Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

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By DC EcoWomen Board Member Lisa Ramirez

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or better known as its acronym WWOOF, is a service work exchange program on organic farms with host farms crossing the globe.

Here’s how it works: WWOOFers purchase a membership to the country of interest and in return receive lists of host farms that have been pre-approved by WWOOF to host workers. The approved WWOOF farms provide meals and accommodations in exchange for hours worked. WWOOFers contact the farms of interest, work out arrangement details with the farms and once the farm agrees to host the WWOOFer, all the WWOOFer has to do is prepare travel arrangements and be ready for work. For more information, check out the official WWOOF website: www.wwoof.org

Not Just Travel

WWOOFing is truly a great travel experience, not as a tourist, but as a genuine immersion into local life and culture. Non-working hours are allotted to personal free time – allowing for opportunities to pick up a new language, catch-up on overdue reading lists, learn to cook ethnic dishes, and explore the world off  its beaten path. Loving organically grown food, the great outdoors, travel and culture, I knew as soon as I read the article about WWOOFing in my local co-op’s newsletter, that WWOOF was destine to make its way to the top of my bucket list.

In September 2010, with my hiking pack filled with rugged wear, cameras, journals and travel books, I commenced my three month journey in the rolling hills of the Chianti region of Tuscany to try my hand at Italian homesteading. My first farm experience led to daily work duties such as: harvesting and pruning grape vines, watering herbs and flowers around the house, ironing linens for the agrotourism on rainy days, raking almonds off their branches, and harvesting wild Macrelepiota Procera (HUGE parasol mushrooms) from the woods. Daily duties were always broken up into morning and afternoon shifts. Morning duties were halted by a grand family-style, outdoor lunch consisting of multi-courses of delicacies harvested straight from the garden, prepared by all family members, served on lots of plates, washed down with red wine and completed with espresso and a siesta. Dusk brought closure to the afternoon work upon which it was back to the house to water the vegetable garden, harvest more from the garden’s bounty, and to once again cook together and enjoy a family-style, multi-course dinner that concluded with dunking biscotti in red wine.

My first farm introduced me to Sangiovese vines, the harvest festival (festa vendemmia), the cellar and the wine making process as well as Tuscan cooking and family traditions. There is nothing more amazing than picking food from its source and eating it! Not to mention, eating it when it is ready to be eaten – not picked weeks in advance, shipped on trucks and ripened on kitchen counters.

WWOOFing,  then Hoofing It

Between farms, I headed to the west coast to hike Cinque Terre, The Five Lands, which are composed of five villages (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) all built into the rugged cliffs overlooking the sea. Alone, with only the wall of vineyards and cliffs to my left and the beautiful panoramic view of the sea to my right, every step I took brought another awe to my senses. I had no idea what time it was, how long I had been hiking or even how much further I had to go. There were no plans, no commitments. Just to be in the moment.The towns’ delis provided the pesto, tomatoes, mozzarella and wood-fired bread for the finest picnic sandwiches in all of Cinque Terre that I devoured on rocky overhangs all while listening to the sea crash below me.
From the seaside villages, I made my way south to the coastal region of San Vincenzo to pass my days climbing all over olive trees combing the branches of their plump olives, which pop off like popcorn and bounce to the ground below lined with netting. It was here that I learned the brining and preparation process for the perfect table olives as well as experienced the vivid green glow and the sweetness of just pressed organic extra virgin olive oil, which we sampled drizzled over fresh egg pasta. My neighborhood was lined with pomegranate, persimmon, lime, orange, and fig trees and bountiful backyard gardens cared for by tiny elderly Italian ladies wrapped in shawls and little old Italian men in trousers puttering about the yard or chatting with their fellow little old Italian gents. Our interactions led to me smiling and nodding, them smiling and nodding making our broken languages one big friendly encounter. It was incredibly endearing.

I finished out my last remaining days in Tuscany visiting medieval hill-top towns bearing spirits of times long past, and ancient Roman baths with steam rising up to meet the falling cold rains. I was given tours of underground cellars smelling of musk and wood barrels and was invited into homes and embraced like famiglia, sharing stories of life and laughter. The experience truly was life changing and has cemented the building blocks of which my family traditions will be based.

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By Jamillah Muhammad

Welcome to the Farm at Walker JonesI recently attended the second EcoWomen urban farming event at the Walker Jones Educational Center. Located in the heart of Washington, DC’s ward 6, it’s the last place you’d expect to see an open plot of land with rows of crops, bee hives, compost piles and pumpkin patches. With busy New Jersey Ave on one side, K Street on another, and a basketball court that sits between the farm and the public housing complexes on 1st St., the farm is like an oasis…albeit surrounded by chain link fencing, but an oasis nonetheless. I’ve done a fair amount of volunteering, but this was my first time on a farm. What I enjoyed the most was learning the science behind all of the decisions that are made, which techniques are used and why, and the challenges that accompany introducing an alternative learning project to a school system not typically open to change.

Once a lot with a dilapidated building on it, it is now home to bees, butterflies, marigolds, corn, cabbage, eggplant, broccoli and numerous other staples for the children to cultivate and eat. Creating a new educational tool, David Himly (a teacher at Walker Jones and a tropical biologist) runs the farm and has fought to add it to the school’s curriculum. The children get a hands-on outdoor escape from the conventional elementary/middle school learning environment, as the farm sits adjacent to the school.

The children learn to cultivate plants and crops, but also learn the science behind farming. Why lavender plants are set next to the beehives, or why the black fly larvae is used for the compost instead of just worms. They learn what a cistern is, how a rain garden works, all while learning to work together and to communicate effectively outside of the classroom.

We worked to clean up, weed, sow seeds and add compost freshly sifted from a large pile at the far end of the lot. It was surprisingly easy to tune out the police cars, fire trucks and other city sounds wailing the background and focus on the experience. Luckily for us the sky stayed overcast for most of the day, keeping the sun out of our eyes as we weeded the rows.

When I think of farming, I used to imagine of acres and acres of land with rows and rows of crops, but now I have a much better understanding of how urban farming works and how a small plot of land can not only feed children physically, but also mentally and emotionally. I look forward to doing it again soon!

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Remember our last trip to Walker Jones?
Have ideas for volunteer opportunities you’d like to get involved with? Let us know, email Jen Howard >>