New House Organic Farm

We spent just under a week at New House Organic Farm, near Ashbourne, Derbyshire. It was by far our most challenging host to date, due entirely to a rather unique domestic situation with the hosts who had been a couple but were no longer together and both had their new partners living at the farm too. This made for all sorts of friction, domestic unrest and bad feeling. It was a great shame as the farm is very diverse and there was plenty to learn there. Also Bob, one of the hosts, was incredibly knowledgable and only too happy to tell us and show us things, a great explainer and very passionate about livestock, wildlife and sustainable living.

Unfortunately too much of our time there was clouded by having different people giving us different jobs to do, some of which were clearly not the sort of tasks WWOOFing is about and taught us very little. We struggled to get food each day and instead of the usual arrangement of eating alongside hosts each day we were dished out food to cook ourselves, some of which was simply not acceptable due to being out of date. This was interspersed with sufficient interesting and educational tasks to keep us there and the stunning location in the peak district coupled with lovely weather made up for enough to look on the bright side of the situation. I am writing candidly about our experience as I want to be honest about the challenges WWOOFing can present and as I have name checked all our hosts I am continuing to do so. I think the farm has plenty to offer and in reading the visitors book they have historically been an excellent host so I am sure we were there in a blip in a usually worthwhile place to be. I think they are also rather misrepresented in their listing which mentions alternative energy – a great draw for me – which is infact non-operational currently, and animals, various of which are not being milked or all even on that farmland at the moment.

We did have some great experiences there nonetheless; Dragon and Star loved spending time with the dogs, chickens, ducks and geese, in particular a gosling called Gerald

We did lots of chopping firewood, which both Dragon and Star are getting pretty good at themselves

Other tasks included some crushing and sorting of cans – food and drink tins, fruit picking (mainly gooseberries and blackcurrants), mowing, clearing piles of garden waste and pushing it up hills in wheelbarrows, sweeping, generally tidying and some livestock handling with the cattle. We got involved in ear tagging, weighing, taking temperature, some medication dosing.

For us though I think the most memorable part of the week was the time we spent together in the evenings. We had a campfire every night, which we cooked over (sausages, burgers, chips, egg, bacon and various other dishes over the week) and a bonfire of the heaped up garden waste on our last night, which happened to coincide with the full moon and made for a beautiful evening. We were parked in the dip of a valley and so lost the sun each evening and were thrust into shade before the top of the hill. Three times we ran up the hill at the last minute to watch the sun dip behind the peaks – very gorgeous and a just reward for the run!

We had lots of time to chat between the four of us and have been really starting to hone our plans about what we do next. We are conscious of being half way though our planned hosts (we had nine months worth of booked places before we left) and with every new host we find new things to bat about as ideas, to discuss as possibilities for us or to write off as definitely not for us. New House Farm was no different and we came away with plenty to talk about and ponder on.

Dragon:
Bad: There was a lot of confusion about the food.
Good: It was good fun cooking dinner over the fire every night.
Learnt: All the different types of beer and cider tins. I didn’t know that different types of drinks cans are made of different things.

Star:
Bad: The dogs chased the gosling (there were several terriers at the farm) and that made me scared it would get hurt. We were not part of the family at all like we have been at every other WWOOFing host.
Good: I really liked the gosling at the farm, he was very cute.
Learnt: If you tame a boy gosling when it grows into a gander it can turn on you.

Ady:
Bad: The tension at the farm. A lot of the jobs we were given were menial tasks which didn’t really represent the work that WWOOFing is supposed to be about.
Good: Bob was a great teacher and his devotion and dedication to giving us his time, sitting down and talking to us and going through things in great detail with us made him probably our best host so far. The animal welfare at the farm was exceptionally good, Bob knew each of his animals individually and really cared about them. It was another host that were very passionate about recycling their waste. The evenings spent with my family were brilliant. The weather was a huge factor in this as it was lovely every day but sitting round a fire in beautiful surroundings was a real highlight of the year so far.
Learnt: A lot about the paperwork and financial side of farming and agriculture. Bob taught us about grants and funding for various types of land which was fascinating and will certainly feature in our future plans. He also taught us about organic status. At the neighbouring farm we visited we learnt that our dreams of an educational facility for learning about farming, animals and agriculture is a realistic possibility.

Nic:
Bad: The domestic unrest within the resident of the farm. WWOOFing does create a false and imediate intimacy as you live within a family as WWOOFers. This can be challenging even when the host family are lovely and welcomming. This particular host had so many issues around the relationships and family dynamics that they really should not have been inviting strangers and other people into the already complicated mix. A basic criteria of WWOOFing is that food is provided and this was sometimes a challenge to find and I felt many of the tasks we were given were not related to ‘working on organic farms’.
Good: Hands on working with the cattle – we did herding and driving the cows several times, dealt with some fiesty cattle and a bull and were given loads of practical hints and experience in that, we weighed cattle, took their temperature, ear tagged them, aided in medicating them (orally and injected) and had more contact with them than at any other host so far. The time Bob spent with us teaching us about paperwork and funding will prove invaluable in the future and Bob invited us to remain in contact for further help. The evenings were a real highlight and really gave us a feel of one of the reasons we had come WWOOFing.
Learnt: Gas cutting, cattle handling, host management!!! about grants and funding.

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.