8

Paddington Farm Trust

We have finished at host number two, Paddington Farm Trust, near Glastonbury, Somerset.

It’s been a really interesting week, a huge contrast to our first host and an education in all sorts of ways.

I’ve already talked a little about the work in the previous post, along with pictures so this is an overview of the week rather than more of that.

We spent our time there feeding animals and doing general animal care including trimming sheeps and goats hooves, dusting the pigs ears and the chickens bellies for mites, walking the goat twice a day back and forth from field to yard, did some brash clearing, some burning rubbish, took some fencing down, put some fencing up, cleaned the feed shed, lit a pizza oven, moved some chickens from one area to another, drove the tractor around and got a really good overview of how the farm works.

We spent loads of time talking to people; M&T the farm managers who gave us an insight into how working for a trust and managing a farmland works, some of the other long term volunteers including a couple of foreign men who had stories to tell of other farms around the world they have stayed at, an ex traveller who is a whizz at green woodworking, a retired engineer who maintains the machinery, the teachers accompanying various special needs children including teens with behavioural, attitudinal and learning difficulties, a selective mute boy, autistic children and other special needs, the people at the food co operative that M&T are also involved in running locally and the other residents of the farm who run an organic fruit and veg growing business. We spent time talking to a man pruning apple trees in the orchards and all sorts of other visitors to the farm from weekend guests, nearby neighbours and ramblers taking the footpath through the farm.

We spent a fair bit of time in Glastonbury itself, a mere 20 minute walk away which has been an interesting experience as it’s unlike any other place we’ve ever been to. There is lots to love with a laid back air, plenty of spiritual stuff, lots of people hugging and being all peaceful but also plenty to cast a cynical eye at particularly if like us you are less comfortable around casual drug use and not quite so into crystal healing and the smell of joss sticks! It’s way before my time but this is what I imagine living in the sixties would have been like…

We’ll stay in touch with our hosts, it was a great place to spend a week, a chilled out experience after the full on living of the previous two weeks. Our first impressions were not great; the kids got involved in playing with a rather wild child who turned violent with them both which is simply not something they are used to so they were shaken and disturbed by that, we lived in the van without hookup so all evenings were torchlit and although we were given free rein to help ourselves to anything in the kitchen it felt too strange to go and help ourselves so we ended up buying most of our own food for the week which put rather a strain on our budget. But on balance we gained loads of new skills, new experiences and made some contacts that will hopefully prove useful in the future.

Finishing with bad, good and learnt at Paddington Farm:
Ady    
Bad – less direction than the previous host in terms of what we were expected to do… but…
Good – the freedom of directing our own workload
Learnt – don’t panic, give things a second chance.

Dragon 

Bad – it didn’t feel like I thought WWOOFing would be because we spent so much time just the four of us rather than working alongside hosts and learning from them and eating with them at mealtimes.
Good – spending time with the animals on the farm
Learnt – that goats can’t eat rhubarb, that mutton is ‘old sheep’ meat, about fighting cockerels (the resident cockerel is that sort of breed) how fun tractor driving is

Star
Bad – being hurt on the first night by a visiting child
Good – all the animals on the farm
Learnt – various things about animals including a first sign of an unhappy sheep is droopy ears.

Nic
Bad – a more expensive week as we spent money topping up food supplies
Good – diverse environment for learning – lots of different aspects
Learnt – about animals hooves, that there are jobs managing farms, how to drive a tractor


This post was bought to you using a Mifi from three

8

Steward Wood, Devon

We’ve had two weeks at Steward Community Woodland an intentional community in Devon. It’s been an amazing experience for all sorts of reasons and the most perfect start imaginable to our adventure and voyage of discovery.

We arrived and were slightly traumatised by the hill the community live on. It is very, very steep and thanks to a spring at the top which supplies water and also generates hydro power it is very muddy in places too. We were greeted by dogs -four live there full time, my personal phobia – and a collection of dreadlocked people using hippy talk like cool, awesome, man. Everyone lives in benders or other low impact housing, clad with army surplus tarps and solar panels, a communal ‘longhouse’ is where WWOOFers are hosted, everyone is fed and gathers for chatting, meetings and regular social events such as music evenings or storytelling sessions. There is a compost loo, sawdust urinals and strawbale urinal for men and women, a bathhouse with a wood burner to heat the bathwater and we were shown to a flat area chiselled into the hillside with stunning views to pitch our tent. Sleeping in a tent for two weeks in March was a challenge, at least twice the overnight temperature dipped below zero and there were two very heavy frosts. Food is vegan or vegetarian, organic, wholefood, there is no alcohol, WWOOFers work mostly on splitting or chopping wood, carrying heavy stuff up or down the hill, assisting with gardening tasks, helping with food preparation or whatever else needs doing at the time. It is very seasonal with a heavy focus on wood.

