What a difference a WWOOFer makes.
First published on 4 July 2016.
When we took over Halsbeer Farm and Blackdown Yurts from Peter and Jasmine earlier this year one of their pieces of advice was to get “woofers” in to help. OK, I thought, but what are dogs going to do to assist in the running of a glamping business? It transpired that WWOOFers are actually volunteers who wish to work on organic farms in return for board and lodging. WWOOF stands for ‘World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms’ (wwoof.org.uk) and is an organisation that has been running for 45 years this year. Who knew? Certainly not me!
I applied, had to go through a telephone interview to assess whether I was a suitable host and, once accepted, the emails started piling in from WWOOFers from France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK asking to come and stay. It wasn’t long before I said yes to Johanna, my very first WWOOFer, who had WWOOFed before in Sweden on a farm that, like ours, had been let go and needed rescuing from the weeds.
I collected Johanna from Honiton railway station on a rainy afternoon, but her sunny demeanour immediately endeared her to me and she has been a pleasure to have in the house. (Future WWOOFers will be in our spacious canvas tent in the garden but we were soft on Johanna and let her stay in the guest room!). Intelligent, interested and interesting is how I would describe her. Easy to be around and such a hard worker. In days she had cleared the greenhouse, removed tonnes of stale, tired soil and replaced it with fresh compost and mature manure. She revels in seeing the difference she is making in the garden each day, and so do I. Without her that greenhouse would still look like something from the Little Shop of Horrors. Instead we now have regiments of tomato plants, strawberries, dwarf beans and more promising a crop later in the summer.
Johanna will have gone back to Germany long before the fruits of her labours are ripe and ready to pick, but her legacy will live on. She has begun to rescue the garden at Halsbeer, has saved me valuable time and effort that I can spend on other aspects of the business and has contributed a little of her culture and language to our lives. She cooked her grandmother’s potato cookies one evening with apple sauce and raita. Just delicious. On her 19th birthday she cooked an amazing traditional German apple cake for us to enjoy.
Other WWOOFers will follow in her stead and contribute in their own way. My first experience of hosting a WWOOFer has been so enjoyable and I really hope Johanna will stay in touch and return in the future. For now, bring on Adeline and Melaine from France, Bernat from Spain, and Lorenzo from Italy. Bring a bit of European flavour to Halsbeer Farm for the time you are here. We are looking forward to hosting you. At Halsbeer Farm and Blackdown Yurts we take pride in being part of a global community.