It was a cold and grey day as we arrived in Amberley on the bus and we hadn’t had anything but a muffin for breakfast so we decided to stop at the local cafe on the recommendation of the public bathroom cleaner who had chatted our ears off about his adventures by motorcycle around the U.S. It was neat to talk to someone who still cherished his memories of travelling as much as this guy. It put into perspective the fact that we are making travel memories everyday that we will most certainly look back on for the rest of our lives, and the tougher the experience the more memorable sometimes.
After some eggs, coffee and warming up at the cafe, we headed the 6km to the Food Farm on gloriously flat roads which were a cinch compared to what we were used to. We only managed to take one wrong turn that took us down a kilometre-long driveway to the wrong house. We did meet one of the friendly neighbours who told us she had plenty of work we could do if we run out at the other place. Turns out, that was definitely not going to happen.
Down the final (correct) driveway we rode and, as we arrived, I was in stitches laughing because I had smoked Christian accidentally with an overhanging branch of flax that had gotten caught up in my front wheel and catapulted back at him. As we approached the gate, we noticed some figures in the raspberry hedges and were welcomed into the Food Farm by the Gill-Clifford family, which included Angela and Nick and their three awesome children Ruby (12), Matilda (10) and Flynn (8).
We were immediately taken to our spacious abode which was separate from the house and had its own bathroom with shower and a kettle for tea (a nice little touch we hadn’t yet been privy to in our past woofing homesteads).
We were told to clean ourselves up and come out when we were ready. Angela had said as we got there that they were more like “willing weeders on organic farm” hosts and we had initially thought she was joking. She wasn’t. But it was actually OK and we still learned a lot and really enjoyed the week-long stay despite all of the weeds. We actually learned that weeding can be pretty satisfying work, and as long as your form is good and you have trusty tools like the pull-hoe, it doesn’t have to be too back-breaking either. We still had an excellent supply of podcasts to listen to, so for the majority of our work days, we settled into weeding all over the property, from the rows of soy and string beans, to the greenhouse full of tomatoes and peppers, to the beds at the front of the house that had completely been taken over by weeds in the past 10 days when they hadn’t had woofers.
Time passed faster than I had thought it would, and other than the 5 hours of work we had to do each day, we had quite a bit of time to relax as well. Each morning after waking up as well as before dinner, we also got to feed the animals. This was always a fun part of the day because it usually felt like the animals were pretty excited to see us each time.
There were ducks that ate soaked barley in one field by a little stream, there were two cows (one pregnant) that needed their water buckets filled up, there were two sets of chickens in two different coops (one a specialty heritage breed called Barred Plymouth rocks and then a set of your average brown and white chickens), and there were three (not-so-little) pigs who were often chasing each other around their pen and playing or fighting (hard to tell which). They also had a cat named Sooty who liked to roll around in the vegetable beds, and a dog named Perry who was constantly trying to herd the pigs and ducks through hypnosis.
There was also a very exciting and new fixture at the Food farm: Pablo, the Vizla puppy who was only 10 months old and incredibly cute. A couple of times when the family went out, we got to watch him, but he was so beloved by the three kids that they had to schedule in 15 minute segments at a time to play with him.
Other than weeding and feeding, we had the opportunity to help collect, clean and package vegetables around the property for the weekly veggie box pick-up. This was my favourite day because it involved seeing just how fruitful your land can be if used correctly, and just how beautiful your veggies can grow. Because it was summer and some of the customers were away, we had a total of 4 boxes to put together, although usually they have about 10 to do. We had actually been really interested to come to this particular farm because they were part of a CSA (“Community Supported Agriculture”) program, and we wanted to see what it looked like in action, if it was a viable way to make money on a farm and if we might want to do it ourselves in the future. The idea with the CSA is that friends, neighbours and community members can play a part in actively supporting a local organic farm by buying produce weekly throughout the season that is delivered either directly to your home or to a convenient pick-up spot, and which supplies you with the freshest and most local healthy fruits and vegetables possible.
