Thursday, May 31, 2012


(The Hoop House)

I've got a back log a mile long of 30 before 30 posts to deliver to you, so I'll start with the least recent...WWOOF-ing #28.

WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It's pretty much as it sounds-you have the opportunity to volunteer on an organic farm...anywhere in the world. This is a win win for both parties-small organic farmers get free labor and the chance to spread the word about organic farming, and volunteers have the opportunity to learn about organic farming in all its blood, sweat and tears glory and get a tasty lunch, or free accommodations if you stay multiple days.

I decided to try it out one unseasonably warm Saturday in April at a local organic family farm about an hour's drive from Chicago. I put on my most serious organic farming clothes (Lululemon cargo pants and a t-shirt with the word "Brentwood"(California) on it) that said "I'm ready to get dirty, but I'm going to look stylin' and privileged while doing it." I also thought ahead about my hydration needs and brought a water bottle from the Food Allergy Initiative benefit I volunteered at because I want the world to know that while children are starving in Africa, there are children on the North Shore of Chicago that needed a word for "picky". I kid, I kid. allergies are really scary.

Once I had my nonchalant look together, I rolled into my host farm and set about locating my host farmer. For the purposes of this post, I will call him Jack...okay, I just forgot his name. Jack gave me a rundown of the farm and what had led him to organic farming. His interest started with a desire to bring native grasses back to the area and has evolved into the breeding and selling of fainting goats, turkeys, fryer chickens, laying chickens, rabbits (for pets and meat), ducks and a delicious assortment of organic vegetables. Along with the help of Campbell the farm dog, we moved mobile chicken and turkey houses to fresh pasture; hence the name "pasture raised", collected eggs, refilled everyone's water (they don't have cool water bottles for turkeys), and planted row upon row of radishes.

You might be wondering what fainting goats are...don't worry, I never intended to gloss over these ridiculous animals. Besides being incredibly cute, they have the worst natural instincts of any animal I know of. When they feel scared, threatened or anxious, their back legs freeze up, and they fall over. Fight or flight? How about f**ked? (Sorry for the language Dad) I mean, damn goat, get your act together.

My experience with radish planting was both a learning experience and also richly rewarding. Radish seedlings come in pallets divided into cells, and you want to make sure you're only planting the largest seedling per planting hole. This means you pull the smaller little seedlings out to give the large seedling the best chance at thriving without competition (the fainting goats and radishes need to have a talk about their survival tactics). What are those seedlings and where do they go? Those are the micro greens that you see on finer restaurant menus and which ended up in my salad for lunch. Delicious!

As for the company? I had a lovely French gal along side me during the chicken watering and radish planting, who had been there about two weeks, and who'd come from an organic farm in Canada and was on her way to a goat cheese farm in the south after her stint here. She was basically earning her keep and moving from farm to farm across Canada and the United States and waiting out the bad economy back home. I loved her.

Was it worth my time? Would I do it again? Absolutely. And you should too. Sign up at for more information on how to get involved. Knowing where your food comes from and how it's produced is an invaluable experience. Thoughtful consumption connects us to our community-both local and international.

Here's a photo of my organic helper, Campbell.


Tyler said...

brilliant as usual.

Tyler said...

brilliant as usual. loved the fainting goats.