For the past year we’ve been talking about traveling as a family. How we could afford it? When would be the best time in terms of our children’s ages? What we might do? Where we might go?
Then Laurence discovered World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), an organisation which links volunteers with organic farms. We began to think about WWOOFing as a potential way of traveling while keeping costs down and experiencing the reality of places rather than just going in for the tourist version.
We also wanted to learn more about organic farming and low impact lifestyles as we’re dreaming together about what we might like to do in the future. And we figured it could be an amazing outdoors experience for the children and time together as a family doing something productive and different.
Before we committed to going for a longer stretch, further afield, though, we wanted to try it out closer to home. So, we signed up to WWOOF UK and contacted a host family with a small sheep farm near Fowey in Cornwall.
Caitlin (who blogs at Spewing Mummy and Adventures of Muma Dean and runs Pregnancy Sickness Support, a UK charity that supports women suffering with hyperemesis gravidarum) was very encouraging of us coming to visit.
I offered money towards food as I knew our 14-month-old and 3-year-old would likely slow one of us down but she insisted all would be fine. I was still nervous, hoping that we’d work enough to make it worth them having us.
The Deans have a beautiful farm with forty ewes (which were all heavily pregnant when we got there!). They also keep pigs, chickens and are getting a vegetable patch going to feed their WWOOFers and themselves. Their house is solar-powered and they are semi self-sustaining.
On reflection, we got very lucky to have our first time WWOOFing with them. I’m not sure how well our time there reflected what it might be like to work and stay elsewhere. For a start, it was incredibly sunny.
They admitted that the accommodation they provided was better than what they’ve experienced when WWOOFing themselves and I could easily believe it. They put us up in a static caravan, which was very comfortable and in good nick.
They provided us with bits for breakfast and lunch in the caravan. Suppers we had with their family in their home. We took some extra food too because Laurence is wheat and dairy intolerant – which could have been problematic except that one of their children is dairy intolerant.
They were also really laid back and understanding about the kids slowing me down in terms of what work I did. I think I managed to do five hours work most days but it wasn’t always five hours’ worth of work! At fourteen months, Ophelia is at a really tricky age where she doesn’t want to stay in the sling all the time but can’t entertain herself or join in like her big sister can.
Laurence tried to work more to compensate. It was pretty clear that his labour was more useful anyway. I’m not sure how it would work somewhere else, whether we’d take it in turns to work our required five or six hours sans kids, whether I’d occupy the kids while he’d work a long day or whether we could find a scenario where we all work alongside each other. I suppose we’re pretty clear now of what questions we need to ask, should we try WWOOFing again.
A couple of days we managed to arrange the work around going somewhere. One afternoon we went into Fowey for lunch and a seaside ice cream. Another, we went to explore The Lost Gardens of Heligan. The rest of the time, we were pretty happy just to be on the Deans’ farm.
Both of us got a bit of a farm experience. I mainly did things that I need to be doing here at home like clearing a veg patch and sorting out a chicken coop. On the last day, I was fortunate enough to see the first of the lambing in an assisted birth. Laurence was in his element being outdoors, doing physical work. I won’t talk much about what he got into because he’ll blog about it on Chasing Wilderness soon enough.
It felt worth it just to meet Rob and Caitlin and their children. They were so welcoming and generous and we came away inspired by their lifestyle. We were also more than a little envious of how free, strong and confident their children are, growing up in that space.
Talitha loved playing with them on the weekend and when they got home from school. It was a little tough going during the day, though she was mostly happy to join in with whatever I was doing or to entertain herself.
I found it quite difficult at times being on my own with the children for long periods of time. It made me realise that although I’m technically a stay at home mother, we spend a lot of time with other families. That’s something to think about, too, should we try WWOOFing as a family again.
All in all, I’m really glad we did this. It was one of my 30 things to do before I turn 30 and has given me a bit more confidence to try to live more sustainably. In many ways, it’s one of the best holidays we’ve had together as a family, even if we were apart for much of the time. It’s given us a bit more to think about in terms of how we might travel and what we want to try in the future.