Although we only had 4 boxes to put together, I was amazed at the range of items that went into it. We got to pick the potatoes (two varieties: rockets and Cliff Kidney), beets, carrots, onions (two varieties: jewel and red), Japanese turnips, and raspberries. The raspberries took the longest because we had to be very discerning about which we chose to put into our punnets and they couldn’t be dropped in because they would bruise. Only the best for the CSA customers!
On top of that, Angela and her kids had also gathered lettuce, two punnets of strawberries, zucchini, cabbage, garlic, pickle cucumbers so the box was overflowing by the time we were done with it. I would absolutely be a CSA supporter if I wasn’t growing all this stuff myself, not only because it is great to support local producers of organic vegetables, but also because it is like Christmas every week! You never know what you are going to get, but you always know it is something in season and freshly picked the day you get it.
We also got a day off on the farm which was great (and a luxury we also hadn’t been afforded on any of our other woofing farms). We all packed into the car with the three kids who we had been getting along with really well to head off to the weekly farmers market. This was a very festive occasion and we roamed around with the kids, petted lots of puppies (the best one we met was Snoopy, a Border Collie puppy we fawned over for far too long) and enjoyed some coffee and baked delicacies.
Each evening on the food farm, we enjoyed a delicious dinner with the family, often cooked by Ruby who is an aspiring chef and very talented and mature for a 12 year old. These meals were occasions to talk and laugh with the family, hear all about the woofers they’d had before us, school, and other tidbits of information about life in New Zealand, and we were instantly welcomed into the family fold within the first meal.
We also got to enjoy a glass of wine with each dinner because Nick worked at the vineyard up the road and they even had their own wine label called “Tongue and Groove”. One night, Angela made us an elderflower cordial gin cocktail which was incredible, and the next night, because they had made raspberry vinegar the day before, she concocted a cocktail with vodka and the vinegar (and some simple syrup) which was equally as delicious.
One tradition that the family have with their woofers is that we had to make a “traditional dish” or some Canadian favourite food. After some deliberation, we decided on poutine. We made the chips and mushroom gravy from scratch, and I even added in a dessert of strawberry cobbler with fresh strawberries from the garden just for good measure. It was fun being in the kitchen again, and even though the meal was pretty unhealthy, I think they enjoyed it. (We added some token lettuce leaves and a tomato salad for good measure.)
One other interesting thing that happened while we were on the food farm is that Christian got to kill and butcher a chicken. I did not watch or participate in this process, but rather cowered in our room plugging my ears. I’m not sure what really happened because I haven’t had the heart to ask the details, but he has told me a lot about why he wanted to do this and I respect the fact that he could do it. He had mentioned that during our year of woofing that he would like to have the experience so he could understand the relationship that most people don’t get to have with their food better. When becoming a vegetarian almost ten years ago, Christian told himself that he wouldn’t ever eat meat again unless he could bring himself to kill and process the animal himself. Nick walked him through the whole process including choosing the rooster to humanely killing it, to plucking it with an engine-driven plucker to cleaning it out and properly butchering it.
The kids were also part of the process and were experts at the how’s and why’s of raising animals for food. What he found most striking was how they all took part in the process of butchering an animal with respect for both the living creature and the food it provided for the family. The birds had to “set” for a week before they were eaten, so Christian did not get a chance to partake in a chicken dinner (and has not “jumped on the chicken nugget train since then” he states), but he has said that if one day we raise our own animals as part of a holistic system and he is responsible for the killing of said animals, then he will eat them. I respect that, but don’t know if I would ever be able to kill an animal at all, and thus plan on being a lifelong herbivore.
Overall, our week at the Food Farm was excellent. The property itself was stunning, we really connected with the family, enjoyed the work for the most part, and the weather was mostly good for our stay (except for that one hail storm, an afternoon of pouring rain followed by a beautiful rainbow, and some wet evenings when we were cozy in our little house.
After a week, it was time to hit the road again and head south, but we are going to miss that family and hope that maybe the kids will travel one day and visit us wherever we end up!
Musician, teacher, traveller. Currently on a year-long journey around the world. Bronwyn is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com.