WWOOFing! You all know what that is, right? Willing Workers On Organic Farms.
When we decided to spend a lot of time in New Zealand, we wanted to ensure we had a breadth of experiences and weren't just staying at hotels or houses and doing our own activities all the time. Yes, much of our trip is adventuring and exploring as a family, but we are consciously trying to seek out ways in which we can connect with people while we are traveling and WWOOFing is one way to do so. WWOOFing entails working approximately 4 hours each day on a farm in exchange for room and board. The type of work can vary dramatically, but often entails weeding, planting, harvesting, feeding and caring for animals, cooking, and preserving.
Admittedly, I was quite nervous about WWOOFing. I'm not wild about staying with random people, I love my personal space, and I enjoy thoroughly researching an experience or destination before I commit. You can see photos and read a profile of a farm online, but there is certainly a leap of faith you must take in connecting with someone over the internet and agreeing to live and work at their home for two weeks.
We arrived at Nette and Bruce's farm in the late afternoon. They live about 30 minutes outside of Christchurch on a farm with every fruit and vegetable you can think of, plus a few chickens, a duck, two pigs, a few cows, an adorable dog named Finney, and a sweet cat named Miko. While we were there, they were also hosting a young woman from Austria, another from Germany, and a family of four (including two teenagers) from France. Nette warned us it would be chaotic, but guaranteed us interesting conversations at the dinner table.
We had our own bedroom in the main house and shared a bathroom with Nette and Bruce. The French family slept in a separate cottage on the property and the two young women slept in a camper van. Bruce and Nette both have full-time jobs in addition to the farm - Bruce drives trucks for a large food company and Nette runs an onsite Montessori school. We were fortunate in that Blythe was able to spend a few hours each day at Nette's school, which enabled us to get work done and Blythe to have time with other children. Plus, Nette filled our room with age-appropriate toys and books for Blythe, although she really spent more of her free time wandering around the farm looking at flowers, plants, and eating various fruits and vegetables (strawberries, lemons, and corn were her favorites).
Our work varied each day. We weeded in the garden, picked fruit and vegetables, prepared meals, cleaned up from meals, helped Nette prepare for a tea she hosted, helped with school field trips, and generally just helped around the farm. We spent three days weeding and cleaning out an area called Pooh Corner that Nette and Bruce created for the schoolchildren and her grandchildren, which only contains species native to New Zealand. For a few days, we were responsible for feeding the chickens and the pigs, and I helped Nette with some canning of tomato sauce and nectarines. From speaking to the other people staying on the farm who WWOOFed elsewhere, your duties vary dramatically from one farm to the next, as do your accommodations and the way you are treated.
At Nette's house, we all gathered around the dinner table at night to share a meal and talk about our day. The conversation often devolved into a discussion about the different English words used depending on whether you are from the US or NZ (e.g., swimwear in NZ is called "togs"), but more often we talked about where people were from, what life was like at home, what people think about what is happening in the US right now, etc. It was fascinating to hear people's views on the US. Most were based on what they read in the news (e.g., everyone loves Trump, Americans fear immigrants, we all own guns) and what they see on television. I had to assure the French family (in particular) that what you see on American sitcoms or reality television is not what life is like in the US and that we are a very diverse country. One of the funnier comments about America came from Luisa from Austria, who noted how "hygienic" Americans are and how concerned they are with cleanliness. I had to laugh given how clean Rob and I are. Everyone also got a huge kick out of Rob and I doing our workout on the front lawn and we enjoyed being mocked by everyone as we did burpees and squats with Blythe running around after us. Side note - if you want the best home workout app I've ever used, check out SWORK IT.
I found the work on the farm enjoyable. There is something incredibly satisfying about working with your hands and seeing the fruits of your labor each day - it's much better than, say, getting to inbox zero or finalizing a big contract. I could tell when I'd finished weeding an area, could see the line of glass jars on the counter after we finished canning nectarines, and loved hearing that everyone enjoyed their meal at dinner. We worked hard, but we were still able to get out for a run and to enjoy time in the garden with Blythe, who loved picking an ear of corn and eating it raw, or pawing through the strawberry plants to find a late-season berry. We were exhausted at the end of each day, but in the best way possible.
It was challenging to WWOOF with Blythe in tow. It's hard to parent in a confined space, particularly one that is someone else's home. There is an infinite amount of work to be done on a farm and it was difficult to set boundaries and acknowledge that your work obligation was complete for the day when our hosts kept working. All of that said, it was an unforgettable experience. What an incredible thing it is to open your home up to strangers from around the world, to welcome them to your dinner table, and to treat them like family while they live under your roof.