My first wwoofing stint in the UK was with Willowbrook farm.
I have blogged before in my previous post that there were none of my WWOOF requests in the UK got replied, felt like I have wasted my first 20 pound subscription but Masha Allah (ما شاء الله God has willed it), me the small, powerless human who can never predict the future, finally received a reply from a farm in Oxford. Alhamdulillah الحمد لله.
Willowbrook Organic Farm in Oxford has seriously sparked my interest.
First for being a Muslim-family owned farm.
Second for being located in Oxford and the farm was like 20 minutes drive from the center of Oxford and I was like…. I want to vist Oxford University!! (Calm down there…hehehe).
The reply from Willowbrook Organic Farm was received about a week before my intended date to volunteer there. Quite a shock! Fortunately, I did not have any immediate plan.
I was demotivated when one of the farms that I was interested in emailed me that winter season will be cold and working in cold weather would impose high challenge for tropical country girl like me. ^^
As usual, WWOOF is basically not for everyone. My arms were excruciatingly painful after a whole day working outside. I couldn’t sleep until two in the morning because of the pain and only after swallowing two aspirins that I managed to get back to bed.
Back in the days, I had wwoofed in Japan for a week in May, 2007 and more than a year in South Korea in 2009 and 2010 (in cold and hot seasons). Check out my wwoofing experience in South Korea here.
Anyway, why I decided to Wwoof
when I do have an option not to?
Well…I prefer to travel with a twist. Love to stay together with the native for at least a week and experience the country that I visit by helping the family ie farming, raising the animals and etc.
However Wwoofing is definitely a tiring job if you have never done something similar. For instant, in Willowbrook Farm, we have to work from 9am until 5pm everyday, lock the animals ie geese, turkeys and rabbits right before sunset and we are given two days off in a week. You can choose when you want to take your off day though which is quite nice.
So…you must be thinking, Oh no! This is like a 9 to 5 job except that it is farming. Back-breaking job! Yesssssss….you are quite right! ^^
On my first day to Willowbrook Farm…
I took Megabus
because it was a cheaper option. I paid for a return ticket of 13.50 pound from Coventry to Oxford. It was drizzling when I waited for the bus near Cannon Park for a staggering one hour and 30 minutes!! *sigh*
My journey to Oxford was supposed to be one hour and 15 minutes but I had to wait more than that. Furthermore the wind was blowing quite hard, cold and drizzling. I was pretty frozen from top to toe. *Elsa mode…*
Anyway, the bus arrived at Oxford, in front of Randolph Hotel (as in the picture with the UK flag above). I asked the receptionist of the hotel for C4 bus stop at Magdalen Road and she directed me to the end of the road. It was still drizzling and as I just missed my bus to Hampton Gay at 4.00 pm, I had to wait for the next one which was at 5.
While waiting, I did some ‘eye-scanning’..hehehe. The air in Oxford felt pretty different from London or Coventry. People seem to be more posh, cultured and the city itself exudes intellect. I felt like I am describing Oxford pretty weirdly. I’m sorry as I am not really articulate with words.
One hour wait was really long. Enough for me to actually do some kind of “observation”. Many of the people are either students, tourist or local. Me? The tourist, of course! ^^
If not for my heavy bag, I would be able to roam the Oxford city but still if I think again, I’d rather not to. The weather was too bleak, drizzling and grey sky on the 13th of October.
The bus that I rode to Hampton Gay where the farm was located is called Thames Travel bus – thames-travel.co.uk
. It does not operate on Sundays and the fare to Oxford-Hampton Gay is 3 pounds for about 25 minutes journey.
The main street of Hampton Gay was just behind me!
There is no bus stop to indicate the place is Hampton Gay! You must trust the bus driver. I was sure because before coming here, I surfed Willowbrook Farm’s website and I thought the road towards the farm looked kinda familiar.
My gut told me so. Off I walked to the farm for about 15 minutes from the main road. The son of the family welcomed me and I was told to rest as it’s the family’s rule that wwoofers will not work on their arrival day. I was glad because then I just needed long hot bath and some real sleep. Look at my day-to-day activity in the farm:
In the morning after breakfast or even before, preferably right after the sunrise, we need to release the geese and the turkeys. The farm feels that the animals should see the daylight as much of possible instead of staying too much in the barn in the dark.
