Friday, September 21, 2012

WOOF-ing. Like a total bitch.

WOOF-ing stands for World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming, and is basically an interesting scheme where one works on a farm in exchange for food and shelter. I had heard about it from Jon, who was planning on WOOFing up in Canada, and being up for something a bit different and needing to slow down a bit with the spending money for a little bit I thought I’d give it a go. Searching on the website (LINK), focusing on the Deep South where I wanted to go next, I found Broken Magnolia farm located just outside of Oxford, Mississippi. I particularly liked the sound of this farm as it required 25-30 hours a week in exchange for accommodation and food, and (crucially!) they were not vegetarians (as so many of these farms were).

I was picked up from Memphis airport (after an incredibly delayed flight) by Katherine, the 60-something grandmother who owns the farm with her husband, and taken to the farm approximately an hour and half drive away over the state border. The farm itself is in Taylor, a tiny tiny rural village about 10miles outside the town of Oxford. Taylor was a ghost town when we pulled through (stopping briefly at the post office) – the sort of place the Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2 would be set. Old school style Southern houses around a central square/car park type centre with no grocery store or anything.  It was obvious that Taylor was a wealthy place however, with a brand new housing complex just outside of the ‘downtown’ (if you can call it that!) and lots of little artistic/pottery type shops and workshops. Oh and the shiny cars in the driveways…

'Downtown' Taylor
The farm itself was about ½ to ¾ of a mile away from the ‘downtown’, set over 35 acres in the style of ‘20th century redneck’ (their words not mine!)  with goats, chickens and guineas (not guinea pigs as I initially thought, only to become very confused when presented with a big bird!) as well as dogs, cats and young kids. When I arrived I learnt I wasn’t the only WOOFer on the farm, and was introduced to Manon, a 20-something girl from France who was spending three months moving around the states WOOFing along other things. The family were a nice one, Katherine and her husband (who I didn’t meet) originating from Louisiana and both holding PhD’s. Their son and two grandkids (about 7 and 3) also lived on the farm, with the kids being adorable; coming up to both Manon and myself and chatting away about the farm and whatnot. It was certainly a nice feeling to be in a residential setting like that and not on the road constantly for once!

The 'redneck style' house
Goats roaming the farm

Part of the (huge) patch we cleared
 Now I thought the idea of WOOFing was to be set a project (of sorts) for the time that one was there that would be beneficial to the farm. Apparently I was wrong in this romantic notion, and instead we were put to various shit jobs around the place such as weeding, moving mulch around, weeding, shovelling shit, weeding, feeding the dogs/chickens/guineas/goats, weeding and some more weeding. I have to admit that we did get to help de-worm and relocate the goats, which was great fun trying to catch them all (the trick is to grab their hind leg with one hand, then their horns/neck with another and then step over them so their neck is between your legs and you can then control the horns with both hands), chopping down some trees (fun to begin with and then a right pain) and learning to hang garlic which was quite interesting, but beyond that it was mainly weeding. Which is fine, except I was under the impression that that was not what we would be doing…

The incredibly basic room we stayed in for the 10 days
It came to a head on a couple of occasions. Firstly when the son came and told us we had been weeding incorrectly. Three days into the task. Manon was not happy whatsoever, prompting an argument between her and the son. All Manon and I wanted was a lot clearer communication about what we were supposed to be doing and how they wanted it done. Rather than the ‘do this. Now’  followed by ‘this isn’t right’ approach we were getting. The second incident was towards the end of my time there and I was on the phone home to my parents. The son suddenly came tearing up the hill to our accommodation, hollering about me being disrespectful to his way of life and calling the work he does every day of his life as ‘scat’. Now those of you who know me would know that I would never disrespect anyone like that, nor would I be so disrespectful as to call their living as ‘scat’. I don’t even know what ‘scat’ means! What pissed me off more than that was the fact that all through his diatribe he kept calling me ‘boy’. That did not sit with me whatsoever, and I felt incredibly patronised by it (which I guess was the point).

The hours of work wasn’t quite what I expected either. I knew we had to do a majority of the work in the morning, rising at 6. However, whilst the website page had stated we were expected to work 25-30hours a week, we were actually working 6 hours a day for 6 days a week. So 36 hours minimum. Again, I wouldn’t have found this a problem had I know it from the start. But it was the changing of conditions that really frustrated me. I was also slightly taken aback by the accommodation we were given. Now by all means I wasn’t expecting 5star accommodation, but I sure wasn’t expecting to have spiders everywhere inside, mice running under the walls (yes you read that correctly) and to have to walk through a garage to use the toilet. Neither was I expecting to have to defend my opinions on issues to such an extent that I found myself having to. The evening meal was very nice, sitting round a table in the kitchen, often with the son and grandkids there too and the food was decent as well. However Katherine would have this really frustrating way of drawing you into a discussion-cum-debate, then state her opinions like they were fact and not let you get a word in edgeways from there. In the end I would give up, especially after she claimed the NHS was a dumb idea because people shouldn’t be entitled to free healthcare. And that seatbelts are a way of the middle socio-economic classes trying to force lower socio-economic classes to spend money. Right…

It wasn’t all doom and gloom however. As part of working on the farm we were able to take free Karate classes with the son in Oxford for free, which I took the offer on to begin with and enjoyed it. However as time went I preferred the quiet time of the farm whilst everyone else was at Karate to myself instead. We were also given an afternoon off in Oxford, allowing me to visit the house of the renowned writer William Falkner, and chill out in the town having a drink with Manon. We were also taken to a cool little blues/jazz style concert in the University of Mississippi (based in Oxford) on the Sunday evening, which again was nice to chill out away from the farm and experience something (as such) of the local area.

Oxford centre
Blues/Jazz event in Oxford
As it was, I ended up leaving the farm early; after 10days rather than the 14 I had originally said I would do. I just simply couldn’t cope with the farm work, and the attitude displayed to both myself and Manon on more than one occasion. Manon had worked at another WOOFing farm previously and said to me that what occurred on Broken Magnolia wasn’t anything like the other one, and she didn’t like it one bit unlike the place she previously was. As for me, it was my first and probably only WOOF stint. I really have no wish to do it again in case of it being similar to my experiences at Broken Magnolia. Which really is a shame because I feel that I could have enjoyed myself WOOFing, (mice running in and out of the room and all!) and it was simply the way that both I and Manon were treated at times that really spoilt the experience.
Anyways, both Manon and I skipped off early, being dropped off (rather reluctantly) in a tiny tiny backwards town to spend the now free weekend somewhere else. That place being Jackon, MS.

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