Words & Photos by Iona Brannon - babushkasoul.wordpress.com
Currently based in Los Angeles, Iona Brannon is mediocre at the ukulele, a sucker for dad jokes and a lover of boba tea.
Having never really been exposed to organic living, I had no idea what to expect. I did know that there was a good chance a close-up encounter would change my perspective on going organic, a lifestyle I knew was beneficial but did not think was worth the expenses. WWOOF was the organization I decided to use to get that close-up encounter.
WWOOF stands for the World Wide Organization of Organic Farms, an organization that brings together those who live organically and those who have a desire to learn about sustainable organic living. Each WWOOF host country has a database of hosts accessible for a yearly fee. It was as I was scrolling through this database of hosts in the Netherlands that I found Auke and Nienke of DeMekkerkast, an organic cheese farm in the village of Sebaldaburen. So I emailed them, packed my bags and found myself on a train platform waiting to be picked up by a farmer I had never met.
Sebaldaburen. It is a little village in the northern part of the Netherlands. The population is so small that I actually could not find any online records for it. For two weeks, that population increased by one.
Life on the farm was simple and beautiful. Our main tasks were the maintenance of the animals and work in preparation for the Sunday farmer’s market. We were woken each morning by the melodies of nature, the bellowing of hungry animals.
Most of our chores were simple enough, but we quickly learned the high level of maintenance farms require, and oftentimes it felt like we had barely made a dent in the work. Manure always needed to be shoveled and cheese always needed to be molded.
“Farmers are never finished,” Auke would say. “They just stop.”
Auke made cheese, but he also raised goats, pigs and cows for meat because he recognized a demand for organic, healthy meats. The organic community thrived off of each other in that place. The vegetable seller would bring the organic vegetables he had not sold during the day so that we could feed the animals. We in turn would bring him the waste of the animals for fertilization. Sometimes a bottle of organic wine would be traded with fresh Gouda. It was a beautiful cycle of life.
At the farm, we learned a great deal about that cycle of life. We witnessed the birth of kids, baby goats. We also felt the desperation and helplessness that came with watching sickness take over the weak until they were no more. We experienced the whole scope. Life was beautiful and miraculous, but we learned there that life is never separate from death.
Leaving the farm was hard. We had named animals, stayed up late talking about life, and learned the distinction in the bleat of a goat in labor. I had grown accustomed to the hearty and organic meals, early mornings working and late nights lounging.
I left a part of my heart with the farm, but I did not leave the memories and the lessons I learned. Living organically is possible, and understanding where our food comes from is important. These I learned working on the farm.
For those who want to be stretched in their understanding of food, life and nature, WWOOFing is a beautiful opportunity. For those who are afraid of getting their hands dirty, letting go of control and trying out new opportunities, I would advise against WWOOFing because those things are bound to happen. The cycle of life is there, waiting to be experienced and understood.
For the dreamer - For the adventurer