We want to be cost-neutral, both for the day to day living but also my house. Hopefully his would bring in some monthly income. We would need to earn enough to cover food and board and use our ‘pot’ for travel between places. The alternative to that would be to live for free or in other words, earn our subsistence.
There is an organisation called WWOOF which may be able to support this aim. In the mid-1980s I was involved when it was called ‘Working Weekends on Organic Farms’. This association is exactly what the title suggests; you would work for the weekend on an organic farm, hopefully Soil Association approved but not all managed that. In return you were provided with a bed for Friday and Saturday night and all the meals whilst you were there. I had some very interesting experiences, and some less so. Picking up shards of broken glass from a derelict ex-commercial greenhouse on a bleak hillside near Haworth Moor on my own in the cold was not much fun. Taking the goats for a walk, on leads, to the park in the middle of a Merseyside suburb was very entertaining. I kept waiting for Margo and Jerry to come round a corner at any moment viewing us with an air of incomprehensible distain.
I also had the opportunity to milk sheep as well as goats but have never actually milked a cow. The work was not always particularly physical but as I was considerably younger then I may not concur now. We would be outdoors almost all day and my abiding recollection is of fairly poor weather, perhaps I only participated in the winter months but I don’t actually recollect. However, without doubt it would be preferable in warmer weather.
My friend has a small holding in the Yorkshire Dales and we often go and help out, especially around lambing time, due again in 6-7 weeks. We have helped them renovate their dilapidated house and barn into a beautiful cottage and converted barn whilst assisting with a various number of ewes, hens and ducks. We have babysat the place with a field full of pregnant ewes in the midst of winter and it was fabulous to return to the wood burning stove, outside or in the new barn were perishing cold despite any warmth generated from chopping beet with a shovel in an old car boot liner. We are under no illusion about how hard that can be in our climate when you still have a responsibility for the livestock regardless of the weather.
I have developed a vegetable patch in a section of my neighbour’s land which is fortunately opposite my front door. I had to ascertain whether they would let me rent the patch before I put in the offer on the house. Fortunately they were happy to as they had a lot of land and this particular area was somewhat neglected. It had contained a pond and ducks which would have been lovely but are long-gone however, their fertile heritage remains. I would have preferred animals but that wasn’t an option so now I just have nuisance cats and several hungry field mice. I had never grown vegetables before so studied Alan Titchmarsh’s book avidly. It has proved quite productive and some therapy for an elderly neighbour who moved into his property to reduce the garden maintenance but obviously misses it. Whenever I’m working out there he pops up with the correct tool for the job I’m struggling with which makes life so much easier. He doesn’t say much, being a Yorkshireman and really doesn’t understand why anyone would want to grow black mangetout or purple carrots.
In conjunction with the vegetables I have also produced a reasonable amount of fruit as I do prefer that over vegetables; strawberries, blackberries, rhubarb, raspberries, gooseberries and plums. Besides having lots of lovely snacks and fresh fruit on my cornflakes I have made jams, jellies, chutneys and blackberry liqueur. As there seems to be a bit of a production line going on I was also provided with other’s excess cooking apples which enhanced the jams and chutneys and also some damsons which are symbiotic with gin – so I’m told – its still maturing. Would this productivity be something that could be converted to cash by advice and experience or even produce? Who knows but I’m glad I’ve learnt some new skills.
I googled WWOOFing to find that it is alive and kicking as Worldwide Working on Organic Farms and is an international organisation with many countries having their own national association. I couldn’t believe how extensive and varied it had become. This could be a real potential opportunity. Whilst food and board would be included we do appreciate that there would be some other costs for which we would require cash; toiletries, replacement clothes, funds for down time, travel for days off and treats. Would it be acceptable to check-in to a comfortable hotel for a couple of nights between placements? Would it be essential? Would it provoke the same askance look I received when checking-in to a rather nice hotel with my 15 year old son after disembarking in Warsash from a week as crew on a 50ft Bristol cutter, culminating in an overnight sail across the English Channel in a force 8 gale having not looked in a mirror all week and severely neglected my hair and skin?
WWOOF certainly has potential, albeit not entirely cash neutral and requiring internet connections to arrange progression to the next venue but is something that could be quite perfect in every other respect, an orchid farm in Hawaii or a self-sufficient craft centre in Thailand. There really could be something for everyone with an outdoor and agricultural interest.