Our work varied from chopping and splitting firewood, taking bark off felled trees (which is then used to surround the base of saplings to suppress weed growth), carrying mulch (made from chipped wood, bark, pine needles etc rotted down) up or down the hill to put around the saplings, we helped in the kitchen, lit the bathhouse burner most evenings, did some clearing of areas – much of the woodland is left alone as it is wildlife habitat but areas are cleared and coppiced and two different areas of forest garden are being planted out. We did lots of brash clearing, moving piles of ivy, branches and wood from one pile to another and put up a brash fence around an area of young hazel trees to protect them from deer and spent time clearing another area ready to put up a goat pen. The work is physically demanding, there is no denying that but it does all make sense – there is a logic and rhythm to spending your day chopping wood to provide heat, warmth, cooking, hot water,  planting trees for the future, using everything to create such a minimal level of waste.

There was plenty that would push us to look for a different permanent home; the hill being the main decider, but Steward Wood is changing; it has only very recently moved from being a vegan communal area to a vegetarian one; they keep chickens and at a meeting while we were there it was passed for them to start keeping goats for their diary needs. Almost all of the community actually eat meat in their own dwellings. They started with no machinery at all but now use chainsaws and one of the community has a landrover which is used for winching felled trees, moving large and heavy things. There are challenges and down sides to living in a community; occassional tensions when ideas and ideals clash but they seem to have communication and discussion down to a fine art and things are aired and talked over rather than left to fester so while there are frustrations when consenus can’t be reached on issues and people have to compromise it does have the feel of a loving, large family.

We learnt a huge amount there – practical stuff like how they make use of and harness solar and hydro energy, how much wood is needed to keep everything operational, a small insight into how their buildings are constructed, how the toilet systems work, how they filter drinking water only, how long term plans have to be and how most of them realise that the work and energy they invest today will possibly not even come to fruition in their time for them to enjoy, but that’s not why they are doing it. We learnt from the individuals there; some of them shared their stories with us, showed us their homes, taught us things they know from bird language and wildlife, to wilderness skills, their personal spiritual beliefs and customs, we learnt about sharing, about community, about openness and entitlement.

The people are what makes Steward Wood such an amazing place. It has stunning scenery, rich and varied wildlife with ravens, buzzards, bagders, deer, owls, foxes and much more. It has gorgeous views (the upside to the hill!) and it’s a woodland which is a breathtakingly beautiful place to spend time, watching, listening, being. But it is the mix of fantastic individuals who live there who make it such a special and inspiring place to be. The community began with a group of ex protesters, who had spent time living on protest sites fighting road widenings, by-passes, holiday villages, Tesco stores, housing developments from claiming chunks of nature. They had some victories too but many more losses and all of the negative attention that comes with living outside of society and fighting against change. One of the community told me she was just tired of always spending energy on negative things and wanted to be investing herself in something positive. I think that sums up Steward Wood for me really, it’s Something Positive. It demonstrates that you don’t need running water, flushing toilets, gas and electric, you don’t need supermarkets, chemicals and televisions, you don’t need a washing machine, fridge or built in oven and if you want to change the world the very best place to start is by changing your world. I guess we already knew that but Steward Wood was a fantastic place to spend time to prove it and give a living example to us.

But there is much more we want to learn, see and experience. This was merely the beginning of our adventure. So we’ve added all the best bits to our wish list, forged some close bonds with some of the amazing people there and have promised to stay in touch, visit again and spread the word about them and now we’re off to the next host.

Some words from everyone now on their bad, good and what they learnt at Steward Wood:
Dragon:
Bad: The food, I tried all the food but I didn’t like most of it.
Good: It was really, really good fun. I enjoyed the work, learnt about solar power, made new friends
Learnt: How much can be run off solar panels.

Star:
Bad: Missed cheese and butter and meat
Good: Made loads of new friends and I liked the food I tried
Learnt: About ravens

Ady:
Bad: putting cold and damp clothes on each morning after a night in the tent
Good: All the new people I met; members of the community, visiting friends and other WWOOFers
Learnt: building fences, lighting fires, bird language, about keeping goats, some basic Chinese Mandarin from a fellow WWOOFer, startling example of the power of people working together as a team.

