If I were being formal, the subtitle for this article would run as follows: The Surprising Benefits of Unpaid Manual Labour. I’m sure it’s fair to say that most of us go to work for the money. I’d assume that given the chance, we’d all prefer to spend our days sat in the garden in our pants eating fried food.
WWOOFING to the untrained ear sounds like some horrid new party trend, where the young people howl at each other at various lengths adorned in bits of animal skin. It actually stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms: you are fed and accommodated for a set number of work hours a day and you work with a community of people from all over the world. It can be anything from beekeeping to mandarin picking and some aren’t even as far away as you’d think- there’s a farm in Dorset for example where you can learn about milking and cheese-making. That’s less than a three hour car ride from London.
There is a Hare Krishna Organic Farm and Eco Community in New South Wales, Australia where for an exchange of 5 working hours a day and you living in your own tent, you receive 3 cooked meals and 3 yoga/ meditation classes. Now, I’ve done this kind of thing before where I’ve felt like I’ve suddenly (and accidentally) accepted Stalinist ideals. There was even this one time on a farm in Italy where I sat in a wheelbarrow and peeled garlic solidly for 8 hours; this was later unfondly known as Attack of the Cloves. But somehow, 525 Tyalgum Road is managing to suffix ‘cult’ with a worthy ‘ure’.
The jobs are multifarious and often laborious, from smacking sunbaked earth with pick axes to hulking around saucepans big enough to cook small children in. But they’re well organised and worthwhile: you can get a good tan and a tight arse whilst feeling supported and spiritual. It was the kind of place where someone would take a speaker into the outdoor showers and you all sing together without knowing who you’re harmonising with and a couple of you are probably stood under the faucet practising yoga moves.
I worked in the temple kitchens with the most beautiful human who taught me about besan flour and the different types of jackfruit and how to make sweet guava and honey samosas. Upon my complaining about the rains, he simply said: ‘Mimi, Mother is thirsty’. I went out harvesting pumpkins and aubergines, found out that sweet potato leaves taste exactly like runner beans and are excellent in salads and got up at 5am to help milk the sacred cows. This milk is ‘ahimsa’, meaning ‘non-violent’; the calves stay with their mother and the heffers are only milked once a day to accommodate this. The calves are so tame that they nuzzle their heads into your armpits and rest there.
Essentially, I really enjoyed myself. Annoyingly, it’s stirred up an internal debate about how much enjoyment I should be able to find in any job. Now, there’s been a lot of grafting in my early working life- chef shifts when you’re starting out are grim and often 14+ hours long most of which is spent in the sink. I once joked in an interview that this had given me a high boredom threshold, somehow I did not get that job. I appreciate that often, I won’t be lucky enough to work in the middle of a subtropical rainforest picking (read: eating) macadamia nuts off the trees… But seeing as I don’t care about the money, I’m now resolved to only do stuff I care about and therein find the enjoyment.
You spend most of your week at work, don’t underestimate that commitment. Sure, one day you’ll probably be able to afford a Maserati whilst I’m sat in a cafe trying to surreptitiously sew my knickers back together with fishing line but don’t assume that I won’t be enjoying myself.
Words by Mimi Biggadike