I met my first potential (nonrelated) volunteer the other day, in the cold rain before the snowstorm. She arrived early and found her way no problem, so she earned definite bonus points for that. We found each other through WWOOF, an organization that matches organic farms with folks who want to volunteer on them.
Back in 2012, when I quit my job as a librarian to pursue my agricultural dreams, I volunteered at Sylvester Manor, helping with the harvest and safeguarding the laying flock from hawks. I also traveled up and down the East Coast, visiting and working on farms looking for potential apprentices. These visits were basically working interviews, a chance for both parties to see if they would be a good fit. Living and working on a farm can be an intense experience, so it can be a good idea to meet your coworkers and see where you’ll be sleeping before you commit for six months.
One of the farms I applied to asked for a three-day visit, which seemed crazy at the time, but I wasn’t doing much else and I was enamored with their description and what I Googled, so I went. It’s a raw milk cow dairy in the Berkshires that also raises pigs, chickens, goats and tomatoes. (Please, Google, visit, fall in love: North Plain and Blue Hill farms.) I visited in February, and what I remember best is helping sweep the barn floor after milking with the current apprentice, who seemed to be at least 10 times faster than I was.
I ended up spending the next season there, as an apprentice. Apprenticeship on a farm, at least my two seasons of it, was incredibly hard and totally amazing. I learned tons, grew muscles I didn’t know I had and did countless things I thought at first impossible, like milking a dozen cows solo or driving a draft horse. When I first read the Diary of an Organic Farm Apprentice by Cristina Cosentino on this website, it spoke to me and inspired me to start this series.
I’m stoked to work with volunteers, not just for the free labor, though that will not go unappreciated, but also for the chance to give folks exposure to farm life, in all its beauty and drudgery. Hopefully, I can teach them some of what I’ve learned and give them an experience that will send them on to the next thing, whatever and wherever that may be.