Ever wanted to farm in the freezing cold? No, neither did I! But as it turned out, the snow that fell while volunteering on SanaView Farms made for a magical first WWOOFing experience. This post is well overdue, but I’d like to share some lessons from Farmer Kevin who introduced us to a more mindful way of farming and one I think is interesting and relevant for all of us. Plus I’ve got a ghost story to tell.
FYI WWOOFing or ‘to WWOOF’ as a ‘WWOOFer’ is the action associated with volunteering your time on small scale organic farms in exchange for food and accommodation. Feel free also to call it WOOFY farms as Stu’s mum does and read more about World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms in the super amazing post that Stu wrote.
Ok back to the story…
We travelled on the overnight bus from Washington DC, swapping business men and women in suits for countryside views. For anyone who hasn’t booked an overnight bus, be aware that ‘overnight’ does not equal ’sleep’. It was only a six hour journey, but the bus stopped almost every hour for a drop off or a break, drowning passengers in bright lights and a booming microphone that not even the most expensive eye masks and ear plugs could save you from. The only bonus of being awake at 3am was witnessing the beautiful transition into the cold as small flakes of ice turned into sheets of snow.
And so our love for WWOOFing commenced!
After a slight miscommunication via emails over three or more timezones, we were collected by our host’s friend and customer to take us to the farm. Along the way, she mentioned that we were close to a fairly famous house that we could take a day trip to. On further enquiry she remembered this ‘house’ was actually the world renowned Fallingwater by architect and ladies man Frank Lloyd Wright. Stu almost lost his load on the back seat! He studied Frank Lloyd Wright’s work at uni and it was nice to see him so excited while trying to look as cool as a cucumber.
Upon arrival at the farm were we greeted with our own little slice of architectural heaven, this super cute cabin converted from an old storage shed for saddles.
SanaView Farms is owned by wellness expert Janet McKee and managed by Kevin whose family has actually owned the farm since the 1800s. Kevin even has the creepy ‘no-smiling’ black and white pictures to prove it! In addition to growing delicious organic produce, the farm also hosts weddings and Airbnb accommodation.
Greenhouse life for us
As the farm was covered by a foot and a half of snow (that fell in one night, the night before we arrived!) the majority of our time was spent in the greenhouse to get a jump on Spring. We seeded trays of tomatoes and edible flowers as well as transplanted young seedlings into bigger pots. We also prepared some beds in the high tunnels to plant hardier veggies like potatoes and beetroot that can withstand the cold.
Have you ever felt so comfortable with someone you’ve only just met? For us, this was Kevin. One of the nicest, funniest without even trying and wholehearted guys I’ve ever met. It was at the airport where we said our goodbyes and good luck that it really sunk in how much I appreciated his generosity of time and friendship. SUCH a legend! Here he is telling the tiller who’s boss.
Over our two week stay, Kev shared his personal tips and tricks for organic farming, stories of successes and fails. He was a little accident prone! Here’s a summary of key things I learnt at SanaView and think you’ll find interesting too!
Top Two Lessons from Kevin:
1. Keep ya soil covered
Soil is the most important thing to get right first. Spend a few months or more just ‘growing’ your soil, feeding it the love and nutrients (aka micro-organisms) it needs to support healthy plant life. Kev also believed in a no till (or minimal) approach as well as always keeping the soil covered with wood chips to prevent weed growth. I had a little ‘ah-ha’ moment as he reflected about how the only soil you see bare is ground that ‘man’ has made and that in nature, the ground is always covered by foliage, grasses or other natural materials.
2. Plant with Love
Kev was a quiet by firm believer in the energies at work beyond the physical labour and elements we put into the soil. When seeding the tomatoes, he told us to take our time and ‘plant with love’. He said the positive vibes do wonders for the plants and had proved it with another WWOOFer who was a fast and efficient worker but whose seed tray had germinated at a lower rate than his which he planted at the same time. Kev also plays classical music to his plants, keeping them happy with frequencies delivered via a crackling AM radio.
Mindful planting is a topic I’ve become super interested in as the taste and feeling from eating not just organic, but produce grown with love IS different than that of factory farmed food. More on this to come.
Top Two Lessons from Me:
1. Taking pretty photos of snow is not worth loosing fingers to frost bite
OK, possibly a bit of an exaggeration, but it felt like frost bite. One evening I ventured out at sunset, minus 10 degrees, to take some photos up the hill. After about 20 minutes I returned as I physically couldn’t press the shutter down due to the pain of my cold finger tips. Stu laughed at me as I cried in pain and a little fear over the gas stove top trying to warm them slowly. Happy to report I still have all fingers and thumbs and am more committed to advancing my photography skills so I won’t have to play with the settings so much if I ever need to shoot cold climates again.
2. If your spidey-senses tingle ‘ghost’, you’re probably onto something
So I don’t want to reflect on this for too long with the fear of attracting UFO hunters, but I’m about 80-90% sure I saw a ghost one night at the farm house. As I mentioned above, the farm and farm house (minus a few extensions) has been around since the 1800s. And it made some creepy AF sounds with the original door, floor boards and windows, and an old central heating system with water pipes that made it sound like you were in a fish tank. We swapped from the cute cabin to the farm house for a week while it wasn’t being rented on Airbnb. During the day was… OK, but at night it was mind battle to ignore flickers of something or nothing in the black windows. We played music to drown out any unidentified creaks. While a shared concern between Stu and I, we managed it personally, not wanting to freak each other out.
One night I was packing up downstairs when I stopped to look at the front door which had a light that flickered red when it was locked. Light flickered red, and as I went to turn away, a white misty shape (slightly illuminated) moved slowly but swiftly from behind the glass. I went numb as blood rushed from my head to my toes in the weirdest sensation I’ll never forget. It was similar to the sensation of loosing your belly while skydiving or bungee jumping but this time it was full body. I didn’t sleep a wink that night as I was torn between closing my eyes and replaying it, and opening them again to see something/one in the bedroom. Sheer fear. I never told Stu until two days later when Janet asked if I’d heard or seen any ghosts as previous guests had. Thanks for the heads up guys!!
Go say hi!
So that’s probably enough farming advice and ghost stories for one post.
If you’re ever travelling through Pennsylvania USA, pop in to Roaring Run, Champion for a visit and give Janet and Kevin (and the ghost/s) big hug for us!