Lessons from the Ground Up: WWOOFing Experience

Name: Courtney George

Type of Project: Service Learning

Time Period: June 2015

Location: Chandelier Springs Farm Valley Center, CA

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.  Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

I lived and worked on a small-scale organic farm for the month of June in Valley Center, California through the organization WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming). In exchange for volunteering my labor, I received free farming education, living quarters, and food. The organization also allows the opportunity to have cultural exchanges with the local people in the area and between participating WWOOFers from all over the world. I chose Chandelier Springs farm because it was an entirely self-sustainable, off the grid, and locally producing farm compared to larger industrial organic farms. This entailed a much different set of tasks including fetching water, chopping wood, making fires, and cooking from scratch etc. along with daily farm work such as weeding, harvesting, and digging.

What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

Lessons from the Farm:

  • DIY everything
  • Be open to new experiences
  • Live life simply
  • Reuse everything
  • There is always time to sit down and play music with friends
  • Respect nature for it gives everything
  • The paramount importance of teamwork
  •  People can always connect through food , no matter how different they are

I already considered myself a simple person, but living with no electricity, air conditioning, Internet, cell signal, running water, or connection to humanity besides one’s fellow farm workers, really simplified my definition of needs. The lines between needs and wants are constantly blurred living in the industrialized world with marketing narratives bombarding our subconscious with new products, shiny cars, and bigger houses.  We are taught that life is about acquiring money and material goods to be happy. I discovered all of these notions to be false during my time at Chandelier Springs. I did not have many possessions, any modern day comforts, or barely any money with me, yet I was completely content; maybe even the most at peace than ever before. Through the hard work, team building, and immersion in nature, I realized that happiness and reaching my full potential is dependent solely on myself and the company I keep, not the pursuit of money and material possessions.

What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

Meeting and bonding with the other WWOOFers (people who WWOOF) was the biggest catalyst in my transformative experience. Living in a self-reliant community such as that means that through thick and thin, everyone is dependent upon one another for daily life. I obviously made some wonderful diverse friends from whom I learned so much about their countries of origin. What was even more impactful on me was how much I learned from the people who I did not necessarily get along with. WWOOFers whose views clashed with mine created some moments of tension, but we were able to respect each other and unite to solve daily problems. In normal society we tend to align ourselves with people whom we can relate, connect, and agree with, ignoring even excluding those who oppose us. In that experience, it was necessary to hone my conflict mediation and people skills in order to cohabitate peacefully and pleasantly. It also fully developed my empathy for all humans from all walks of life, not just those who I like. While I did not fully agree or wanted to be best friends with all the WWOOFers, it was amazing to have built such a close, trusting, bonded family out of foreign strangers in that short time period.  Honestly I trust those people with my life more than many of the friends I have ever had. The ones that I did click with will hopefully be my friends for the rest of my life and I will visit them when I travel after graduation.

Along with meeting new people, the living situation would be the second biggest catalyst for my personal growth during this experience. Other than the philosophical epiphanies about consumerism, materialism, and modern day privilege, with all the quiet alone time amidst nature, I was able to have deep discoveries about myself. I had never really been forced to work hard labor in any capacity before; I found its reputation of breeding humility and gratitude to be incredibly true. Working in the hot sun for six hours a day makes a glass of water, clean shower, hot meal, and a warm blanket the greatest gifts in the world. I discovered the extent of my physical and mental strength to be larger than I anticipated working in the fields and participating in daily tasks. I also realized that while this experience was short lived, these labors are the reality for millions of people living on subsistence farms in poverty. Above all the epiphanies made during that time, the most important is that I became more aware of the lives of people all over the world whose daily reality was my summer vacation.

Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?  How does this change or development matter and/or relate to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans?

The main academic reason I created this service learning experience was the desire to experience our food system first hand from the perspective of the farmer/grower.  I chose a rural small scale farm because I wanted to understand how most of the world feeds itself, without the aid of petroleum, artificial fertilizers and pesticides, and large scale technology.  I love being outside interacting directly with food and the earth, therefore I do not think I could ever have an office job after this experience.  I also fully realized how central food and agriculture is to developing society, relationships, and culture. In order to understand the world’s food system, I need to start from where its grown and the people who grow it.  I plan on traveling the world, learning more about food’s changing role in different societies.