27 September 2007

shira: a willing worker

by shira grabelsky
[originally written for www.discoveringdeafworlds.com]

I packed up my bags and flew to New Zealand to work on farms. I didn’t spin a globe, close my eyes, and pick New Zealand. Nothing romantic like that - I’d just heard it was beautiful, so I decided to go. I joined WorldWide Opportunities On Organic Farms (WWOOF), also known as Willing Workers on Organic Farms by paying a measly $40 for membership, and getting so much in return (www.wwoof.org).

I did not grow up on farms, or any swath of land near a farm. However, I wanted to connect with a part of myself that had a yearning to do physical labor to support self-sustainability and to learn organic growing techniques. With only the internet and a little green WWOOF book to guide me, I set off on a bus. I started on the North Island and made my way south and found myself back up in Auckland two and a half months later.

Between March and May of 2005, I build a house, harvested rhubarb, trimmed garlic, cleaned a pumpkin patch, picked pears, mowed lawns, cooked apple cakes, painted a roof, removed strangler vines, and engaged many more other satisfying work. I slept on the floor of a tiny house, in a makeshift home, in trailers, in my own cottage, showered outside, bathed in a coal-heated claw bathtub, or didn’t shower at all. I cooked ramen, drank wine, picked fresh lettuce and eggs for my lunch, tasted the delicious kumara and casimiroa. I woke up in the wee hours on some mornings, sidestepped cow dung and picked delectable mushrooms with a 92-year old man.

I traveled by bus, stopping in cities and towns that lay in between farm locales. I made every cent of my bus pass carry me to the next location. I designed an almost “figure-eight” traveling itinerary throughout the country and stopped where I pleased. In between farm stays, I climbed the Fox Glacier, hiked in the Abel Tasman National Park, sea kayaked in fjordland, carved a jade necklace, got an ear piercing, volunteered at a Deaf Youth Camp, skydived, and ate ostrich meat.

During my travels, my reading list accumulated and my journal thickened with the marks of excited commentaries, a few recipes shared by my hosts, and learnings about planting, harvesting, and permaculture. Permaculture is the agricultural practice (permanent agriculture) that utilizes environmental resources that are readily available, mimicking the natural structures and relationships that exist. Permaculture farms are so designed that everything has a symbiotic relationship with one another. Perhaps a portable chicken home will be set up so that chickens can eat the grass and weeds on which they live and thus fertilize it, and be moved when the next batch of grass needs the help of chickens. Permaculture design focuses on integrating different elements in the environment, sustainable living through conserving energy and minimizing waste. I so enjoyed my experience that I extended my stay for another week and a half so that I could experience at least one more farm. At least one more out of the hundreds listed in the little green book.

This book was replete with resources and fun. It helped me connect to my roots, roots that were detached from me for so long, perhaps because they were inaccessible in the environs in which I grew up. Now that I am back in the states, and remaining in one place, at least for the upcoming year, I’m determined to make sure my roots keep growing strong by starting a garden and leading a self-sustainable lifestyle where possible. Join the organic growing movement, log onto www.wwoof.org and get out on the land.

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