myself how nice it would be to have my own garden one day, in order to grow stuff (ha ha, my mum will be so proud).

I think this is a sure sign that I am getting old…

Another task taken on by the WWOOFers was broom busting.

One of the hosts was the founder of a voluntary community organisation called Broom Busters aimed at getting rid of and limiting the growth of an invasive plant called Scotch Broom.

This is a bright yellow flowery plant that quickly spreads across roadside verges and woodland, preventing trees from growing and obstructing native plants.

Scotch Broom stops the native trees and plants from growing.

I am not going to lie. The broom busting was not exactly my favourite thing to do. It involved using cutters to trim the plants right from the base, sometimes in sweltering heat. It was exhausting and my sinuses seemed to be rebelling during the first week, although thankfully the inflammation calmed down after a couple of days.

But I was aware that this work was vital and wanted to help with it as much as possible. Many people admirably put a lot of hours into trying to alleviate this problem; something that will take years of dedication to achieve.

On a positive note, it was great exercise. It was like a session of cardio yoga, with me alternating between various stances in order to get the best angle to cut the plant.

Sometimes we would focus on a specific area whilst other times we would carry out what was referred to as ‘guerilla broom busting’, driving around and randomly stopping when we spotted significant sightings of Scotch Broom.

What was my favourite part of WWOOFing?

Meeting some interesting people was the overriding positive of the whole experience. There were my fellow WWOOFers:

Simon the Frenchman…

He was a lovely, well-mannered chap of the tender age of 20 who was also a first-time WWOOFer. He is a mechanical engineering student back in France and was travelling around Canada for the summer. I wish I had had the initiative to take full advantage of my summer holidays when I was a student, rather than working in shops and spending my spare time baking in the sun in my parents’ garden.

German friends Irene and Toni…

These two arrived a few days before I left and were so much fun and had a great energy about them. They had already been to several farms and were basically WWOOFing their way around Canada.

I have met a lot of Germans on my travels and think they are generally lovely people – very genuine, hardworking and self-assured.

Irene, 24, and Toni, 26, are from a small town in Bavaria.

Then there were my hosts Joanna and Richard. Unfortunately I did not manage to get a picture of Richard, but, to describe his appearance, he had an extremely long beard and looked like a very friendly garden gnome. They were both warm and welcoming and it was fascinating talking to them.

I did catch this photo of Joanna with Simon one evening…

Hippy town

The household was extremely alternative thinking and Richard and Joanna could definitely be defined as hippies.

In fact, the whole area seemed to be a hippy enclave. There was a buddhist temple directly across the street and a lesbian couple called Sunshine and Liberty lived nearby, where Joanna would sometimes pick up some extra eggs.

One morning Richard arrived at the breakfast table deep in philosophical conversation, clearly inspired by his chain of thoughts.

The previous evening, I had sat in on a workshop Joanna was teaching on an alternative therapy known as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which she said had recently been accepted in the medical world as an evidence-based treatment.

Day trips

It was not all work and no play. We got to take trips to the best sights in the Qualicum Beach area. This included hiking at the breathtaking Little Qualicum Falls…

And visiting ancient trees – some around 800-years-old and others incredibly unusual shapes – at Cathedral Grove…

What were the challenges?

Aside from the physical work, it took me a good few days to adapt and begin to feel settled. I felt a bit like a fish out of water for a while, but this was what I wanted; feeling out of my comfort zone was all part of the experience.

First of all, it was a vegetarian household, which I was not aware of initially, and I put my foot in it on the first night when I was asked if I eat meat and responded with something like “I need meat at least twice a week, otherwise I feel like I am going to collapse.”

If only I could have rewound and deleted those inconsiderate words.

I was then informed that if there was going to be chicken, they would have to kill one of their chucks clucking around outside. Joanna began talking about her belief that they need to either kill the animal or transport it to the abbitoir themselves in order to get the karmic repercussions.

Noooo, please do not kill a chicken… especially not for me

I found this kind of talk a bit heavy, but could also understand where she was coming from and wanted to respect the rules and beliefs of the household.

The meals were delicious though, featuring a lot of organic vegetables grown on their land.

And it was not like there was a lack of protein. Breakfast always comprised of tasty freshly laid eggs on toast and many of the dinner recipes included pulses of some sort.

There was a little bit of chicken on occasion, which had been stored in the freezer.

Living on the farm, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, there was the luxury of being able to choose what they did not want to be exposed to.

I was quickly told not to use my shampoo and conditioner as Joanna was sensitive to the chemicals found in many cosmetics and so I was politely asked to use their products instead.

There were some other products I could not use, such as my body lotion, because it had ingredients Joanna said were toxic.

