My WWOOF UK Experience: Proving Myself as a Female Farm Hand
I have traveled a long way to learn. And there is no way that I would let being a woman traveling alone stop me from experiencing the adventure and lessons in store for me.
I wanted to learn about farming so I researched worldwide volunteer opportunities and found the organization WWOOF International.
WWOOF is an organization where farms advertise the need for voluntary work and prospective volunteers sign up for the opportunities posted. The work is unpaid but volunteers typically work 25 to 30 hours a week for free room and board.
I signed up for a WWOOF UK placement in Dorset, England. Once I started working on the farm I noticed that most of the other volunteers were men. I thought that this might be an issue since in some places men do not think that women can handle physically laborious tasks. And for me that would not work since I was there to learn and wanted to make sure that I had the opportunity and put forth my best effort in learning about all phases of farming. I didn’t want to get stuck doing volunteer work in the house or light work outside. I actually wanted to learn how to operate machinery.
Sir Richard Glyn, owner of Gaunts House, and descendant of King Edward III, invited me to tea and a chat. There is a machine called an Anaerobic Digester (a machine that uses natural bacteria to break down biological matter and burns it to create power) and that is what I had my sights set on learning to operate. I knew I needed to take initiative and ask for what I wanted. Sometimes as women we do not ask for what we want and expect others to instinctively know what we want. If we want equality in work or volunteer situations we need to be prepared to articulate what it is we want to do and learn.
My wish was accommodated and I have been doing various tasks on the farm as well as driving the riding mower. It is not the Anaerobic Digester but it is a start. The other male workers seem to view me as an equal and do not intervene when I am trying to complete a task. If I ask for help they will help. However, no one will try to step in and assume that I cannot do it and take over. I believe a lot of this has to do with the way I carry myself as a capable woman who wants to try things on my own. The men who I work with are very receptive to that and respect it. I believe that in some cases, we control how others perceive us. You cannot go wrong with exuding confidence.
My goal is to prove myself as a capable farm hand so that I get the chance to operate the machinery. I want to drive the tractors and operate the Anaerobic Digester. I realize I must pay my dues and start out from the bottom before that can happen though.
In the meantime, the people that cross my path and the events that unfold during the day all seem to be designed to help me gain some kind of insight or ‘truth’ for the day.
On one particular day, I was handed a garden hoe to break up weeds around the garden. Breaking up weeds with a garden hoe is a monotonous task. However, instead of allowing boredom to set in, I started to really look at the plants and flowers that I was saving from weed infestation. I looked at them as if they were someone who I loved, and needed to care for and protect.
Once I felt a sense of attachment for the plants and flowers and truly cared about their well-being and whether they lived or wilted and died, I broke the weeds up with a vengeance to the core of their roots. A couple of hours later I walked through the enormous garden and looked at my work. I felt a sense of accomplishment and happiness in knowing that my efforts would help the plants and flowers live and flourish.
As you can see there are many things to be learned from working on a farm. There are lessons I gained from the tasks, as well as from nature, from the people I work with and because I came with an open mind. Inspiration can be found anywhere and everywhere.