Once again: I am late to the party. We left off around the end of January. We took our time driving through some beautiful farmland in Southern California before we came upon sleepy Hemet. Hemet is where Nick’s grandparents live and had some space for us to stretch out in. We did some odd jobs for cash: it’s amazing what you can find on craigslist! After some saving, we bought ourselves a solar panel for the van. It was pretty clear that if we took our time moving around, we would only be charging the deep cycle battery partially, making it difficult to run the laptop or even a small light for very long. So Moby got an upgrade! Once we were rested and ready, I began searching for WWOOFing opportunities in SoCal. WWOOF is WorldWide Opportunites on Organic Farms. The premise is: you volunteer to work for a farm and in return are given a place to sleep, food to eat and all the knowledge you could desire about how that farm functions. This fits in with my ideals in life as I know Nick and I would love to be self sufficient in the next life.
The first I found was called “Morning Star” and they invited us to dinner before any commitment, stating that: “We are a very religious farm and some people find that it’s too much”. We went to a Saturday night dinner with them, knowing only that. We found out that they are a Twelve Tribes of Ham group. They teach there children on property and build their own structures, as well as farming. They do some commercial business and farmers markets and even sell their semi-famous “green drink” at the Coachella music festival (which Nick and I tried to work: but that’s neither here nor there). The evening was spend singing and dancing to traditional Israeli music and I’d be lying if I said my heart didn’t swell. It was neat to be surrounded by such community. We decided that we could not, in fact, pray 3 times a day and that we’d continue searching for a farm.
Finally I heard from a farm in Valley Center called “Paradise Green”. This was an older avocado farm about an hour outside of San Diego and they wanted us for a month. I jumped on the opportunity to sign us up!
view of the young orchard, looking down the hill.
I think I’ve been delaying this post, because there’s no good way to sum it up. Luckily when we arrived, there was another WWOOFER there: Doug. Doug was easily the best part of the experience. Doug had similarly *if not more seriously* packed up his former life and come out to SoCal. While on the farm he built himself a bike and a good sized trailer and left us about 2 weeks in for another farm. I found his pedaling very inspirational and it’s given me a new dream to live on my bike for awhile in life. Doug basically showed us “the ropes” as it were. Later we discovered those ropes would be better put to use strangling ourselves ;)
The Farmer and his wife were in a water battle with the state. WIth the hilly nature of inland Southern California, it’s very difficult to get adequate water to the avocados. We were surrounded by about 5 other farms dedicated to farming avocados. Our farmer, since he was really only interested in feeding his family, had begun tearing out most of his avocado trees in favor of diversity. He truly specialized in exotic fruit. Chirimoyas, sapotas, pitahayas, guavas, and pomegranates just to name a few. Chirimoyas taste like creme brulee or icecream and sapotas are amazing. He also had macadamia trees, plenty of citrus and still a large avocado selection, as well as a small vineyard and 30 or so fruit trees (apples, peaches, lemons, etc) in his young orchard. This all sounds so wonderful in type: I will hate to burst your bubble later.
We were usually up and working by 7 a.m. to take care of the fowl. The farm had 10 muscovy ducks (in Florida I called these “Turkey Ducks” they have a rough red skin around their eyes that reminds me of a Turkey!), a goose and a gander, 3 hens with 12 babies and a rooster and 6 domestic ducks. We would let them out to roam the entire farm (4.75 acres) freely, clean their pens and date the eggs. In our time there the goose laid 20 eggs! We didn’t get to see any hatched eggs which is my only regret about leaving when we did. Visually, my favorite were the geese. They were American Buffs and quite a pair. Personality wise, I dug the domestic ducks, though the Muscovy ducks are much quieter. They almost purr like a cat. Logistically: chickens are the way to go if you’re looking to farm. One of my favorite tasks was weeding the garden and throwing the snails and slugs to the ducks. They LOVE them.
^ Aggressive geese because they are broody. Both the gander and the goose will be exceptionally protective when preparing and starting a family.
^Marking eggs and washing them to ensure we only ate what they weren’t sitting on daily.
