WWOOFing in Santa Barbara, California
After lots of thought, research, and preparation in setting off on backpacking around the world, I found a farm to visit in the beautiful town of Santa Barbara. This will be my first stop on my journey and my first WWOOFing experience.
This farm is a completely organic commercial farm of 40 acres that sells at local farmers markets and CSAs. I would be staying in the living quarters of their warehouse, which has a private section for WWOOFers, complete with refrigerator, stove, beds, and a bathroom with shower. I would help myself to food from the farm – all I can eat (music to my ears).
I’d be expected to work about 6 hours per day Monday through Friday with weekends off. I would also get a stipend each week, and hourly compensation for each hour I worked extra (added bonus as I was planning on volunteering my time). I’d be spending 3 weeks on this farm.
I checked the rideshare section on Craigslist and found someone heading from San Diego to Santa Barbara. In exchange for the ride, I offered him a strobe light I had lying around the house. I always enjoy a good barter exchange. We had a stimulating conversation about life, passion, traveling, and more. The 4 hour trip from Orange County passed by quickly.
So he dropped me off at the farm (which was actually located in Carpinteria – “Carp” as the locals say). In planning and communicating with the farmer, I found out there will be a fermentation festival hosted by the local Weston A. Price Foundation – which I’m a fan of – and very much wanted to learn about fermentation. This festival was taking place on Sunday morning, but sadly, I couldn’t find a ride until Sunday evening. I made it to the farm at 1am on Sunday, and planning on working at 7am Monday morning.
There was one other WWOOFer at the farm, who had been there for about two months, and was planning on staying another three months. In the morning, I was up and ready, introduced myself to the other WWOOFer, and we started with breakfast. He showed me around, and showed me where I can get some food from the warehouse (or out in the field).
Before coming to this farm, I had done a lot of research on farming, how to grow food, what to expect, and also had a lot of experience with organic food and farmer’s markets. I also had a good 12 years experience as an entrepreneur, doing many miscellaneous things, so I felt pretty confident and capable.
Tom (the farmer), and Katherine (his daughter), run the place. They have a few full-time Mexican employees, one of whom spoke English. This helped my Spanish come back because it had been a few years, and I was rusty, but it had been coming back. They guys were very nice, helpful, and patient. They would help me with my Spanish, and teach me about farming.
Work was set hours, starting at 7am, 30 minute break at 10am, 1 hour lunch at noon, and finish for the day at 2pm. That was a great schedule because I would wake up early to get a good start to the day, and finish early to have the rest of the day to myself. Plus the time would go by so quickly. Tom had a pretty good concept in that he would have the WWOOFers work on different projects throughout the day to learn the most. The first job I had there was stringing up tomato plants along the rows. This way, the vines grow up tall, and are easier to pick.
The farm grows everything I love to eat, and all organic: a few varieties of watermelon (including an heirloom variety called Sugar Baby – best watermelon I’ve ever had), Ambrosia cantaloupe, Persian cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, chard, kale and cauliflower and broccoli (in the winter time), carrots, lots and lots and lots and lots of Albion strawberries, heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, spinach, salad greens, red and yellow onions, zucchini, and lots more. On another plot of land at the Sedgwick, they had rows of amazingly delicious nectarines and peaches, apples, and plums (Green Gauge, and another variety). I was in heaven.
The work was light paced, no boss pressuring me about deadlines and more work, I was working outdoors in a beautiful setting with green hills and clear skies (though I was told later the weather is normally overcast, but I saw almost all clear skies). I had fresh air, my own space and time to do as I please, and an abundance of healthy food to eat. Life certainly was great! Often times, I would stand up and look around and think, “This is my life. This is so peaceful and great.” In fact, the second night I was there, I slept outside under the stars, and saw the milky way and several shooting stars.
I learned many things about farming – such as thinning strawberries, how to harvest different vegetables, and generally how food is grown. It was a great way to connect with the land, connect with the food I’m eating, and know how to provide for yourself. Many times while harvesting, I would snack as I go, which was great. One day, we got a shipment of ladybugs, and went out to put them in the strawberry and tomato fields to control the aphids and other small bugs. They felt weird having thousands of ladybugs crawl on your hand and arm. It was fun to sprinkle them along the rows though.
