As many of you know, I had wanted to make farming a part of this trip. There is semi-official organization called WWOOF (World Wide opportunities in Organic Farming) that serves as a platform for small scale farmers, who usually employ some form of organic practices, to connect with volunteers. Hosts provide food and a place for the volunteers to sleep, and the volunteers help out on the farm for at least a few hours every day. It’s a great way for farmers to share their passions and get some extra help they might not otherwise be able to to afford. As a volunteer it’s a great way to mitigate travel costs, see more rural areas, and give a little something back during your travels. While I will not be WWOOFing as much as I had initially hoped on this trip, I did manage to get in a week at a farm in southern Denmark.
My host was a single father with three boisterous and charming children. The other family member was a beautiful Malemute-Lab mix had the run of the property. The farm was more along the lines of a homestead than a market garden. Most food produced on the premises went to feed my host and his family throughout the year. The exception to this were his pigs whose meat he sold periodically. Two ponies, a small herd of sheep and a flock of laying hens completed the livestock portion of the farm.
A few views over the farm from the front porch of the house
Chicken house with sheep who would run up and stare at me every time I went to collect eggs.
Mama with her two week old piglets
Piglets were being cheeky and sneaking under the fence to explore the pond.
Crops of the vegetable variety included pretty much anything the average person would stock in their kitchen on a daily basis: potatoes, cabbage, garlic, onions, pumpkins, corn, carrots, celery, leeks, beans, tomatoes, and several rows of strawberries. I had arrived early enough in the growing season of Denmark that I actually got to help with the planting of many of these crops. There was the down in the dirt, hunched over the rows planting for corn, celery, and cabbage; then the simplicity of dumping beans into a simple machine that you simply rolled over the row as the beans rolled down a chute directly into the soil. The pumpkins were great fun. My host set up calderas of horse manure in a few short rows and I went behind with the watering can and then the seedlings, nesting them comfortably in the sloppy mess.
Two and 1/4 rows of freshly planted corn. (Just the light green ones)
Some pretty little baby cabbage I just planted already soaking up the sun.
When I got tired of planting for the day, there was plenty of weeding to go around. While organic farming methods are far better for people and animals who live on farms, improve nutrient content of crops, and keep unsavory chemicals out of food, they do mean that weeding is basically a full-time job. Some of the crops were far enough along that a hoe could be used, but even then weeds that grew right up next to the seedlings had to be pulled by hand. There is one particularly nasty weed that looks a little like a small, skinny pine tree. There are many crass words that could be used to describe this plant. What makes it so evil is its talent for segmenting itself. Just when you think you’ll get the whole darn thing-snap! My host pointed out that this plant is immune to Round-Up so at least farmers who use chemical weed suppression are plagued by this little nasty, too.
Anytime I tired of weeding there was always watering. This section of Denmark, the island of Falster to be specific, is much drier than the west coast of the country and the farm had not seen a good rain in a while. My host had dug a well for his property and so had a decent water supply. This well water, however, was pumped into cisterns in the greenhouse, which in turn were connected by hose to storage barrels nearer the fields. What this meant was a lot of hauling water in large watering cans back and forth over the rows. There was a pump in the greenhouse that could be used to increase the water pressure enough that a sprinkler could be used on the larger plots of vegetables, but it took my host a few days to fix it after I arrived. Even with the sprinkler quenching the thirst of the corn, onions, and potatoes, the strawberries still had to be hand watered. The berries were at a crucial time when they needed ample watering in order to become large and juicy, versus small and tart.
Freshly hoed and watered potatoes.
The onions and cabbage look happier already.
When I arrived, the berries were hardly visible. In just a week they had filled out nicely.
All of this hard work was rewarded, however, in the form of a single berry becoming perfectly ripe on my very last evening on the farm. in addition to this treat, my host announced that he would make a very special dinner, something he always did for his volunteers’ last night. He would roast a hog head. I was a little skeptical, but endeavored to keep an open mind and adventurous stomach. It turned out to be delicious, I especially liked the salty skin, and I had a great time while my host pointed out the different muscles before cutting them from the skull. There was more than enough for the two of us, we did not even finish the meat from half the head. While I decided I did not like all of the cuts, some of them were especially moist and tasty.
Post-roast, before dissection, rubbed with ample salt. (The eyes were removed so don’t even ask)
Altogether my time on the farm was a sunny, sweaty, peaceful change of pace from the two months I’d spent bounding from city to city. It felt so wonderful to be doing something productive and meaningful for another person instead of the self-indulgent wandering that has typically occupied my days. Getting my hands dirty with some practical lessons in what it takes to get crops in the ground and keep them happy was also wonderful and inspiring. It certainly got me excited for the time I will be spending learning about homesteading in Maine. Hopefully I will be able to WWOOF again in Scotland but I have yet to secure a place.
For now, I need to dart across the courtyard back to my room before this thunderstorm lets loose. Keeping my fingers crossed that the flooding will go down in Paris before I get there!