I recently spent two weeks working on the Cochrane Family Farm which is located in Upper Stewiacke (about an hour long drive from the airport). I was very nervous initially, even though this is my second time WWOOFing.
When I met Lisa at the airport, she put me at ease immediately, because she was the sweetest and most gentle person I’ve spoken to. We talked about all sorts of things on the ride to the farm, and when I arrived, I wasn’t as nervous anymore.
The Cochrane Family is a big family! Frank and Lisa have 5 kids: Claire, Julie, Garth, Kathleen and Brian. I only met Julie, Kathleen and Brian as Claire was working on another farm and Garth is serving the military. They participate in Community Shared Agriculture. If you’re wondering what that is, here’s an excerpt from their website!
“Community Shared Agriculture is a partnership between farmer and people who value fresh, local produce. CSA members register, in the spring; then during the growing season, they receive a weekly collection of fresh farm vegetables. Your registration and payment helps farmers plan for the crops and costs such as seeds and gardening tools. CSA members share with the farmer, the risks and the bounty of the farming season. Our goal is to provide you with a variety of healthy farm-fresh vegetables. Cochrane Family Farm is a family based farm that does not believe in or use any herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilisers.”
In my two weeks there, I learned a ton. I did all kinds of activities, from weeding, transplanting, planting direct seed, sifting manure for the transplants, feeding and watering the chickens and pigs, taking apart pig pens and sheds and the most interesting… slug killing. (Haha, please not the sarcasm here)
Their animals are well taken care of, and it is completely different from how animals are treated and injected with all sorts of hormones and chemicals in the mass produced food industries. That said, I’m still scared of the pigs, haha, piglets are fine. I’m surprised I was okay with the chickens since I was terrified during my first WWOOFing experience. But their chickens are very tame.
The family is very kind. As with any situation, it takes a few days to warm up to them and them to you, since WWOOFers are pretty much strangers who come to live with them. They’ve hosted over 90 WWOOFers thus far! As long as you are willing to work hard, and willing to learn, you’ll have a good time. WWOOFing is about a cultural exchange, so your host family shouldn’t be treated like a hostel location. You are there to integrate and be part of their lifestyle, and most importantly, to respect their way of living.
To me, WWOOFing is best when you go in with an open mind. That way, when you don’t have any expectations so you won’t be disappointed and you’ll learn a lot more! I’ve had such fascinating conversations about organic farming, life, education and passions. I feel so enriched by their experiences and advice.
Frank is very knowledgeable about politics, politics of food, and life in general. He works very hard, and I’m just amazed how he can do that everyday without a break. If he’s free to talk, ask him about his love story with Lisa! It’s the cutest love story ever.
Lisa works very hard too, and she has to work night shifts at a halfway house for ladies who were subject to domestic abuse. I really enjoyed our conversations about home-schooling and learning about her job and getting tips for planting vegetables! She also makes amazing suppers, pictured above is her Haddock Fish Stew with homemade biscuits. We also had ribs, roasted ham, rice stir fries and loads more deliciousness after a long day of work.
Of all their kids, I spent the most time with Julie. She does most of the work on the farm to help Frank. She’s a very intelligent and hardworking girl, and I was definitely inspired by her to work hard, and to pursue hobbies in life, rather than getting sucked into technology. When she’s not working, she’s reading a book, baking amazing cookies, playing the piano or spending bonding time with her sister. She’s a very talented lady, and you’ll have lots of fun conversations with her.
Brian is turning 4 years old this year, and he is adorable! Even though he’s so young, he likes to help out on the farm, and he never causes any trouble. He can spend hours playing with rocks, or muck or the cats, and finding ways to entertain himself. He is definitely a bundle of energy, and I can’t imagine the house without his enthusiasm and shouting haha.
This experience was my first time on a commercial farm (or at least larger scale than the past two farms I worked on). My two weeks made me respect farmers a whole lot more. The work is hard, and the reward is little. Financially, it is hard to earn a living, but at least you know where your food is coming from, and that your animals are treated well. It angers me to know that the government provides so little support for small-scale farms. The politics of food is as corrupt as world politics.
The farmers work so hard to provide quality organic food for the community, only to be restricted by all the red-tape. But the big firms who use a ton of chemicals and unethical ways to raise animals for our consumption get away scot-free. We need to reconsider what we are eating, and who we are supporting. Businesses run on consumer demand, and if we continue to choose cheap chemically-laden meats and vegetables over organic meat and vegetables, the big firms will get bigger, and the organic farms will struggle to survive.
I also met two WWOOFers from France. They are a french couple, Angela and Max, and they recently started a blog on positive changers in the world. They just arrived in Canada and are beginning their 4 month road trip around Canada, before finding a place to stop and settle down! I love how spontaneous they are, and how they are so passionate about eating organic food, and ethically raised animals. They are the cutest couple, and they were very kind to give me a ride to downtown Halifax in their caravan. I miss them already!
WWOOFing has blessed me with amazing experiences, new friends from all over the world, and a greater understanding of life. I’ve felt so connected to nature, and simply knowing where my food comes from helps me to better appreciate what God has created and given us for consumption. I have never seen many of the plants that I saw on the farm, because the closest experience I get is seeing pre-packaged perfectly shaped carrots and perfectly coloured apples in the grocery stall, displayed to attract perfect consumers who do not know any better. Fun fact: Like people, carrots come in different shapes and sizes and colours.
I was very sad to leave the farm, as they were the closest that I had to family in the past 5 months that I was on exchange in Canada. It felt really nice to be in a crowded house again with so many people around to talk to and hangout with.
WWOOFing always reminds me that there is so much good in the world, and it encourages me to want to pay it forward and to share what I’ve learnt in the world. It’s important to remember though, that when you WWOOF, it is not just about you, but about the family you live with. Put yourself in their position… they are opening their house to a stranger. The least we can do as WWOOFers is to respect their space, and adapt to their way of life rather than judging. Ask questions, be willing to learn and take the time to get to know each member of the family. You never know what you might learn!
Thank you to the Cochranes for yet another wonderful experience WWOOFing 🙂
-Excerpt from the feedback I left on the WWOOF website-
Tips for WWOOFers:
1) Work hard, be willing to learn and ASK if you aren’t sure of anything. It’s better to ask, than try to do something you aren’t sure of, because you might ruin their harvest with a small error that you thought wouldn’t matter!
2) Take time to talk to everyone and get to know them. WWOOFing isn’t just working for a place to stay, it’s also about a cultural exchange.
3) Help out where you can. Some days a pig might escape, some days you might need to get seeds planted before the rain. Don’t be so strict on how many hours you are working each day. Just embrace the experience and go with the flow! Some days you’ll work more, some days you’ll work less… that’s just life!
4) Have fun 😀 it helps to have a sense of humor and a quick wit to think of comebacks.