WWOOFing on a permaculture farm in Washington
After traveling 1,200 miles from California, I made it to my destination in Battle Ground, Washington. I had made arrangements with a permaculture farm to stay for a few weeks, and move to the next farm. This permaculture farm had goats, cows, turkeys, chickens, comfortable accommodations, goat cheese making, fermenting, beekeeping, and an appealing profile. I was very much looking forward to spending time there and learning, but was a bit disappointed by my experience there.
After being dropped off by Richard and Rina, who brought me from Los Angeles to Washington, I met with the next WWOOF host, Jacqueline. I was warmly greeted by Jacqueline and her dog Russo, and we headed to Trader Joe’s for some food shopping, then headed to the farm.
Going to the farm was a beautiful drive through the woods. Being it my first day in Washington, I was enjoying the landscape and scenery. Jacqueline explained to me what she and her husband Joseph do on the farm, the different animals, and about the surrounding area. She explained to me they had a lightning strike in the summertime, and were getting ready to remodel the house, so they moved into the barn – which was normally reserved for WWOOFers. For the first week or two, I was going to stay in the house, then during reconstruction, I would need to set up a tent outside, which I was okay with, as this was all explained to me before I came.
Once on the farm, I was taken on a tour, and met all the farm animals. Since I still didn’t have shoes to work in, I used a pair of rubber boots they had in the meantime. A few days later, they would drive me into town to buy a pair of shoes (which turned out to be inadequate for the work involved). I settled in the room, which was very comfortable. I had a private bathroom, and at night, had the whole house to myself – since they went to sleep in the barn. In the morning, the routine was to let out the turkeys, fill their water and feed, do the same for the chickens, and take care of the goats – which included milking the mama goat. I learned how to milk a goat, though it takes some time to get good at it. While milking, we gave the goat a bucket of grains to eat while standing on the homemade goat stanchion (a platform that the goat stands on with its neck locked so it doesn’t move). This task becomes a race to get all the milk before the goat finishes the grains, otherwise the goat starts moving its legs, either kicking the bucket or stepping in it, ruining the milk.
There were many miscellaneous chores and tasks to be done on the farm. This was also mentioned on their WWOOF profile, saying don’t be surprised to find them working into the night with flashlights, which is true. These two work hard! My first main task was to sharpen the scythe blade and a sickle blade, using a grinder. That was pretty fun since I had experience using a grinder. After that, I was taken out to the fields, and was instructed to cut all the overgrown grass that was in the vicinity of the electrical fence, since it could lead to brush fires. The fields were very big, and the grass to be cut seemed endless. Every swipe of the scythe would put a lot of hay, pollen, and allergens in the air, which would make my sinuses go crazy. This was my job for the remainder of the day, for the next few days. I did not like that at all, and felt like “free labor”. I did enjoy the peaceful surroundings, and also being able to listen to my podcasts. But every night, after working literally all day long, I was exhausted, congested, had itchy lungs and a wheezy breath. I started sleeping in later as my body seemed to need more rest. I didn’t have much time to myself after work, and the time I did have, I was tired and wanted to sleep.
In the evenings, another job we would do was to sort food they got from the health food store in town. They had a deal with the store that they would get the “day old” produce that would be otherwise thrown away. Most all of this was fed to the cows and chickens, but some of it was kept for us to eat. The weekend before I came, Joseph had butchered about 50 chickens. Since I eat chicken (and other meat), I wanted to learn how to butcher and prepare a chicken. I did watch some videos on YouTube, and am comfortable with it. I think this is important to be comfortable with if you eat meat. They had meat from their own chickens, and their own (grass-fed) cow.
After a few days, Joseph and I started another project to put together a shed. This was enjoyable, as I enjoy building things. It was also a great break from the very unpleasant grass cutting. After cutting grass for a few days, and having bad sinus allergies, I was ready to leave this farm and didn’t care to do anything else there. Only problem was I didn’t have another place to go to just yet, nor did I have a ride, nor did I really have time to look.
Something I really enjoyed doing was working with the Alpine goats. I walked the goats from their pen to their pasture down the road. We would stop by the apple tree, and they would eat the apples that had fallen on the ground. Goats have so much character, and can be a lot of fun to work with. I also enjoyed working with the chickens, which included collecting the eggs at night when we put them away in their coop. There were several different breeds of chickens, which laid eggs of many different colored shells. Some white, light brown, dark brown, blue, and green. I would bring in 3-6 eggs each night.
One thing I was very much looking forward to doing was beekeeping, cheese making, and learning about fermenting. When I was visiting the farm in Santa Barbara, they had a Fermentation Festival organized by the local Weston A. Price chapter, and I was looking forward to participating in that, but wasn’t able to make it there in time. At this farm, I was hoping to learn. Also, it turns out Jacqueline is a well known authority in the beekeeping world, having written a book about bees, been featured in beekeeping documentaries, in addition to many videos and articles. And Joseph is a head teacher for the equine natural movement. Unfortunately, I wasn’t exposed to any of that.
While I did learn many things on the farm, and enjoyed working with the animals, I was ready to end my trip on this farm and move on to the next one. I was able to contact a farm that was fairly close by, and find a ride on Craigslist. Jacqueline gave me a few snacks for the road, and dropped me off at a nearby burger stand. An interesting first week in Washington, and now on to the next place.