She seemed to use a lot of Burt’s Bees – which is 100 per cent natural – and I luckily had some of these products with me.

Are most my cosmetics toxic? I thought to myself. This is something I intend to look into and I suspect there is a lot of truth in where she is coming from.

But, living in the city, it is much harder to limit your exposure to potentially harmful toxins.

Plus, it is not always economical to purchase natural products, which are quite often more expensive.

The same goes with organic food. Unless you have it growing in your garden, like here, it costs more in the supermarkets.

These were not major challenges, just situations that challenged my norms and made me feel slightly uncomfortable. But once I knew the score, I relaxed into it and enjoyed my stay.

I loved it and might even decide to partake in another WWOOFing placement later in my trip.

This experience has left me feeling stronger and healthier, both physically and mentally.

For further information, and details of how to sign up for a two-year membership, visit the WWOOF Canada website.

Have you ever gone WWOOFing? How was your experience?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19 Comments

  1. June 26, 2012 / 19:48

    Sounds like you had a fantastic experience and learnt alot from it. I’ve WWOOFed a couple of time. I love the feeling of contributing to something that is bigger than i am. Happy travels :)
    Michelle Blake recently posted..It’s all part of the experienceMy Profile

    • June 27, 2012 / 17:44

      I would love to hear about your experiences! It did feel great doing something worthwhile and benefiting from it at the same time.

      • June 28, 2012 / 05:10

        I would love to share my experiences. Ask me anything you like. I WWOOFed for a month in Cornwall, two weeks on a smallholding in Wales and had a disastrous experience in Scotland where i only lasted 3 days. I like feeling like i’m contributing but it’s also the people you meet that makes the experience worthwhile.
        Michelle Blake recently posted..My Literary Travel ThemeMy Profile

        • June 29, 2012 / 03:44

          Have you written a post on it yet? If you haven’t, that would make a great read! I’d be interested to hear about why you left after three days. It was funny, I met a few people beforehand who had had dodgy experiences and so was half expecting to hate it. Luckily I was pleasantly surprised and had some good hosts. Cornwall must have been gorgeous!
          Alison recently posted..Visiting Seattle: Crossing The US Border By FerryMy Profile

          • June 30, 2012 / 00:15

            Thanks for the idea. I have been thinking about writing more about my previous travels so i will post something at your request in the next week or so. :D Yes, Cornwall was lovely…
            Michelle Blake recently posted..My Literary Travel ThemeMy Profile

          • July 1, 2012 / 03:21

            Lots of people reflect on past travels – it’s still as interesting. I look forward to reading it :-)

  2. June 26, 2012 / 21:33

    I remember sitting under blueberry bushes near my grandparents house just picking them into my mouth. This however seems a long way from that.

    BTW Germans are everywhere. They travel A LOT.
    Andrew recently posted..Dubrovnik VerticallyMy Profile

    • June 27, 2012 / 17:44

      It was probably a good thing there weren’t any blueberries yet, as picking them would have been too tempting! I used to do the same thing with blackberries. It’s crazy how many Germans I have met so far, they certainly do get around.

    • June 27, 2012 / 17:41

      Ha ha, yep there were a lot of cliches and some places and people could not be anymore stereotypical hippy if they tried! It was fun though and everybody was really friendly.

  3. Marisa
    March 11, 2014 / 18:48

    Hello Allison!

    Your stay at the Joanna and Richard’s farm sounds like it was an amazing experience. What is the name of the farm? I am looking to take a take a gap year wwoofing in Canada next year and I would love to look into working there!

    Thank you so much! Have a great day!
    Marisa

    • March 11, 2014 / 22:12

      Hi Marisa, it’s Blueberry Fields Farm :-)

  4. Courtney Groves
    September 27, 2016 / 14:16

    Hi Alison

    I just read your blog and thought it was fantastic! i was considering wwoofing in Canada before i work at a ski resort, as i would love to give something back and i thought it would be great way to see canada

    I was just wondering how you found this place and also did you register on the wwoofing site before you left the UK

    I am grateful for any help

    thanks so much

    kind regards
    Courtney

    • September 28, 2016 / 09:32

      Hi Courtney, I registered on WWOOF Canada website for a small fee (I think it lasts a year). I’m not sure the farm I worked on accepts WWOOF-ers anymore but if you register and look up the areas you want to work in they’ll give you a list and you can contact farms directly to arrange a stay. Different farms have different requirements so you can work out what’s best for you. There are reviews as well which can help – especially if you’re a solo traveller and want to make sure you find somewhere decent. I would recommend organising as early as possible, a few months ahead if possible, asking loads of questions etc. Good luck :-)