WWOOFing on a Pumpkin Patch in Washington
After cutting my trip short on the last farm, I was ready to move to the next farm. I contacted a farm that was fairly close by and was invited to come by. Their profile on the WWOOF website said they have a large farm with many varieties of organic vegetables, fruit trees, and pumpkins, comfortable accommodations, they will teach about farming, and it had positive reviews. Sounds good to me. I checked the rideshare section on Craigslist, and found someone who would give me a ride 30 miles north to Longview. The girl giving me a ride was also giving a ride to another ridesharer, who was an activist in the tree farming and paper industry, which sounded interesting because it’s hard not to notice all the tree farming and lumber mills in Washington.
I didn’t wait long before being picked up by Ruth, my next WWOOF host. I introduced myself, and we had a nice talk on the way to the farm. She mentioned that she works for a local company to help supplement some income for the farm – something I notice many farmers do. I was taken through the scenic route, and shown around the area, which was beautiful. The more I go into Washington, the more beautiful it gets.
This farm is on an island in the Columbia River, which acts as part of the border for Washington and Oregon, as well as a path for ships to transport cargo. The island itself is fairly small, peaceful, and beautiful. There are clear view to the distance, and far enough from the city lights to enjoy the stars in the night sky.
Once we got to the farm, I was shown to my new home for the next few weeks – a private cabin/house with a full bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, living room, and laundry downstairs. Very comfortable accommodations! Ruth said she was expecting more WWOOFers (a guy and his girlfriend) in the next week, but it turned out they flaked on her.
I met Michael, Ruth’s husband who was the main farmer, along with Rachel, one of their two daughters. Michael and Rachel took me on a tour around the 29 acre farm, showing me all the fruit trees, vegetable fields, pumpkin patch, and various ditches. I appreciated the diversity of their farm. They explained to me that during the month of October, they have a U-Pick pumpkin patch, hay ride, and petting zoo. So for the month of September, there would be a lot of preparation for that. Then we met the donkey, who came to see what all the excitement was about, and their pet opossum. I also met all the various kittens and puppies, some of which weren’t actually kittens and puppies, but full grown (tiny) cats and dogs. I would frequently see one of the cats bringing in voles she killed in the field back to her litter of kittens.
My first day of work, Michael and I drove about 35 miles northeast past Silverlake and Castle Rock to meet a guy about some hay. The ironic thing is, I left the last farm because I had trouble breathing in all that hay, and I didn’t quite feel comfortable working there. The drive there was beautiful, with a clear view of Mt. St. Helens – the famous volcano that erupted in 1980.
Michael needed this hay for the hay rides and the pumpkin patch, so we made two trips, of 70 miles each trip, carrying 160 freshly baled bales of hay. Immediately upon meeting and working with Michael, I liked him. He had such a genuine and sincere character, and I wanted to help him out as much as I could, and I could tell he was a bit overwhelmed with work, and very much appreciated the extra help I had to offer. While loading up all the hay, my nose was running, lungs were itchy, and I kept sneezing. But it would only be for that day.
Over the next two days, Michael and I set up the greenhouse with the hay bales, harvested tomatoes, peppers, plums, and prepared for the CSA. On Thursday, Michael invited me to go to a farm/animal auction to buy some young animals for October’s petting zoo. I’ve never been to an animal auction, and was up for the adventure. We drove down to Woodland, and I got my video camera ready. We went into the auction and sat down, I was filming the auction on my cell phone mounted to a stick, not very discrete, but good for steady shots. The auction itself looked like an underground cock-fighting ring, which made me understand why the guys stopped the auction, turned to me, and told me there is no recording allowed. Oops. I wasn’t trying to expose them to any sort of authority, just documenting my experiences, but I suppose they wanted to take some precautions.
At the auction, we bought one turkey, two bunny rabbits, two chickens (one of which turned out to be aggressive and started fights with other chickens and the turkey we bought), and two very cute young goats. Later while we waited in line to pay, the former owners of the goats came to us and told us how well they took care of their goats, and gave us a leash they used. When we went to pick up the goats, someone had swapped the numbers on one of the cute goats we bought, giving us another goat that was scared and not as cute.
