March On

As February and our final week at Shillingford Organics come to a close, we take a little time to reflect on our experience this past few weeks. An innate goodness points to the poor weather conditions and is thankful for a warm place to stay, as well as fresh organic food. However, the critical, analytic side also has a few things to add.

Overall, the work week activities passed similarly to the previous. Monday being slow, we ended up doing more weeding in the polytunnels, not an unpleasant place to be on a cold blustery day. When Tuesday arrived there was an announcement of an “all hands” project – prepare for a new herb garden on the edge of one of the “no dig” areas. Our spirits lifted at the news of working on this new task as we made our way through the bright morning sun to the designated space. Our heads filled with questions to ask, we were certainly ready to absorb some new knowledge, our minds seeming to have been preserved in a vacuum, free from any first hand explanations or transmission of gardening expertise for some time.

Upon arrival, we headed to the group and surveyed the scene before us . This was it, a day of learning. We listened carefully to the instructions. ” …Move a large pile of cuttings , etc … cut plastic sheeting … “. Soon it became apparent, that “helping to set up the new herb garden” actually translated to ripping away plastic matting that had been laid several years ago, which was thoroughly attached with large quantities of roots and grass, and relocating a large pile of gardening debris. Whilst we dragged large sheets of plastic away, the sun disappeared behind the clouds and the heavens opened. As we doggedly pulled, strained, teared, cut and lifted, nobody had the energy to talk or transmit any plans or information, and we had given up any hope of hearing anything that day. After this intriguing interlude, the rest of the work week returned to the standard cycle of orders and veg boxes, picking and packing.

Our understanding is that the WWOOF principles are supposedly based on a fair exchange- a person’s work in exchange for accommodation, food and knowledge. All too easily, it seems, WWOOFers just become regular employees, which by anyone’s estimation, are paid much less than regular staff by way of sub-standard accommodation and basic food supplies. Especially for us as a couple sharing sleeping quarters, in this instance going further to augment this already skewed trade. Both K & R coming from English speaking countries and having little interest in “practicing ” our English on people ( the vast majority of WWOOFers seem to be from non English speaking countries on a university gap year to learn the language) means the exchange is by no means sweetened as it may be for others. Perhaps it’s no surprise that from what we hear the UKBA (UK border agency) are increasingly stopping non-EU citizens from entering the UK to WWOOF.

Out of hours, as with the previous week, our time was mainly spent walking back and forth between facilities, trying to find a warm place to get an internet connection and the usual daily chore of cleaning up after the paid workers before we could begin to make our dinner, unfortunately not a quick job . After the first few days of the third week, we decided it was probably better to remove the pile of dirty mugs, bowls and plates from the sink and place it all in a corner for them (or the local wildlife) to get round to washing in their own time and to leave the rubbish which delicately decorates the floor around the base of the bin for them to pick up and place in the bin when they can find opportunity in their busy schedules.

We were thankful to have met Martin, the previous head grower here, who now has a smallholding near Okehampton and supplies for a market stall, so only working at Shillingford on Thursdays. He truly seemed engaged in teaching us, having become aware of our desire to learn and it was a shame not to be able to spend more time with this experienced and thoughtful person, only being able to pick up a glimmer of WWOOFing sanity here and there as we moved through the daily schedule. After talking for a little while we found his smallholding was one we had actually contacted for October placement – unfortunately he had had no room.

We were also lucky to have another canine friend here, Tilly. She often “helped” with our evening meals, especially concerned about the cleanliness of the floor at all times and overly interested in our eating techniques. She came to collect us in the morning a couple of times, as well, waiting patiently on our little porch until we would pop out, at which point she would walk us to our destination, leading the way. One day we were even graced with her presence on a tractor trip to the upper fields, an excursion which extended to digging for something near the spinach and helping herself to some sprouts. She is a sweet friend that will most certainly be missed.

Our third WWOOF week at Shillingford having finally elapsed, Friday afternoon we treated ourselves to a tub of chocolate ice cream, as a reward for having completed our time here. We look forward to the opportunity lined up for March and trust that we find a better scenario, one that works for both sides of the arrangement.

We also look forward to our visit from K’s Dad and Jan this weekend and to the Spring, now so very clearly on it’s way. The birds in ever more vocal chorus, the new blossoms and flowers everywhere we look, the longer hours of day and the plaintive cry in the dead of night of a newborn lamb, all stand as testament that we are entering the season of hope and new birth.

Loving Simplicity