Less than willing woofers


In which the ww part of wwoof is not always obvious
Issue #57  September/October 2014

Spring’s arrival in our valley is heralded by explosions of blossom froth on fruit trees, shining cuckoos whistling through the bush, a million self-seeded foxgloves rising from the land and a steady trickle of wwoofing (willing workers on organic farms) applications. Migrating south to warmer climes, the (mostly) young internationals email, hoping to come and work on our land in exchange for board. Even though most of our 16 hectares is native forest, ours is a lifestyle accompanied by an ever expanding catalogue of projects, chores and fantasized schemes and extra labour is an exciting proposition.

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However, various encounters have taught us to be discerning when taking unknowns into our off-grid home. Not every backpacker is cut out for a stay in our rumpty caravan and while some thrive in the outdoor experience there have been a couple of individuals so thoroughly mismatched to our existence that we’ve delivered them back to SH10 long before their planned departure.
Antoine was such a man. Arriving freshly manicured with a suitcase of formal-dress clothes, he looked about him in horror as we welcomed him. “But you live in the nowhere!” he cried. “And you ,ave the nothing.” Having ascertained that his idea of nature was a walk in the park and he didn’t like to get his hands dirty, we agreed all parties would be happier bidding each other au revoir and traded him in for Robert.
Robert was, according to his email, a Scotsman with a penchant for permaculture who hoped to glean some building skills. As we were planning to build a pizza oven and five more raised vegetable beds, it seemed like a perfect fit. While some around us have whipped up a pizza oven in an afternoon, using little more than sand and a pile of clay, we’d spent three years cooking solely on gas rings and hankered for the sort of oven in which to bake bread, prepare roasts and create overnight stews slow-cooked to perfection. It was to be an oven of deluxe proportions, James told Robert, gesturing at the piles of fire bricks, insulating materials, wooden forms and other accumulated materials.
Yet despite his apparent enthusiasm for the project, Robert, we discovered, wasn’t exactly revving to get started. He kept “gentleman’s hours”, emerging around 10.30 each morning with an exaggerated stretch and yawn before settling down with a cigarette, a coffee and my phone. There were problems with the missus, he explained, logging onto Facebook. “She thinks I’m having it off with some bird, stupid cow.” He shook his head bitterly, gesturing at the quiet hills around us. “If only she knew. No offence but this is like some flaming detox retreat, innit?”
As he gradually adjusted to our lack of human nightlife he became fitter and more adept on the end of a shovel. Slowly the new raised beds and pizza oven took shape. We celebrated their completion and Robert’s impending departure with a grand feast of everything we could think to bake. The oven worked a treat. And then Robert, too, was dropped on the edge of the highway and we brought home a new wwoofer – an American baker who’d promised to initiate us into the world of sourdough bread.
While James grappled with the sensitivities of wild-yeast cultivation, I planted out the new vegetable beds and fumed of a morning to discover entire seedlings vanished overnight. War was declared. My inner Buddhist, who once whispered apologies to any bug accidently squashed, watched aghast as James and I ventured out every evening, headlamps blazing, to compete for the highest tally of stomped slugs and snails.

In the next post, Polly looks at what’s involved in raising a bush baby.

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.

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