Nic:
Bad: The hill. I struggled with all sorts of aspects there – the food, sleeping in a tent, the hard work, the mud – everything else is surmountable and possibly changable but the hill will always be there and it was the single toughest aspect of the time there for me – my knees protested, my feet ached from slipping up and down and I wheezed and gasped my way up hill whenever I had to go up. every single task is made 10 times harder because of the steepness of that hill.
Good: Amazing people, stunningly beautiful location and everything just makes sense. The theme of permaculture runs through everything but every task is logical and has a purpose and end result.
Learnt: Hard to pin down to one sentence really; I learnt I have so much more to learn and I really want to learn it.

We’ve had a night in a campsite – the only people here, topped up our meat rations with a mighty cooked breakfast eaten sitting outside in the sunshine, we’ve dealt with all the dirty washing the weather conspired against us to not get dry outside and now we’re off to the next host, ready to meet more new people and learn more new skills.

1

End of week one

What an amazing week it’s been.

When we arrived here on Monday I think we were all feeling such a mix of emotions; impatience to actually begin the WWOOFing adventure, apprehension about what would be expected of us, how the hosts would be, where we would be staying and what it would be like.

We always said this first host would be our ‘baptism of fire’ – staying in a tent (in March! Our usual camping season runs from May to September), living totally off-grid, eating vegetarian food, coping with living in a community and dealing with hard physical work. Less than a month ago we were living in a house with mains gas, electric and water, TV with sky channels, working in a library and an office job driving a company car around, drinking wine or beer every day and having every modern convenience you can think of.

I think this is almost as far from that life as we could get really. It has a feel of boot camp or I’m A Celebrity about it with the compost loos, wood burners for hot water and cooking, the hill to climb countless times every day and a fair bit of being shown a pile of tools and a problem and being left to figure it out. It’s been easy this week to judge or privately think we’d do things differently but left to our own devices this weekend burners have gone out because we’ve not tended them, food has been really, really late because we underestimated cooking times and we’ve been chopping wood by torchlight because we didn’t put the preparation in during the day.

So we’re learning, all the time we’re learning. We’re learning stuff every day from the people here – just knowledge they are sharing about the woods around us – tree identification, bird calls, how the changing seasons change the environment around them. Here they live in harmony with nature, responding to the world around them rather than trying to change it, using the bounty that is already here and working with it.

11

Pushing Buttons

Sorry to all those who have contacted to check we are okay for not updating sooner. Online time is limited as we are totally off grid, but we are really well, happy and loving our experience at our first hosts.

We’re at an intentional community on the side of a hill, a very, very steep hill. There are about 6 or 7 families here with children of various ages, some in school and some Home Educated. The families all have their own individual dwellings and there is a large communal building for cooking, eating, socialising etc. The water is provided by a spring, the energy is solar and hydro power stored in great big batteries, heating, cooking, hot water etc. is all done by  wood burners. The communal area is vegetarian food, it used to be vegan but that has recently been changed, although there are only one or two vegetarians living here now, everyone else eats meat in their own dwellings.

So far we have done two full days work and a little help in the kitchen on our first afternoon – we arrived mid-morning but thanks to the 1/2 mile trek up the hill to set our tent up (3 wheelbarrow loads) and then the actual setting up of the tent, with a break for communal lunch it was mid afternoon before we were free to actually do anything so we helped with communal dinner. Yesterday we spent the morning with one of the community taking stuff down the hill from his dwelling ready to be collected for the tip, then some time dealing with firewood – I did some ‘feeding’ a chainsawing person with wood and then we did some moving and stacking in the woodstore. After lunch we spent time with another member of the community on their forest garden. This was hard work, moving heavy lengths of wood up the hill and then clearing brash (heaps of branches and leaves from felled trees).

Last night we had a bath in the bath house, which involves lighting the wood burner about 3 hours beforehand and feeding it with wood to heat the water, but utterly blissful, A bath in a moonlit and firelit bathhouse at the end of a very hard days work was so lovely.

