Over the years, we have been blessed to have some absolutely wonderful, amazing mentors to help us in our journey called life.  From veterinarians who took me under wing to teach me all they could about animal medicine, to horse trainers who allowed me to clean stalls in exchange for lessons and experience, to experienced clinicians, career meat processors, and draft-horse teamsters, we have been saved a tremendous amount of heartache and been able to decrease the slope of the inevitable learning curve.  We’ve also been blessed to have some really lousy mentors along the way.  They’re the ones that taught us to believe “there is something to be learned from everyone—even if it’s what NOT to do!”  The experience, training, and backgrounds of our mentors taught us different ideas, different reasons for doing things different ways, and so much more.  There is a saying that goes something to the effect of “If you are a day ahead of someone else, you are the master.”

We decided long ago that since we enjoyed working with and encouraging others so much, that we would try to find ways in the future to do so.  We had planned more traditional ways such as internships and apprentices, but didn’t feel ready or qualified to do that for several years.  Then this summer of trials hit us, with the most difficult being S’s arm injury.  We were forced to find help, so we started considering and researching our options.  At first, we hired help, but that can add up and deplete savings in a hurry!

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A WWOOF’er weeding the orchard.

Then, thanks to Polyface Farm’s (Joel Salatin) Facebook page, I was introduced to a program called Eager Farmer (www.eagerfarmer.com).  Joel’s daughter-in-law set up the site as way of bringing together farmers willing to teach or having something to offer, with folks wanting to learn.  Through that website, we met a young man who, interestingly, used to be an intern for Daniel Salatin, and thus could offer us just as much as we could him.  At first, we wondered what exactly we COULD offer him that he hadn’t already learned from Polyface.  As it turns out, though, he was interested in seeing farming on a much smaller scale, as well as experiencing a draft-horse powered farm.  Thus, it was agreed this young man would come stay a week in our basement.  We agreed to provide room and board in exchange for farm labor and teaching, and he agreed to share his knowledge from Polyface with us.  Let’s just say, it worked out WONDERFULLY!  We had a wonderful week, our kiddos adored him, he was an amazing Christian, and when he left, we all felt like we had learned from the exchange.  Best of all, not only did we gain knowledge, but he helped me complete a couple of major, labor-intensive projects I just hadn’t been able to do alone, which caught us up on the farm a little.

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Our “eager farmer” student working with Nick, the Belgian draft horse. He came after Nick injured his leg, so when the student had free time, he helped desensitize and work with Nick to help him relax and let us doctor his wound.

While chatting with our guest one day, he introduced me to another program called WWOOF, USA (www.wwoofusa.org).  This is website designed intentionally for work exchanges.  The idea is that no money exchanges hands.  The workers, known as “WWOOF’ers” are not employees or even volunteers, technically.  I want to clarify, they are not to be seen as “free labor” per say. They are there for a “work exchange” of some type, and come with all sorts of backgrounds and reasons.  Some WWOOF’ers are vacationing or traveling cross-country and want to save money by avoiding hotel stays and restaurants.  So, they offer their labor on your farm in exchange for room and board.  Others may have a genuine interest in learning some aspect of farming, and offer their labor in exchange for teaching them about what they are interested in.  Some are homeschool families that want to expose their children to specific aspects or farming lifestyles.  Some folks may even just want references for their future, and figure offering some labor is a great way to get that reference.  There are a myriad of reasons, a variety of WWOOF’ers, and all sorts of hosts with differing specialties.  WWOOF host farms can be anything from permaculture to western cattle ranches to hydroponics to holistic herb clinics to medicinal marijauna farms.  Yup, I said marijauna.  In those states that have legalized pot, I guess somebody has to grow it!

Let me clarify that we are NOT that type of farm!

Intrigued, we joined the WWOOF host farm network.  We very quickly met a group of 3 from Australia that were hoping to tour the U.S., learn more about the backroads, grass-roots type of Americans rather than the more city-fied, tourist-y destinations, and experience American life by living with different families.  We were the first stop on their trip.  They were only able to stay 4 days before having to be at the next farm, but it was 4 amazing days!  They worked much harder than we ever imagined they would, and again, by the time they left, we had several other projects completed.  They, in turn, had great stories to tell about playing with puppies, logging with draft horses, grooming, harnessing, and driving said horses, using a lumber mill (since one was a woodworking teacher at a high-school by profession, he particularly enjoyed that part of his trip!), and more.  Again, our kids adored them, they acted like part of the family, and we were so sad to see them go.

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2 of our “Aussie’s” (which, they taught us, is pronounced “Ozzy”) building a couple of portable chicken tractors for next season.

We have had multiple contacts from potential WWOOF’ers since then.  We are very cautious about who we accept, though.  Many are turned off when I warn them of our faith and standards on the farm.  That’s fine by us, as our children are exposed to them on a daily basis.  Because they are seen by customers, and represent us both on and off the farm, we also have grooming and appearance standards they must agree to.  If all seems agreeable, then we contact past employers or other host farm references.  If they pass that, then they must agree to our farm rules, and we go from there.  We have a girl scheduled to come from a big city for a week in December, another considering coming for the winter, and our first long-term intern/WWOOF’er planning to stay the entire growing season.  He’s actually another international, coming all the way from Italy.  He hardly speaks a word of English, so it will be challenging, but his references are excellent.  Assuming he passes his trial period, it will be wonderful to have him to help next year.  We are doubling most of our farm business, and it is going to be extremely busy.  In exchange, he will receive full room, board, and meals, in addition to learning valuable hands-on experience and farm skills as we work alongside him.

Once again, even in the midst of the rough year we had, God provided.  I am also enjoying learning how to think outside the box when it comes to solving problems.  I mean, here we needed help, and had no idea such programs existed!  What a wonderful resource for both farmers and “students.”  If you are a farmer who could use some help, and enjoy teaching, OR if you are interested in learning or experiencing farm life, then I would encourage you to check out these programs.  There is a cost to sign up and gain access, which helps keep the “riffraff” and free-loaders away, but if you meet just one person that offers what you are looking for, it is worth every cent!

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