December 5, 2011 | by Karen

Life on a Kiwi Farm

My love of animals, meeting new people and wanting a different place to sleep than a hostel drove me to check out WWOOFing. Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (or sometimes Willing Workers On Organic Farms) is a worldwide concept, with organizations in many countries matching people like Ken and me to farmers in need of extra hands. In exchange for 3 to 5 hours of work a day, a farmer will provide room and meals. WWOOFing is very popular in New Zealand. No better place to try it out, so we dove into looking for a farm.

Similar to Facebook or CouchSurfing, we created a profile on the NZ website, donated a small fee and searched through the database of willing farmers. The farms come in all styles and sizes. Ideally, the hosts are people who are farming in sustainable ways and willing to share their knowledge of good Earth stewardship with others.

We found the perfect farming family in Oamaru, a small city on the east coast of the South Island.  Zim, Gail and son Levi have a lifestyle farm on 20 gorgeous acres of rolling hill, gully and limestone bluff land. Besides tending to their animals and garden full time, they also run a business designing computer chips. This family gets little sleep with all these projects, so WWOOFers are a huge asset for them. We were delighted when they agreed to let Ken and me join them for 5 days.

Victorian Oamaru building

Gail and Zim, looking productive in their farm wear

Does Levi get all the pancakes?

Their 20 acres of land hosts 2 dogs, 1 cat, 5 dairy cows, 2 horses, 15+ chickens, 8 turkeys, 12+ ducks, a beehive, fruit trees, herbs, vegetables and lots of grass. Depending on the willing hands, there could be anywhere from 3-8 people tending to all this, with many supporters coming and going throughout a day. This farm had two other willing workers the same time we were there, Germans Martin and Franzi. It really takes a village to keep a farm going in the right direction. Especially with many forces conspiring against a thriving farm: choking hemlock, prickly gorst, disappearing pond water, rabbits, hawks and many more.

Blaze herding ducks

So Ken and I helped in any way we could. We chopped down evil hemlock, cut sweet grass for the cows to eat, washed root beer bottles, replanted chamomile, washed out the cheese cave, bagged fresh herbs for drying, helped cook, and cleaned a heap of dishes meal after meal. We watched the German couple build a chicken tractor for the farm. In return for our work, we slept in our own cabin, ate delicious, home-cooked food and had enlightening conversations. We even had a little extra fun.

Getting rid of that nasty Hemlock

Germans Martin and Franzi, building a chicken house/tractor

Karen chops wood…watch out!

Ken cleaning the root beer bottles

The timing of our visit coincided with Oamaru’s annual Victorian Festival. Oamaru is a unique city in New Zealand, one of the few towns with buildings from the 19th century. Unlike most towns, whose buildings were made of wood, Oamaru’s were created with Whitestone, now called Oamaru stone. This stone was plentiful and easy to cut, so was used to create the town. While towns built with wood were torn down and built again, Oamaru’s buildings remained. So did some Victorian sensibility (with a dose of steampunk thrown in).  During the fest, we enjoyed people decked out in costume, Penny Farthing races, blacksmith demonstrations, a pipe smoking contest and a Oamaru stone carving competition. We all left the chores on the farm to enjoy this fest. The hemlock could wait until another day.

Victorian Fete fun

Lovely ladies at the Fete

Penny farthing race

Jim, a man we met in the Catlins, as the Blacksmith

Our first WWOOFing experience was made delightful by our hosts. We had inspiring conversations with Zim, Gail and Levi. They left the US over 4 years ago to live the lifestyle they truly desire, one with very little reliance on fossil fuels, creating a sustainable farm and home for themselves and their children (Gail has an older daughter, living in Dunedin). They want to build an Earth Ship house on their land, grow all their own food and live a slower-paced lifestyle. It was inspiring to watch people living their dream.

Goldie, the lovable pooch

The lovely bluffs on the farm