Its week six of our six week trip and we have already left the farm we went to after Land of Arches. The farm, Wildwood Harvest, was located in Wildwood, GA about 15 minutes south of Chattanooga, TN. Wildwood Harvest was way more than I could have hoped for in a first WWOOFing experience. The owners were extremely friendly, appreciative, and welcoming. I found we had many similar ideas, life experiences, and passions. For starters, the man of the house, Keith, is divorced with a son and about to be re-married. Having grown up in the exact same situation (except for the fact that Keith’s ex-wife and his bride-to-be have gotten to be close friends), I immediately felt I could relate, at least on that level, to the family. As we got to know each other, I learned that, like me, Keith was a guitarist, has a passion for travel and has done a significant amount of it, and never put much stock in following a traditional way of life. Then there was Katie, Keith’s future bride. Katie is an animal lover and a veterinarian’s assistant and so is very good at caring for the farm animals. She is also relatively close to Rachel and I’s age so I immediately felt at ease and able to open up a little bit around her. It’s very easy to feel at home at Wildwood Harvest. It’s clear they want to get to know you on a personal level and not just use you as a laborer. I always felt like I was part of the family, never like an employee.
a little bit about the actual farm
If you love animals or want to learn about sustainable living, Wildwood Harvest is the place to go. Together, Katie and Keith are an incredible source of knowledge on raising animals, organic growing, natural building, and sustainable living practices in general. As far as crops go, Wildwood Harvest has a pretty sizeable garden and a starter orchard. The family-owned farm is a CSA which stands for community supported agriculture. This means that people from the community buy shares of the farm at the beginning of each year and in return get a box of food either every or every-other week, depending on the size of the share. This ensures that the farm has enough capital to work with throughout the year. What they grow varies with the season, but while we were there it was mostly greens (kale, arugula, endive, escarole, and various lettuces), radishes, peppers, and asparagus. The fruit trees were on their way to dormancy, but should eventually be producing peaches, pears, plums, apples, and nectarines, if I remember right. There is always life bustling around the farm. Altogether, Wildwood Harvest is home to three of the most loving dogs you will ever meet, three cats with a total of 11 legs (one is a tripod), three extremely sweet goats that love to be pet, two turkeys (the males a jerk and will try to start fights with you), three rabbits, and around 50 chickens. Most of the chickens are totally free-ranging and like to follow you around the farm, especially if you’ve got a bucket of food or water in your hand. The goats roam in a very large enclosure where they are free to graze on natural vegetation.
With all these animals, Wildwood Harvest is running an almost closed loop system, which is key to sustainable living. Food scraps are collected, given to the chickens and goats to pick out whatever they like, and then composted. Meat scraps and bones are given to the dogs, and egg shells are crushed up and fed back to the chickens. This process not only eliminates nearly 100% of their food waste, saves them a trip to the dump, and provides nutrition for their animals, it also provides them with rich, fertile soil for their gardens. In effect, they are using food to grow more food. This is one example of a closed-loop system.
I learned many things at Wildwood Harvest including how to plant peas, harvest greens, make rich compost from food scraps and manure, milk goats, harvest and preserve basil, and care for chickens. I got to do a little bit of construction and hard manual labor too which is always rewarding. The climbing opportunities around Chattanooga are many and very high-quality so we tried to climb at least a couple times a week while we were there. Chattanooga is a beautiful city surrounded by mountains and built along a magnificent river. Its got a great outdoorsy feel to it and is full of young adventurers and artists. I really fell in love with the city during my three weeks at Wildwood Harvest and hope to live there for a while some day. There aren’t many “big cities” I can say that about. I’m definitely going to miss Katie and Keith. They were great hosts and made me feel like family and friend to them.
Here are some picture from the farm.
Click a picture to enlarge…
I’ve been getting lots of great ideas for the future and am very grateful I’m able to experience this way of life. I love that there is no money exchange between hosts and workers. It’s a straight up exchange of services. I support them directly and they support me directly. I’ll admit I’m an idealist. I used to tell my dad that I thought the idea of money was stupid. It didn’t make sense to me that people worked for pieces of paper. Money can’t clothe you, you can’t eat it, and it won’t keep you safe from the elements. Why not just cut out the middle man? I was naïve, yes, but my ideas weren’t as impossible as the “real world” made them out to be. After all, I haven’t made or spent a dollar in a week and I’m living comfortably, eating healthier than I ever have, and doing fulfilling work. There just might be something to this thing…
That being said, I am tired of being broke so if anyone has any jobs available, I’m your man.
Aside from the practical things I’ve learned on this trip like how to drive a tractor, milk a goat, and hold a fistful of horse manure without gagging, I’ve learned a bit about the world as well. First, I’ve learned what it feels like to do work that is personally fulfilling. I’ve spent pretty much the whole time since I’ve graduated college doing jobs that don’t do anyone any good, don’t bring me any sense of satisfaction after a day’s work, and regularly make me question what the hell I’m doing there. On top of that, never did I feel appreciated for any of the work I did. While I’ve been on this trip I’ve been able to help other people accomplish goals they wouldn’t have been able to on their own, cared for animals and plants, and directly provided other people with nutritious food. And I have never felt more appreciated in my life. Both our hosts have practically begged us to stay. I went from doing work that I couldn’t see for the life of me who it would benefit to seeing the faces of the people I was providing nourishment for.
That’s somewhat of a wakeup call. And it makes you question the things you value. What is more important: Making money and hating what you do or making no money in exchange for deeply fulfilling work? Of course the answer is obvious and an even better one would be: Make money in exchange for deeply fulfilling work. That’s the dream. I haven’t found it yet, but at least I know now what it means to do fulfilling work, something that many people will never discover.
I am extremely grateful to be able to be on an adventure like this. I wouldn’t be able to do it without support and understanding from my family. I really hope this blog inspires people to think more about sustainable and alternative ways of living and to go WWOOF themselves. If you’re seriously interested, sign up on the WWOOF website for a small fee and you’ll be able to view hundreds of farms all across the country: http://wwoof.org.
This is our final week of WWOOFing, at least for this trip, and we are currently in Pearisburg, Virginia. But, I’ll have to save the details for a later post. I’m hoping to go more in depth with the things I’ve learned so far in future posts to keep it fresh in my mind and to try to educate other people who might be interested. That’s all for now.