In our time there, we laid quite a bit of watering and sprinkling pipes and all the labor that goes with it (trench digging, gluing and fitting pipe, etc). The watering system here left something to be desired. The farmer’s wife had even told us early on “It’s a constant battle between being conservative with water and not starving our crop” and I can believe it. They had confided in us that some summer months their water bill can reach $8,000 a month! Most watering (yes, even of large and mature trees) was done by hand because of poorly laid out and poorly maintained water systems. I’m on a mission to learn from every experience and as Norm says “everyone is an example: it just depends on what kind of example”. I learned about how differently I would do things on my farm. We watched the baby chickens start to die off from Merack’s disease, something easily preventable with a vaccine within 24 hours of hatching. I know that the idea of organic and vaccination don’t always travel together. My stance is: if you RELY on the chickens for food supply, you ought to get the vaccine. Nick buried 16 chicks at the hands of disease and poor planning. We also helped terrace the vegetable garden, weed the vegetable garden and the pitihaya (dragonfruit) patch, and pick fruit daily. There were also less organic practices of “gophering”. The task we did most was weed whip. If I never see a weed whip in my life again: I can die a happy woman. Since the farm was on such a steep hill, this was really the only way to “mow” and it became important as tall grass went to seed, so as to keep their dog safe.
Fuzzy, the beautiful Samoyed dog, was the best part of my day to day there. He followed us around, mostly got in the way (since he wanted to LAY in the cool dirt you were digging up!) and found rip avocados on the orchard floor before I ever had a hope of finding them.
Accommodations were two meals a day cooked by the farmer’s wife (and I have to admit, she was a great cook with mostly supplies from their land!) and breakfast we made for ourselves since they were rarely awake by then. We were also expected to sleep in a shipping container. I would usually get down on this idea, except for the high grade lock on the OUTSIDE of “the box”, as it was called. So we chose to sleep in the van; this gave me new found love of Moby as our sanctuary. For the remaining 2 weeks without Doug we were the only WWOOFers there. I also know, many of you are wondering about gnomie. We left him on the farm to greet future WWOOFers.
^ Gnomie, safe inside “the box” which could comfortably sleep 4-5 people at once with a cold water only bathroom.
When we arrived there, the farmer’s mother-in-law was staying with them because she was passing away. Nothing too sad about it really, she was 97 and had lived a great life. The farmer’s wife had wanted her there for her final days. The farmer was terribly insensitive to this and it was evident by all. He had maniacal work tendencies, mostly when it came to working with power tools or fire. I can’t tell you how many times we felt unsafe working near him. He spent about half of his days teaching himself to weld while Nick and I worked alone and his wife stayed with her mother. Dinner was often the most time in a day we would spend with the farmer and he could be classified as a Tea Party member. He didn’t grasp women’s struggles, but harped on his struggles as a retired “old person”. He didn’t want to pay taxes but collected Social Security. He was constantly paranoid about the government but didn’t think voting was terribly important. He seemed a walking contradiction and wasn’t very good at having conversation with differing opinions. In our 4 weeks there, we had 3 days to ourselves. One with Doug in Venice, one at the San Diego Zoo and one when it was just raining too hard to get any real work done. We typically worked 10-12 hour days and all-in-all the work felt thankless. There is always something to be learned and we learned ALOT. I wouldn’t trade the experience, but I would also be much choosier for my next WWOOFing experience.
The craziest day I was there was the day the farmer’s mother-in-law died. We woke up early to do our normal fowl and garden watering routine. When we got into the house to make our breakfast, around 8:00 a.m., the farmer’s wife was awake and it was evident she’d been crying. She stated “Mom passed away early this morning.” She said it with a slim smile and I know she was a mix of happy and sad, it was impossibly hard not to want to hug her. Her brother and his girlfriend happened to be there at the time, which was nice for her. At breakfast the farmer came downstairs and said to his wife (in front of us ALL): “don’t you think you ought to call someone and take care of the body?”. We were so beside ourselves with his audacity, we snuck out of the house as soon as possible to give everyone space. That day, the farmer happened to have a welding lesson with an unlicensed welder (wrap your mind around that). They had also had a small gas leak, so the gas company was coming out “any day” to fix it. The mother-in-law had been receiving hospice care (so she had a bed and other things for her use until she passed). Of course, the farmer didn’t cancel his welding lesson to be supportive. So in this NARROW and STEEP driveway with no clear turn around: the gas truck, the hospice car, a body transportation car, the farmer’s two cars, the welder’s car and the brother’s car all fight for space. Easily the most uncomfortable day on the farm!
^The farmer’s wife had a small area of the garden that was just hers. I like to think that’s where her mother hangs out now.