I wanted to spend last summer working on a ranch and this past summer farming in northern France. Obviously, neither of those things happened, but I have since remained interested in the idea of working someplace where I could look up and see the sky.
WWOOF connects organic famers around the world with volunteers interested in sustainable agriculture. The volunteers work the lands and learn farming techniques for a designated amount of time in exchange for meals and housing from the farmers. It’s a pretty cool program and a great way to travel if you don’t mind a little dirt and sweat. I’d been wanting to get involved with the organization for a while now, so this weekend, I did.
Yesterday, with a not-particularly-granola-looking group of fellow organic farming enthusiasts, I attended WWOOF Korea‘s “Get Your Hands Dirty” day trip to Ungilsan.
At the meeting point, our WWOOFing guide told us about our task for the day and handed our volunteer t-shirts and pamphlets about AsioGusto. (Free swag!). We then hopped into the back of a pick-up truck and drove to the farm. I found riding in the truck bed to be quite exciting, since I’d only done it once before.
Once at the farm, one of the farmers gave us a brief lesson in strawberry planting — our task for the day, and then, we were off to work!
We started planting the strawberries in our first greenhouse around 9:45am. None of us were really accustom to the labor of farming, being hunched over working in the mud. We often had to stand straight to stretch our backs and would laugh when we caught our fellow teammates taking breaks to do so.
After we finished our first greenhouse, we took a break for steamed red bean buns. I’d never had them before, but will be looking out for them in the future. Yum.
Rejuvenated by the snack, we moved onto greenhouse #2. With a lot of people needing to use the bathroom and others being hungry for lunch, we were motivated to finish this one more quickly. We got into a rhythm and knocked it out in what felt like no time at all.
We jumped back into the pick-up truck and drove to the main farmhouse for lunch, a home-cooked Korean meal made from organic ingredients fresh from the farm. It was great to sit back and enjoy the company of the team as we laughed and ate together; though, the makgeolli that was flowing may have made some people extra happy.
While we were eating, a ladybug landed on our table. The farmer told us that ladybugs were a sign of organic farming, since the bugs do not populate fields that have been sprayed with chemicals. Cool little fact.
After lunch, we went back to finish up our third and final greenhouse. We sang a traditional Korean farming song and listened to the rain tap on the roof as we planted. It was perfect. I honestly kept thinking, PTL. Nature does that to you.
Around 6:30 p.m., we were done. We ended the day’s events by celebrating back at the main farmhouse with, of course, more food. This time we had pajun (pajeon), one of my favorites.
We chilled until dark, talking and eating. When things started to quiet down, the head farmer, Beyoungsu Kim, told us his story, how he was in mechanical engineering but then came to learn the importance of sustainable agriculture for the environment. He thought the best way to advocate organic farming practices was to become a farmer himself, so that’s what he did. About thirty years later, his farm had grown into the beautiful place we were privileged to work at that day.
Beyoungsu also talked to us about three practices he’d incorporated into his life since becoming a farmer: 1) giving up the quest for material wealth, 2) trading in speed and instant gratification for intentionality, and 3) being content even in life’s discomforts. Words of wisdom indeed.
It’s an attractive lifestyle, farming. Literally reaping the fruits of your labor and not being polluted with all the opinions and advertisements of society, but rather having fresh air fill your lungs daily.
Now, my shoes are covered in dirt. My camera’s covered in dirt. My jacket has dirt on it. My water bottle has dirt in it. And that’s cool. I’d gladly do it again. I’m definitely looking forward to more WWOOFing experiences in the future. Maybe I’ll even become a farmer… (Ok, that’s highly unlikely, but a garden would be cool.)