Oct052012
WAMU 88.5: 'Tourists' Till the Land, Learn Farming from The Ground Up

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'Tourists' Till the Land, Learn Farming from The Ground Up

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Christina Allen shows off her garden, which has taken a toll from the recent droughts.
Sabri Ben-Achour

Christina Allen shows off her garden, which has taken a toll from the recent droughts.

It's apple season on Christina Allen's organic homestead farm, and as she trudges through her orchard, she grabs a piece of fruit from a tree, crunches into it, and tests it for ripeness.

"If the seeds are black, it's ready", she explains. "This one is 90 percent ready, we could make cider."

One of Allen's inquisitive and rare beige colored Jersey Buff Turkeys stares longingly at the core and gladly pecks at it.

Allen is showing her farmhands how to harvest apples. The farmhands, Bob Geisel and Erin Salsbury, have been up since 6 a.m. They've weeded, harvested, moved mulch, processed applesauce, made vinegar, and at times, have scraped chicken poop out of the chicken coop.

These are not, however, farmhands like from a John Steinbeck novel. They're doing this... for fun.

"[We want] to tap out of the rat race for both of us", explains Salsbury, "a slower lifestyle, better for the environment. Since it seems like there's a lot of things happening to the earth right now, wanting to go back to basics."

Salsbury and Geisel stay for free in a small yellow cottage on the homestead, and in return they help Christina Allen and her husband Frank on the farm and learn a thing or two about organic farming and living along the way.

"We're looking at homesteading, too, as a couple, so this is good practice for us," she says. "We're learning transplanting, what animals eat, how to take care of animals, and identifying weeds... simple things like that, 'cause I'm very new at this. It's a whole lot so I take what I can, and I write it down at night so I can keep track."

This thing they're doing — sort of organic farming tourism/apprenticeship — is a real thing. It's called WWOOFing, which stands for World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farms. It started in the '70s, and there's a whole U.S. organization devoted to matching volunteers with the 17,000 farms looking for participants."

Sara Potenza helped start it in the U.S. She says it's a lot of fun and a cultural sort of exchange, but these days, it's an economic issue for some.

"Small family farms do it because they're 'squeaking to get by," she says. "In the last couple of years, our membership has doubled pretty much each year from the previous year. So, I attribute a lot of that to the way the economy has been in the last couple years and people are looking for something more affordable."

Back under the apple trees at the Allen homestead, a few 5-gallon buckets (and a few turkeys) are full of apples. There is an incredible amount to learn on this farm.

Apples become fruit leathers, cider, vinegar and applesauce. Sheep become mutton, blankets and washcloths, chickenfeed, and compost.

Turkeys eat bad apples, miniature sheep eat weeds, their manure becomes apples as fertilizer, and they become dinner.

There's even a catfish tub. They live on algae, and their manure water is used to water the greenhouse plants.

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