WWOOFing for Real — Mara Whenua Part II

So, what was it really like WWOOFing? I thought I’d carry on a bit from Bruce’s previous post and outline for you all what our typical day looked like for the last week.

7:30 – 8:00 am: Wake up. Step outside to the nearest tree for a pee. Light the small gas cooker we had outside on the deck to make morning tea. The milk we had brought up from the house the night before and left outside our cottage door for the evening was nicely chilled from the cool night; we used it for our breakfast museli which we ate out on the deck. Accompanying our organic museli typically were some freshly picked grapes or apples from the orchard. Walk down the hill to the open-air composting toilet which was for WWOOFERS only (the family had a differently designed loo in a separate building adjacent to their living quarters). At first I was a little freaked by the loo, but I’ve done my business in the woods before and this was actually quite nice — a 7’ high semi-circle made of giant recycled Green Party campaign mini billboards + corrugated tin around a ‘throne’ which was a wooded box with a toilet seat carved into the top. You open the lid and do your business into a big plastic barrel while gazing out into the orchard with total privacy. Once done, you scoop up some sawdust from the adjacent bin and sprinkle on top (helps quench any smell, protects from stray flies, and also aids with the decomposition). We read that once the barrels are full, they are sealed and left for one year to form compost which is then spread as mulch for their timber trees; the family pooh is used for the orchards (we speculated that WWOOFER pooh was just not good enough for food producing plants – you couldn’t be sure just what WWOOFERs were made of!).

9:00 am: Change into work clothes – long sleeve shirts and shorts to combat nasty mosquitoes which managed to get us anyway – and set about for the four hour+ task at hand. One day we worked the driveway clearing gorse (prickly shrub which requires one to wear thick leather gloves and use clippers or cutters to get it down); one day we helped with the house building and mulching; several days we were tasked with mulching the sub-tropical plant/fruit orchard which required us to clear the tall grass surrounding each plant, lay down sheets of newspaper around each one, and then shovel large piles of sawdust around each. This area was a bit secluded and we had to shovel off from a big mound of sawdust and wheelbarrow it in. I think we must have done at least 50 wheelbarrows full. We also had a short stint picking fruit (figs, grapes, and apples) and I got to grub out some weeds along the driveway.

1:00 – 2:00 pm: Stop by the house to have lunch. Yvonne makes the most delicious and dense homemade bread I’ve ever had. Scrumptious. Bread, avocado, cheese, tahini, peanut butter, vegemite, lime pickle, mustard, tomatoes and all the fruit one could want was available and all was organic.

2:00 – 6:30 pm: Free-time. Almost each day by this time we were wiped out from the intense physical activity and needed to sit or nap for an hour or two to recuperate. A week of this and we couldn’t figure out what our problem was – were we that out of shape (didn’t think so)? Around 4 pm each day we head to the swimming hole down by the river for a quick rinse. This was basically our ‘shower’ time. The family has an outdoor hot shower by the house which is solar powered, and Yvonne said we could use it, but we didn’t feel comfortable doing so (except on the very last day when the family left for the afternoon and we had a whole day to putz around by ourselves). We could make do with a quick dunk in the river and it was quick because the water was quite cold. On a couple of days I treated myself to a warm shampoo – I heated up water on the gas cooker and then washed my hair over the outdoor sink. Generally from 5 – 6:30 we hung out doing exercise, reading, or me playing with my new friend, 6 year-old Rewa, who was a real cutie and loved to play games, especially a battered copy of “Memory.” True to the spirit of the game if not the letter of the rules, he had memorized the backs of about half of the tiles and was unbeatable.

6:30 – 8:00 pm: Down to the house to have dinner with the family and chat for a bit. Again, Yvonne whipped up some delicious meals. Lentil stew, mashies, sausages, various veggies. Veggies all from her garden; the rest locally made and store bought. The most amazing thing I witnessed related to food was that this family of five (with three of them being growing boys) only needed a very tiny half-size refrigerator for their needs. They had no ice box; they typically did not eat meat; leftovers stayed in the pot on the stove to be eaten the next day. I could not imagine doing this in the States.

8:00 –10:00 pm’ish: We’d retire to our room for some reading on permaculture design and gardening and chatting and just general lying around listening to the birds and the night critters and the call of the kiwis (sun was setting around 8 pm). This was good thinking time.

We did have some ‘off days’ too as we’d worked an extra hour here and there earlier in the week. The day we drove into the ditch, we’d been heading into town to purchase some groceries for Yvonne so we could feed the boys and this counted a bit towards our WWOOFing time. The only thing we really did in terms of ‘watching’ the boys was fix and have dinner with them. They were quite fine on their own, getting themselves ready for school, having breakfast and making lunch. After school they played and busied themselves and then came in for dinner. Not a problem and we had fun chatting with them about kiwi and teen life: music, books, school, vacations, etc. One day we spent four hours hiking the tracks Yvonne and Wayne had created. We hiked up the ridgeline through native bush (manuka, kauri, eucalyptus, puriri trees, palms, and the dreaded gorse) to the top of Toa Toa mountain where we saw spectacular views of the valley and the ocean beyond.

Sound like fun? You bet. I know some of my more delicate friends would not have enjoyed this WWOOFing one bit, but we thought it was grand. This was a one week intensive, immersive, permaculture farming lesson and we wholeheartedly embraced it. Our minds continually absorbing and spinning — wow, that’s so cool; gee, we can do this; oh my god, no way; constantly interpreting the lessons learned and trying to figure out just where we wanted to head on the spectrum. It was exciting and exhausting at the same time. We certainly didn’t come away with any hardfast conclusions as we need more time to digest and explore, but we definitely made the right decision to come here and witness this amazing family and their land up close and first hand.

It was a bittersweet departure – we’d gotten accustomed to our routine yet were also eager to be on our way to see new things. Yvonne stocked us up with a box of apples, figs, and grapes to take with us along with a giant jar of homemade honey (yes, they have beehives too). We hugged and all agreed it would be grand if we could keep in touch; no worries, we plan to wwoof at Mara Whenua again! How could we not?