Two springs ago, a couple friends and I drove twenty-one hours from central Pennsylvania to Anamoose, North Dakota, a village slightly north of the state center and inhabited by more cows than people (our arrival pushed the human population just over 230).We entered Anamoose late in the evening, sparse streetlights and lack of cell phone reception making the dirt roads indistinguishable and communication difficult. When we finally found the farm, the Martin family welcomed us, warmth radiating from the woodstove and a homemade birthday cake already sliced and ready to distribute.
We had committed to volunteering for three weeks on an all-natural dairy farm in exchange for food, accommodation and of course, the experience. Having no previous farming knowledge, we helped with miscellaneous tasks: baling and unrolling hay, hammering down fences for new cow pathways, collecting eggs, feeding pigs, and my favorite, bottle-feeding the calves. I even churned butter once. It was the first time in my life I ever had to really work, my fingernails continuously browned with earth and calluses appeared on my palms.
Food never tasted as good as it did after performing physical labor for an entire morning or afternoon. When mealtimes came, we were ravenous. Freshly baked bread, bright fried eggs, lean beef and warm milk awaited us. None of it bought or wrapped in plastic. Everything we ate came from the land around us. I grew up in a suburban townhome, with a streetlight outside my bedroom window and innumerable houses on the horizon. In North Dakota the sky seemed to reach forever, dappled with fluffy and brilliant clouds. On moonless nights even satellites were visible as they eclipsed the stars.
I thought that kind of life only existed in the past or in fairytales. During my time working on the farm, the physical and spiritual payoff was incomparable to anything I’ve ever done. My only regret is that I couldn’t stay longer.
alternate way to see the world #2: WWOOFing!
Benefits: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) began in 1971 in England by an exhausted office worker named Sue Coppard who yearned for the countryside and needed to escape her daily smog-filled routine. Forty years later, WWOOF-registered farms exist on every continent (save for Antarctica), offering a great chance for hands-on farming experience, a peaceful retreat and a cultural exchange. Newsletters reporting organic news and jobs listings are also available.
Restrictions: WWOOFing is for travelers who wish to spend a decent amount of time in one place. Most farms require at stay of at least a week or more. Additionally, it’s necessary to be in good enough health to perform relatively strenuous physical labor. In the event of a family staying at a host farm, children are usually welcomed.
Cost: a fee (usually between $20-30) to join a network and gain access to an extensive, detailed listing of farmers in that given area. The fee provides a year membership to the site.
Compensation: meals and housing accommodation