On Saturday, we went to the Longview farmers market, which I love farmers markets! This one was a bit small, but I believe we were the only organic vendor there. Rachel and I went to the local health food store for a few necessary supplies (kombucha, Coconut Bliss ice cream, and almond butter). Of course, the people at the store recognized I was the new WWOOFer and asked if I was the guy asking about grass-fed beef, but they didn’t have any.
Back on the farm, Michael and I did some more harvesting, and I learned a lot. Michael has a wealth of information and knowledge about many topics. We had many interesting and stimulating conversations. With respect to farming, he told me about all the many varieties of tomatoes he’s experimented with, and had about 20 varieties growing at the time. They were all so delicious; juicy and flavorful. He also helped me save some seeds from a few of my favorite varieties. In fact, his peppers were amazing – juicy, flavorful, and crispy. He had a few varieties of plums – Greengage, Damson, Brooks, and my favorite – Sweet Petite. One of the best things about being an organic farmer, and a WWOOFer, is being able to pick vegetables and fruit fresh from the field. The quality and freshness of the food is the best, it can’t get more local than that, and the joy from eating food you helped grow is very healthy and therapeutic.
Later in the week, Michael was asked to help a fellow farmer castrate three piglets. Like I said, Michael has a lot of knowledge and experience, and was very capable of castrating the pigs – not for the faint of heart. This farm was up in the mountains, about 2,000ft elevation, and had a beautiful view. When we arrived, we were greeted by Zeus, part Pyrenees, part Anatolian Shepherd – each of which are known to be enormous dogs. And Zeus was just that – enormous! He was very friendly, came up and greeted us, passed under my legs almost knocking me over, wanting to be pet. When I wanted to take a picture with him, all of a sudden he became camera shy. Compare Zeus’ size to me – I’m 6’1″.
Back on the farm, I’ve been going on runs on the road enjoying the solitude of the island. I also went for a canoe ride in the river, which was a lot of fun. There’s a half-sunken ship about a mile up river, where Rachel and I explore. I was told some WWOOFers canoe over to one of the nearby islands where there are a lot of trails, and camp out there for a night. That sounded like a lot of fun, but I never did that. A few nights, I would wake up around 4am, and go outside for a brief walk and enjoy the night sky. During the new moon, the night sky was so dark and full of stars, I could see the Milky Way.
I don’t know if it was my luck or what, but the adventure continued. Michael had another farmer friend who had a 4-day old calf for Michael to pick up for his petting zoo. The farm we went to was one of many dairy farms for Horizon Organic Milk. We brought the 4-day old calf back to the farm, and bottle-fed it. It was a very friendly calf.
Again, as the adventure and my luck continued, Michael decided to go to the Sunday Market in Astoria. during my trip to Washington, I had hoped to go to Astoria, Oregon so I could see the Goonie house – one of my favorite movies growing up. The market itself was a lot of fun, and very big. Michael was also very kind to take me sightseeing around Astoria, and we visited a friend of his for lunch at her restaurant. (Read more about my trip to Astoria here).
With my visit to the incredibly educational, and most certainly fun experience on this beautiful farm, it was nearing time to go to the next farm. I had made arrangements with a farm in north Washington that was an organic tree farm. I saw this farm profile on the WWOOF website, and thought that would be an amazing experience – how often does one get to work on a tree farm?? So I was set to go.
Michael dropped me off at the Kelso/Longview train station (since I had a difficult time finding a ride on Craigslist – I guess it doesn’t always work out). He gave me some food to enjoy for the next few days, as well as a most surprising bonus of some travel money, which is very helpful! I felt like I was saying goodbye to a good friend, I really enjoyed Michael’s friendship and the adventures we had. I told him about my plans to visit central and south America, and he recommended a farm in Belize (he spoke so highly of Belize, I’m looking forward to visiting that country).
For more information on this farm, contact:
Willow Grove Gardens
WWOOF Profile Page – http://www.wwoofusa.org/Profile?UserId=3efcf8c6-c878-4567-8df7-9d1ce68e36c0