We’re back home in the li’l trailer on the tundra – single digits outside.
Looking out at the frozen winterscape, it’s hard to believe that just over a week ago, we were petting a manatee with our bare feet.
The wind moans and shrills at the trailer windows, but somehow cannot compete with the quiet cozy cracklings and shifting thumps of burning logs in the woodstove – sounds made somehow even warmer knowing these are logs that we’d downed, hauled, split, and stacked to dry.
We just got home from our fourth winter as snowbirding farmers, thanks to the WWOOF-USA program, which connects organic farms with folks interested in helping out for room, board, experience … and, in our case, warmer climates.
This year, we decided to make our southernmost-point the Florida Keys, as we had on our “working honeymoon” trip when we first left Minneapolis in 2013. Both of our parents had plans to be there in late February, so we mapped out a course that would gradually take us there over the course of a few months – stopping to help out at other farms along the way.
Our first stop was at the Wu Wei Farm in Nixa, Missouri – we just knew it would be a good fit, given the name, which references the Taoist concept of natural action, without struggle or excessive effort … the “cultivation of a mental state in which actions are effortlessly in alignment with the flow of life.”
How very “que sera, sera!” Unsurprisingly, we felt right at home with the people, the space, the animals, and the river, and we know we’ll be back someday soon. Even the rocks in the field were awesome – while helping dig up potatoes, we discovered stone age Indian artifacts – flint flakes, a broken arrowhead, and a hand-held chopper tool.
As winter deepened, we headed deeper into the south, following the sun to return for our third time to a friendly and familiar spot – Yokna Bottoms Farm in Oxford, Mississippi.
We spent a few weeks with Doug and the dog pack, enjoying an unusual warm spell, which allowed us to continue to harvest and sell veggies at market well past the point that a killing frost would usually have brought things to a close.
As we had during both our previous winter stops at Yokna, we pulled everything out of the shed by the field and reorganized it – but this time, we decided to do something about the lack of organization, and built a sturdy set of shelving along one wall, using scrap lumber.
From there it was onward to another familiar farm – The Chastain Farms in Alabama, which we’d last visited during the polar vortex of 2014. It was awesome seeing all the little upgrades we’d put together in the WWOOFer cabin still in use three years later – the truck topper pot rack, the barnwood bathroom shelf, door, and floor, etc – and of course, seeing the folks.
We had a bit of a gap between farms to fill, so we paid a visit to our Facebook friend Jacqueline, in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. She’d been smacked with a case of the winter sickness, so in the mode of WWOOFers, we looked for ways to help out.
There was a cold snap and homes in the area aren’t really insulated for such weather, so we cut up some dead trees and kept a toasty fire going in her woodstove, warming the house while we chatted, made food, and dusted and cleaned her amazing museum-quality array of teapots, curios, and knick-knacks.
Jacqueline introduced us to her friend Pat, who brought us (by Jeep) up to her off-grid mountain cabin and organic orchard where she’d been living for decades, getting her water from a stream and doing without even solar electricity … it was inspiring.
From there it was onto another new spot – Rag & Frass Farm in Jeffersonville, Georgia.
WWOOFers there are expected to work 6 days a week, waking at sunrise and knocking off at sunset – a far more busy schedule than most.
We were glad to be there and happy to help out – the work was varied and interesting … we did standard farm work such as seeding thousands of plants, and weeding, broadforking, and mulching thousands of row feet, of course.
But we also worked on all sorts of random projects that were both fun and satisfying – removing nails and screws from reclaimed lumber; tearing out musty old ceiling tiles and rotten asbestos floor tiles from the motel rooms; fashioning doorknobs from branches, lawn chair seats from old flooring, and a towel rack from a broomstick; optimizing lighting and doors; building a handwashing sink, a counter for the roadside stand, a swiveling 20-foot produce washing/drying table, and several gates; clearing out and organizing the barn, a storage room, and the wild brambles behind the motel; repairing the kitchen table, several chairs and stools and a vintage fan … you get the idea.
It felt great knowing we were making an impact and leaving a positive mark on a growing operation – and we knew that once we left, it would be three weeks of lazy fishing and sunshine down in Florida …
Nearly a month later, it was time to mosey southward again – we spent a week in an RV park marina on a giant lake in the Florida panhandle with our friend Chris.
Then we hit the Keys for two weeks with our folks, soaking up precious sunlight, ordering seeds, and preparing to get back to work on The Farm …
… and writing this website update was one of the items on our to-do list, perfect to accomplish while even the high temperatures are still below freezing.
It was a great winter, and looks to me like the forecast calls for an even greater growing season.
We’ve already started the first seeds of the season, and we’re ready to keep them alive through the freezing nights of our northern spring.
Welcome to 2017, thanks for joining us in another year’s adventure!