For three weeks this summer, 28-year-old Debbie Striegel from Switzerland stayed on a small farm near Coe Hill as a “WWOOFer”.
At first, most people she met thought “WWOOFing” must be related to wolf howls, or dog training of some sort, but in fact Striegel was participating in “world wide opportunities on organic farms.”
Striegel is a midwife who worked at a medium size hospital near Zurich, Switzerland. “I worked on the delivery ward, where women came for their checkups, and births,” she said. Most deliveries in Switzerland do not involve a doctor unless there are complications.
Deciding she needed a break from her work, wanting to travel, and yearning to learn more about sustainability and simple living, a friend suggested WWOOFing.
WWOOF is an international organization that connects small organic farms and gardeners to volunteers such as Striegel. The volunteers arrange stays of a few weeks at small farm of their choice, and work a few hours every day in exchange for accommodation, food and a learning experience.
Striegel chose two farms in Canada, and one was Judy Hatton’s farm near Coe Hill.
Hatton and her partner raise sheep for fleece, poultry, angora rabbits, bees, and a horse. They also have vegetable gardens where much of the year’s food is grown for winter storage.
“I wanted to learn more about living in a healthy and sustainable way and at the same time meet new people and get to know more about your country,” she said. “I could spend my holiday and at the same time give back. I wanted to feel your country and dig my hands into your earth.”
She also hoped to be able to go home relaxed, freshly motivated, with a head full of new ideas about where life could take her.
Initially Striegel was attracted to the description of the Hatton farm as remote.
“Learning to spin wool immediately caught my attention,” she said.
“But what immediately made me decide on the spot, was that Judy wrote that she was a feminist. As soon as I saw that, I knew that would be the best place I could ever find,” she said.
Hatton is a well-known local spinner, and processes all of her own wool right from her own sheep. This involves washing, carding, dying, spinning and knitting. Her wool mitts are ever in demand.
The rabbits also provide angora fleece, as does one Angora goat.
Hatton also has a collection of dye plants established over the past few years in her gardens.
Striegel was kept busy weeding the large vegetable gardens, sheep shearing, and doing chores. She also had the opportunity to meet new people in several towns including Bancroft, Coe Hill and Maynooth.
A quick learner, she quickly learned how to spin and ply the yarn from wool that she carded.
“Then gathering the Madder roots,” she said.
“Digging it in the garden, cutting it up, and boiling it with the wool.” The yarn was a beautiful shade of orange when it was finished. “I was all … nervous, but proud at the same time,” she said. “Accomplishing my first skein of self spun yarn, dying it with a plant just like they did in a book that I read about Middle Age Europe. How beautiful it turned out. Hey, my first time. I was so proud.”
“I was surprised how fulfilling life can be out in the woods, no television or Internet, no cellphone, no city life. There’s always work to be done but never in a rush,” she said.
Hatton enjoyed learning about her life in Switzerland, her work and her culture.
“She fit in right away,” said Hatton.
“She really became one of the family. We enjoyed her sense of humour.”
“We come from so far apart, but we shared such philosophical similarities about how to live together in this world, build community, and care for the earth,” she said.
“She was a great help too,” said Hatton. “It was a lot of fun having her here this summer.”
Striegel is back in Switzerland now.
“I had a absolutely great time,” she said. “I’ll never forget it!”
More information about WWOOFing can be obtained by checking their website at www.WWOOF.org.