As I pulled up the driveway of Gardenripe Farm, I saw a middle-aged man with a blue cap appear on the porch of a modest white house. He walked up to my driver side window to greet me, “you must be lost,” he said smiling.
I knew he was joking, and that he was expecting me. I knew he probably did this little bit with every volunteer who rolls up eager to escape, unwind and learn.
I let his joke linger in my mind anyway.
It seemed to be a theme in my life these days. The assumption that I’m wandering because I’m lost. Living in a van seems to receive a bewildered reaction when you test it out on strangers and friends alike.
But I could tell the moment he said the joke, I fit right in here- in a place that attracts people who are searching for something.
Those chasing another era, a simpler life, a connection with Earth, and a better understanding of necessities. Something flexible and free to dip your toes into, but with no commitments necessary.
I glanced over at the rows of neatly lined vegetables ready for harvest, the canvas yurts along the dirt road, pigs frolicking in the mud, and heard the chipper chickens clucking. It was perfect.
Bill, the jokester farmer, helped me back my van into a spot by the produce packing room. After we determined that I was planted in a convenient location for the month, he began the tour of the farm.
Gardenripe is a 137-acre century farm that has been in the Scheidler family for over 100 years. The gracious hosts Bill and his wife Janice went above and beyond to make me feel at home during my time with them.
In exchange for 20 hours of work/week, I was provided meals, hot showers, laundry, and electricity for my van.
The other volunteers stayed in a yurt and a trailer provided by the farm.
What is WWOOFing?
I found Gardenripe through a website called wwoof.usa. WWOOF (World Wide Organic Farming) is an international organization that connects farms, gardens, and even vineyards, with volunteers. The premise is a mutually beneficial exchange of help for knowledge. For some, it’s also a nice way to travel while getting free room and board.
I highly recommend it to anyone interested in food production or simply wanting a homestay experience while traveling. The accommodations vary from farm to farm, but the WWOOF website has filters so you can choose a farm that is the perfect fit for you.
After paying the $40 annual membership fee, I was given access to the WWOOFER online directory, and I was able to find many farms through the website that would accommodate my Gluten-free diet and my dog. I ended up choosing Gardenripe due to its beautiful location in Scotts Mills, Oregon and the raving reviews.
I spent a month harvesting vegetables, picking fruits, planting garlic, transplanting spinach, and even partook in the not as fun tasks of weeding and picking up drain lines for the end of the season. I also operated the apple press and made fresh cider at the Saturday Farmer’s Market in Silverton, and attended my first auction.
Since I was only required to work 4 hours/day, I had a lot of downtime! We started work at 8am on Monday-Friday, and finished at 12pm for lunch. The rest of the afternoon and weekends were mine to do whatever I pleased.
So, I filled my time with trips to Portland, the quaint town of Silverton, and hiking to the stunning Abiqua Falls.
I spent my afternoons writing, doing yoga on the wooden deck, going on walks with my dog Cagney in the 100 acres of wilderness on the farm, and hanging out with the other WWOOFers, who became good friends.
Breakfast and lunch were a fend for yourself situation, but I was able to jot down my grocery requests onto a list each week, and Bill would buy the items that couldn’t be freshly picked from the farm.
Every night we shared a family style home-cooked dinner in the main house.
I learned about organic farming techniques, Community-Supported Agriculture (CSAs), how to drive a gator (a mini farming truck), how to work an apple press, realized there are hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables I had no idea about, and made some new friends.
All in all, I loved my first experience WWOOFing, and felt that Gardenripe was the perfect introductory farm.
The hours and workload were fair, the daily tasks varied and were educational, and Bill was a patient and dedicated teacher, who worked alongside his volunteers. Beyond that, the farm is located in a beautiful part of Oregon, near some quaint towns and exquisite nature hikes.
I left with a deeper respect for farming, a better understanding of where our food comes from, and a desire to learn more about sustainable agriculture practices.