Today we spent both morning and afternoon in the forest garden. This morning we made a hedge to guard some young hazel trees from the deer in the woodland. This involved cutting then sharpening stakes to hammer in to the ground at intervals and then lying long lengths of various wood along and weaving them in. I really enjoyed that work. This afternoon was more heavy stuff which I am struggling with more because of the hill than anything else – I am incredibly clumsy and my boots are rubbish for gripping so I am ever cautious about falling. So far I’ve only gone down once but it is meaning I am very slow. Ady is finding his pace – we have been working alongside two French WWOOFers who we are probably old enough to be the parents of and they are putting us to shame but Ady is enjoying the reward of looking back and seeing what we have achieved at the end of a hard days work – so much more fulfilling that 8 hours sat in a company car…

Dragon and Star have fallen in with the children who live here and settled in really well and really quickly. We’re really proud of them for being open to try food which is hugely different to what we’d eat at home, happily sleeping in the tent and managing to find common ground with both adults and children here.

The people are fascinating, such interesting and varied backgrounds but a really good atmosphere and an excellent advertisement for communal living. There are of course tensions and politics and things which cause friction but it seems to be a very open environment with things discussed and calmly talked about and a real ethos of sharing and looking out for each other. I’m loving the time spend working and living alongside them and feel really priviledged at their openness and willingness to share.

We have another two work days before two days off at the weekend. I think various of the community are off doing their own thing so we have plans to cook some meat (Dragon particularly says he misses meat) which is okay in the camping area where we are pitched – we have a fire pit right next to our tent and visit the local shops for a few bits. We need to do some washing – there is a washboard and mangle here I am really keen to have a go with having only talked about them to the kids last weekend when we were debating which appliances we could and couldn’t live without (not literally of course!). Then we have five work days next week before we’re planning to leave here on the Saturday morning and have a night in a hook up campsite somewhere before the next host.

We’re walking down the hills to where Willow is parked every morning to collect clean clothes and it feels nice to unlock the door and climb in, the tent is fine – if very cold – but I’m missing our home on wheels.

This is a challenging place to be – for us as WWOOFers and to live, for various reasons. The hill being the main one, the terrain is rough and everything is made harder by that. We are eating food, which although delicious is vastly different to our usual diet, not drinking, sleeping way earlier and doing a good six hours of incredibly challenging physical work. It is as direct a contrast to the life we were living just a few weeks ago as you could imagine really, but it’s amazing. The people are inspirational, we are learning constantly and I already know more about trees identification, which timber is best for what, different types of alterative energies and the pros and cons and what challenges the off grid lifestyle brings than I could have learnt from 20 different books.

There is no doubt we will  be walking down that hill again at the end of our stay fitter, healthier and educated. A perfect start to what looks to be an amazing year.

0

Co-operating

                                 I am not a great lover of supermarkets, certainly the ‘big four’ have me gnashing my teeth at their air freighted, out of season, fruit, their excessive landfill-filling packaging and urges towards waste and over consumption with their BOGOF offers and slashed prices.     But I accept growing and rearing your own food…
Continue reading »

12

A word or two from the Wanderers

I’ve just been reading the last couple of entries out to the others and that coupled with a conversation we had earlier today about journal keeping and diaries I wrote as a teenager myself and enjoy re-reading from time to time led to the idea of them having a turn at blogging every so often. I’m very aware that this blog has my voice as the narrator and while I hope I can give a fairly accurate representation of the year I think it would be nice to have the occasional ‘in their own words’ contribution from the rest of the family. So, dictated to me, at the time of coming up with the idea so with no prior planning are a couple of sentences each from the rest of the WW crew.

Star says:
“I think it’s going to be really exciting. I think this bit is a bit boring waiting at the campsite, I want to get started with the rest of the year. I’m enjoying the walks and I like wild garlic leaves!”

Dragon says:
“I’ve only just recovered from Star’s stinky garlic breath after she ate the wild garlic! Since we’ve been in the van my sleeping habits have changed lots and lots. I’m getting used to other food – oh talking about food, the gas bottle has just run out halfway through cooking our dinner. Daddy has gone outside with a torch to see if he can change over the gas bottle. I’m getting excited about actually doing some work (WWOOFing stuff – getting out and being busy rather than sitting around). I’m missing our chickens and eating their grain (Nic says – I didn’t know you did that!) – that’s all folks!”

Ady says:
“I’m finding that I can do things that I would previously have decided I couldn’t do without trying and called someone out to do for me. I’m really touched by the phonecalls and support from friends (thank yous particularly to Fergie and James). I’m finding it mad and crazy staying on a campsite where there are loads of people still clinging to the same lifestyle they would have at home – watching TV in their van rather than actually spending time outside, parked in a campsite right next to another caravan or campervan just like a housing estate. My wonderance of the day is why are all caravans and campervans white?”