Wwoofing and crofting for knowledge and skills

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Bluejoy

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A search hasn't shown up any previous threads on this, so here seems the appropriate place to sing the praises of these activities in helping to get to grips with prepping. I just realised how long this is, and I suspect that many/most of you will be familiar with these things already, but I hope folk find it interesting.

I grew up in a small northern Scottish town with a very handy Dad who taught me basic fishing, shooting (.22 and shotgun), how to hammer a nail and saw a straight cut. After living in Manchester, UK, for 26 years, six of them working an allotment garden, I was still a dab hand at DIY and veg/fruit growing but there's no fishing or hunting in the city and I had no experience with livestock, off-grid energy, construction, etc.

A few years ago, I volunteered on an 8 acre croft on the Isle of Rum. A stunning location, a massive lunch and all the tea and biscuits I could scoff in exchange for working with pigs, hens, ducks, geese, turkeys; solar and wind turbines; water straight from the burn at the top of the croft. Since then, I've looked after the croft solo several times, learning a huge amount, becoming an honorary islander and pushing my abilities and character in dealing with deer ticks and fearsome biting midges, dead pigs and ailing ducks, an experimental and very temperamental wind turbine design, chipping the ice off the inside of the windows, using a generator for the first time, gales tearing polytunnels apart, unblocking water pipes and much more. It's been brilliant.

My first Rum trip got me interested in seeing different set-ups. I joined WWOOF and got placements with a few hosts in England, giving my labour in exchange for skills, knowledge, bed and board.

What a mixed bunch of lovelies and lunatics! My various hosts introduced me to serious polytunnel growing (avocadoes in East Anglia is no mean feat), permaculture, sauerkraut (that wonderful dish), house-building, cows, medical herbalism, market-gardening, farm-to-shop processes, more in-depth food preservation (drying, bottling, pickling), wine and cider making, and much besides. One couple looked after me when I unexpectedly broke a rib, letting me stay on to caretake their smallholding while they travelled to see relatives. They also canoed me to the local pub, built in the 1560s and licensed in the 1600s, where we drank and sang by candlelight.

Some of the most important stuff I learned was how not to do things, including:
  • don't pick (or get your wwoofer to pick!) two big tubs of nettle tops for pesto and then let them rot;
  • don't start new ventures when you're recovering from very serious illness and also dealing with legal action;
  • don't spend three years struggling up a steep hill with sacks of feed and only then think of constructing a decent path;
  • don't keep more hens than you can manage.
Overall, it was a brilliant way to learn. I could have kept going and covered beekeeping, livestock slaughter and butchering, beer brewing, hunting, fishing, etc., with other hosts, but I had a degree to finish. Now I'm in the process of heading off for my own big garden, hens, solar panels and so on.

If you lack experience and want it, fancy meeting new people and ideas, and perhaps making some great friends, then I heartily recommend wwoofing and similar activities.

ETA: by god, sorry for all the typo-editing!
 
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Bluejoy

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pfffffffffffffffft...........I don't do free labor
Hosts pay for the work by giving lodging, meals and training. It would have cost me much more to buy that training and experience and to arrange those wonderful locations for my days off. It was worth every minute of my labour several times over, especially as the labour itself brought me such pleasure, and certainly none of my wage-paying employers ever fed and housed me, gave me practical skills and knowledge that will last me a lifetime or canoed me out on the river for pints and singsongs :D

Each to their own, though.

I quite often do unwaged work. Just finished helping a friend with a load of house maintenance and decoration. I've put up sheds and other structures on my allotment site and pushed cars for people who've broken down. I had a lovely time at a nature reserve, chatting with a ranger about his work and helping him to unload his van while I waited for a squall to pass before heading off on my bike. For me, it lightens the world a bit, encourages beneficial reciprocation and helps to keep my soul in trim.
 
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Bluejoy

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Wwoofing and crofting are in the forums, though we usually call it organic farming and renting or leasing land in many areas of the country, we have many small patch of acreage with home on em for rent and lease for the sole purpose of farming and/or ranching.
Ah, I should have checked for the different terminology!

I bet there's a fascinating variety in the practices and philosophies. Is there much scope for visiting these places and doing an exchange of labour for skills, bed and board?
 

Bluejoy

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That really sounds like a great way to learn the skills first hand. Much better than just reading a book.
All the difference in the world, and you really start to get a hands-on idea of what you do and don't fancy trying on your own place. It was a real eye-opener.

I don't know your circumstances, but if you're interested in having a go then take a look at the WWOOF website.
 
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Danil54grl

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I had never heard of the WWOOF program, but I have heard of labour in exchange for board. Had I taken a different path in life, it would have been something I would have considered in my younger years, but instead had a family at a young age and jumped into the farm life with both feet and learned as I went.
 

brandx

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Hosts pay for the work by giving lodging, meals and training. It would have cost me much more to buy that training and experience and to arrange those wonderful locations for my days off. It was worth every minute of my labour several times over, especially as the labour itself brought me such pleasure, and certainly none of my wage-paying employers ever fed and housed me, gave me practical skills and knowledge that will last me a lifetime or canoed me out on the river for pints and singsongs :D

Each to their own, though.

I quite often do unwaged work. Just finished helping a friend with a load of house maintenance and decoration. I've put up sheds and other structures on my allotment site and pushed cars for people who've broken down. I had a lovely time at a nature reserve, chatting with a ranger about his work and helping him to unload his van while I waited for a squall to pass before heading off on my bike. For me, it lightens the world a bit, encourages beneficial reciprocation and helps to keep my soul in trim.
It's like being an apprentice or doing an internship. You gain knowledge and skills and they get labor. It is a barter.
 

brandx

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Ah, I should have checked for the different terminology!

I bet there's a fascinating variety in the practices and philosophies. Is there much scope for visiting these places and doing an exchange of labour for skills, bed and board?
If I ever was to get a horse, I would stay at my cousins and take care of their horses and have them teach me some things. They are barrel riders and compete.
 

Bluejoy

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If I ever was to get a horse, I would stay at my cousins and take care of their horses and have them teach me some things. They are barrel riders and compete.
Oops, misread your first line as, 'If I ever was a horse...'!

There are stables in the area where I plan to resettle, and riding is definitely on my To Learn list. Haven't ridden since I was a kid.
 

brandx

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Oops, misread your first line as, 'If I ever was a horse...'!

There are stables in the area where I plan to resettle, and riding is definitely on my To Learn list. Haven't ridden since I was a kid.
That reminded me of what a friend told me about their grandfather when they were a kid he would start out a story by saying, "back when I was a little pig", etc.
 

Danil54grl

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It's been years since I have really gotten to ride horse. When I was a kid we would go visit my uncle's ranch up in Colorado and that was one of my favorite past times. . . . He had a couple thousand acres and we would just ride most all day exploring. Aww that brings back some good memories.
 

Bluejoy

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I had never heard of the WWOOF program, but I have heard of labour in exchange for board. Had I taken a different path in life, it would have been something I would have considered in my younger years, but instead had a family at a young age and jumped into the farm life with both feet and learned as I went.
Sorry, Danil54grl, I didn't spot this earlier.

Sounds like you got the 'in at the deep end' version! I really wish I'd done it in my younger years, but at least things are moving now.

It's been years since I have really gotten to ride horse. When I was a kid we would go visit my uncle's ranch up in Colorado and that was one of my favorite past times. . . . He had a couple thousand acres and we would just ride most all day exploring. Aww that brings back some good memories.
Fantastic!
 

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