Tuesday was the farmer’s market in Carp. I had expressed a lot of interest in the farmer’s markets, so I tagged along to this one. It was a lot of fun, and I jumped in and helped. I must have done such a good job, that I was asked to help at the Thursday market in Santa Barbara, and run the Sunday market by myself in Goleta. I was also given some cash to buy a few items from other vendors if I wanted. Everyday felt like vacation, and even though I was “working”, I didn’t feel like I need a break; plus I love farmer’s markets! Though this may be more work, I enjoyed it very much.
The Carp market was all of 3 miles from the farm, and the stand was right in front of the laundromat. There was also a health food store across the street where I got some eco-friendly laundry soap and some ice cream (I’m a sucker for ice cream, though I still make sure I get a healthy brand – coconut milk, no soy, no dairy, all organic). The guy gave me a discount dice I worked at the farm, and all the other vendors give discounts too. It seems like I’m getting great deals all over the place!
Thursday, we loaded up the van and went to the farmer’s market. This was a pretty big market, and I helped at the stand. I was also given some extra cash to go spend at the other stand if I wanted to get some food. I saw my favorite raw milk vendor there (huge bonus!), and I got some of the famous Santa Barbara pistachios.
The Saturday market in Santa Barbara was a big one, and they had plenty help, so I would catch a ride and wonder on my own. I bought some local grass-fed beef (at a vendor discount), and stopped at the new REI for a hat and a mulitool. If I was hungry, I stopped by the stand and grabbed a snack.
Sunday, I got ready for the market. I loaded the van, and met Tom at the location in Goleta. He helped me set up, and wished me luck as he went off. Everyone came by recognizing the farm name, and bought a lot of food – plus I like to think I helped sell the food too. I gave a lot if free samples, and that helped. Especially with those nectarines; they were the tastiest ever! I mostly just sat, snacked, and chatted with the neighbor vendors.
We went to the Sedgwick farm about one day a week. This is where the fruit trees are. Tom has an employee working there who started as an apprentice a few years ago. We picked some nectarines, thinned the apple trees, and since the land there had a squirrel problem, and would eat all the fruit and kill the trees underground, we used smoke bombs in their underground tunnels to kill them. I remember when I went to Joshua Tree, the squirrels had taken over and been messing up the natural wildlife there. There was also a weird looking bright green spider on some of the nectarines.
I started making friends with a lot of the other vendors and locals. We would char and hang out, and talk about world traveling. One day after work, I went with the other WWOOFer to Rincon Point – a local spot at the beach known for great surf. I’ve never surfed before, and since there was a beginner board at the farm for WWOOFers to use, I tried that out. When we got to the beach, I just went out in the water, did what I thought was right, watched what the other surfers did, and waited for a wave. I finally caught one, and mostly rode it on my knees, since I forgot to stand up as I was so excited about actually catching a wave. After that, I laid on the beach and took a nap.
Sometime in my second week on the farm, three more WWOOFers came by. They were all friends visiting America from England. Fun bunch of guys, we had a lot of good laughs. Having other Wwoofers around really made it more of an enjoyable time, since we’re all travelers and share WWOOFing in common. Sam, one of the new WWOOFers, we’d go for walks around the farm, and I would join him. He was very interested in learning about health and fitness, and talking about his passions. I always enjoy when people are connected wth their passions. One great thing about making friends with international travelers is that you have a local friends when visiting that country.
After about two weeks, I planned on heading down to Orange County, but couldn’t seem to find a ride on Craigslist. I ended up staying an extra week, until I found a ride with two girls from Oregon who decided to travel around and live in their van, which they turned into a fairly comfortable home.
I had an amazing time at this farm, and after saying goodbye several times (not knowing if I would find a ride that day), I was welcomed back anytime. So far, off to a great start. I’m loving this WWOOFing experience, as it significantly helps traveling, food, shelter, and great work experience and knowledge.
**UPDATE** As of January 2013, Shepherd Farms has gone under new ownership, and the WWOOF program has been canceled, and no longer provides education in organic farming.