After feeding them with food, I would go to the geese barn and look out for the eggs. Normally I would get between three to six eggs per day.
We also need to move the rabbits out from their cage and put them next to the pond where they will feed on grass and play out on the field. The rabbits’ nails were so sharp and there were so many countless times that we had been scratched by these small mammals. Hahaha..
Not to forget, Gracie the horse. We need to give her water and she just feeds on grass. The family normally rides her in the morning or late evening. Gracie is also very friendly and her body is so clean and glossy. So pretty!
My best friend: The black goat. He ( I guess that is the gender…hehehe) was so tame and docile!! Oh..I miss the goat already~~ and the sheep, aren’t they gorgeous and genius? When I said,”Smile for the camera!” they automatically looked at me. Every morning I would bring them two large stacks of hay for their meal.
Other than the usual routine, the wwoofers are given jobs based on what needs to be done and usually either the owner of the farm or their children will delegate the tasks to us.
On top-left: That was on my first day. I had to build the boiler’s room wall using cob. ‘Cob, cobb or clom (in Wales) is a natural building material made from sand, clay, water, some kind of fibrous or organic material (straw) and earth.
Cob is fireproof, resistant to seismic activity, and inexpensive. It can be used to create artistic, sculptural forms and has been revived in recent years by the natural building and sustainability movements.’ from Wikipedia
The farm also sells free range and organic eggs to their customers mainly in Oxford area. Almost everyday, we need to help packing the eggs if there are huge orders.
On the bottom-right: I used the woodchips to make the bedding for the geese and turkey barn. Sometimes I layered the bedding, first with woodchips and hay on top. That way, the barn will not be so muddy and the animals will still has warmth at night for sleep.
When I first entered the geese and turkeys barn, I definitely could not stand the small of their poops. I can sense that the hay + woodchips + their poops = compost and it smelled fermented. I am gonna die, I thought so too but then I still wonder how I could manage to stand doing that for two weeks!! Hahahha…
‘Woodchips are a medium-sized solid material made by cutting, or chipping, larger pieces of wood. Woodchips may be used as a biomass solid fuel and are raw material for producing wood pulp. They may also be used as an organic mulch in gardening, landscaping, restoration ecology and mushroom cultivation. According to the different chemical and mechanical properties of the masses, the wood logs are mostly peeled, and the bark chips and the wood chips are processed in different processes. The process of making wood chips is called woodchipping and is done with a woodchipper’ from Wikipedia.
The left-bottom picture: We had to move those heavy wood planks to the boiler room and those were seriously heavy. I think we took about half a day to complete the task as we did it manually.
Other days, I helped to install the insulation for the cob house as you can see on the bottom left. The cob house’s exterior is almost completed but there are so much things still need to be done for the interior.
Initially I installed the natural wool from the sheep as insulator which they believed have lanolin and I should do it sin the gloves. I tried without the gloves but maybe my hand was so dried and hardly felt the difference after completing the wall insulation.
Then they brought in the fiberglass as the wool had run out which worries me because of:
‘Wool insulation costs significantly more than conventional fiberglass insulation, but does not require the use of protective gloves, and may have significantly lower health risks to both the building occupants and the installation crew’ from Wikipedia.
The fiberglass are just too hazardous for my health and so we need to do it sparingly.
Why they need insulation for the house?
As I have lived in a tropical country all my life; Malaysia, we don’t need insulation in the house. However for 4-season countries, they normally install wall insulation for the overall energy efficiency and warmth. During cold season, the house utilizes more gas, electricity or oils for heaters but if they properly insulate the house in the first place, the bill will not be so high. It all goes down to $$$$.
On the top-left: Those are pumpkins harvested from the farm. We got to cook them for lunch and made soups with the turkey meat on the bottom-right picture.
On the top-right: Those are grapes made into juice and other time there were abundance of blackcurrants and plums harvested from the farm that they made jam from it.
On the bottom-left:
The family is also helping to support the Palestine economy by being a distributor for http://www.zaytoun.org/
. The Palestinian Za’atar is great when eaten sprinkled on top of bread and dash of olive oil. In my case, I put a lot of butter! Nyammm….
Anyone interested to WWOOF in Willowbrook Farm, you need to register with WWOOF office first. Get to know more about wwoofing in the UK at https://www.wwoof.org.uk/