Lauren Chaleff, ’14, writes about her experiences farming on Ekbacka Gård (Oakhill farm) in Kalmar, Sweden.
I have spent the last three summers on Ekbacka Gård (Oakhill farm) in Kalmar, Sweden, about three hours from Copenhagen. It has been the best and most formative experience of my life. I found the farm through WWOOF Sweden (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) after spending countless hours reading through farm descriptions, emailing references, searching through blogs, etc. I’m from a big family and I love to be surrounded by people all the time, so I wanted to find a farm where I would feel more like an extended family-member than a laborer. I found one farm that advertised that it was a family farm, and that the family included upwards of ten people, many of whom were in their teens or twenties. I ended up becoming so close to this family that I now consider them to be just that.
This particular farm employs a variety of agricultural techniques, including polycultural, biodynamic, organic, and permacultural methods. Polyculture is the practice of planting a variety of crops together in the same bed to beneficial ends. For example, one crop may provide nitrogen and the other crop may provide shade, and together the plants flourish. Biodynamic farming is a term that encompasses many practices, but overall it emphasizes agriculture as a holistic system based on the interdependence of humans, animals, microorganism, plants, and the planet. And true organic agriculture, at least to these farmers, means using no pesticides whatsoever, even if they are non-synthetic.
Permaculture as I understand it refers to the strategy of planting with the long term in mind – planting perennial crops, maintaining soil quality through crop rotation and support of microorganismic colonies, saving seeds, and so on. For example, some of the beds on this farm have layers of organic matter in the soil including tree branches, twigs, hay, dead leaves, and manure. These materials decompose at different rates, releasing heat and nutrients into the soil for years.
I learned much about farming, including how to build beds, plant, sew, harvest, and do all the other verbs associated with agriculture. More important, I learned about leadership, raising a family, and living in harmony with the earth and all its inhabitants. I also learned how to be happy – the kind of true, deep happiness that comes from feeling a strong integrity between your beliefs, words, and actions.
If you are considering wwoofing on this farm or any other, here is some advice:
– If you are travelling to a country where you don’t speak the language, be aware that it can get pretty lonely, even if the farmers speak English. This is because dinner conversations (or other conversations between large groups of people) tend to be in the spoken language.
– Stick up for yourself. If your farm doesn’t have a concrete work schedule and you are in charge of your own hours as I was, make sure not to overwork yourself. The people who own the farm will probably spend a lot more time working than you do, and that’s okay. They’ll want you to be comfortable and stay within your limits.
– Communication is imperative. If you don’t know whether you should leave the window open or closed, ask. Before you open a new container of food, ask. If your room is cold at night, say something. If you don’t know how much soil to put on top of a bed, ask. No question is too small, and sometimes the small things are the most annoying. One time there was a wwoofer who always used to leave the floor in the bathroom wet after a shower because he didn’t know which towel to wipe the floor with. So don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Find more on WWOOF: http://www.wwoof.org/.