“Go pick out something to make for dinner,” our host said to us at the end of each day. Rather than reaching for the handle of the refrigerator, we grabbed a sweater and reached for the handle of the back door.
Soft, cold dirt squished between our bare toes as we moved through the garden. Our eyes darted around like detectives after a clue.
We earnestly pushed through the tangle of roots and leaves, checking for signs of ripeness.
That wild garden grew our dinner, we just had to go find it.
This was a common scenario during any of my WWOOFing experiences. Most of our meals came from the farm where we stayed.
I was born and raised in San Jose, California, a city deeply rooted in agriculture. The massive influx of tech development has paved over much of San Jose’s vast orchards and farmland, though.
I’ve never really known, or put much thought into for that matter, about the food on my plate. It’s just always been something that magically appeared in the grocery store.
“Let me tell you a story.” This, for me, was the sentence that helped reshape my thinking entirely.
I was 18 years old. It was the peak of winter, a winter colder than I had ever before experienced, and I was staying on a family friend’s farm in a small town in British Columbia. The nearest grocery store was a two-hour drive away, so much of the food we ate had either been preserved or was sourced from the farm.
As we sat down to eat one night, the family reminisced of the time one of their cows had gone missing. Almost a year late, when the memory of the cow was nearly forgotten, a neighbor had found her in a nearby pasture. It sounded like a happy reunion.
The once missing cow, they chuckled, was now butchered, roasted and steaming on our dinner plates.
To my surprise, I was happy about it rather than horrified. The meat sitting on my plate looked and tasted better than anything I’d seen before. Farm to table was such a foreign concept back then. I barely ever thought about it.
I suddenly felt detached from food as I had forever known it as I didn’t really know where any of my food had come from prior. I decided that I wanted to familiarize myself more with this concept. I decided to go WWOOFing.
“Here, this was in my way,” my host said as casually as anything. “You guys can have it.”
He handed over a plant as tall as me. “What is it?,” I asked timidly, knowing I should have probably recognized it. “Arugula,” he answered.
This blew my mind. I eat arugula all the time, but how could something so commonplace look so foreign?
We cheerfully walked down to our kitchen, arugula bush in hand, and began plucking away at the stems, pulling it apart leaf by leaf. By the time we were done, we had enough leaves to make salads for *literal* days.
When I first learned of WWOOFing, I believed I was incapable of working on a farm. I’ve always loved getting my hands dirty, but I hadn’t the first clue about growing food!
Permaculture, bio-dynamics, horticulture– these were all terms thrown around on the WWOOFing websites I researched, but I had never heard of them. Self-doubt crept in and I questioned whether I was even qualified to volunteer.
But I managed to muffle the self-doubt and registered.
“Don’t worry about being too gentle,” one of my hosts assured me as I delicately placed a seedling into the rich soil, “plants want to grow and they will if you let them.”
Since then I’ve WWOOFed at five farms around the world; in different climates and following different practices. I’m still in no way a professional agriculturalist, but I’ve come away from each experience with more knowledge and skills.
Picking my own dinner helped me understand the farm to table process and develop a deep appreciation for those involved in agriculture in its many forms.
This type of sustainability isn’t limited to WWOOFing. Make a compost bin, start an herb garden, shop at the local farmer’s market. However limited or unlimited your growing experience may be, just start somewhere– the “I can do it” feeling is absolutely magical.