Among the 1400 member properties in the U.S. is the Heirloom Project. Located in the culturally thriving college town of Missoula, Montana, this urban homestead is home to Kristen Lee-Charlson and her family.
But Lee-Charlson doesn’t see it as a one-way street. As she explains, “We were not only thinking, ‘how do we get things done (day to day),’ but also ‘how do we create a learning environment for a different generation?’”
“We’ve only been on our homestead for a year and a half, so we’re learning along the way as well. But we’re not only developing the property, we’re also developing a sense of community in our neighborhood. When the WWOOFers come I think, ‘Who in my circle can they be exposed to for other skills that I don’t possess?’ I want them to be able to take part in the opportunities to be educated. I don’t expect them to be standing in the sun all day.”
So what does she expect?
“We really are super chilled and flexible. But we also require a certain work ethic. Some WWOOFers get up at six in the morning and do a couple of hours’ work and then take some time off later. Or we might do some things after dinner instead of working in the heat of the day.”
And while some WWOOF properties expect participants to buy and/or prepare their own food, those at the Heirloom Project are luckier. Not surprisingly, given Lee-Charlson’s foodie credentials, she places a big emphasis on eating well. “We’re still waiting for some of our own stuff to grow, but in the meantime we source all kinds of farm-fresh ingredients—pastured meat, dairy, vegetables…We have our own chickens, so there are always plenty of eggs. There’s an abundance of food. It’s something I take pride in. Nearly everything we have available is made from scratch—there’s very little packaged or processed.
Says Lee-Charlson, “The WWOOFers who just left turned to my kids and said, ‘Do you realize what you have here—do you get how lucky you are?’”
And what did the kids reply? “They’re so used to eating like this. This is normal for them.”
While the main objective of WWOOFing is to get your hands dirty, not every moment is spent working. WWOOFer and recent Heirloom Project visitor Brittany Allison, Heirloom Project owner Kristen Lee-Charlson, and Missoula resident and International Wildlife Film Festival and Montana CINE International Film Festival Executive Director Janet Rose give their recommendations on where to eat, drink and hike locally:
1. Good Food Store: Missoula’s own Whole Foods-style market, selling cheese, meat, produce, bread, toiletries, prepared meals—you name it. It’s all organic or natural. 1600 S. 3rd St. W., (406) 541-3663,www.goodfoodstore.com
2. Bernice’s Bakery: Everything is made in-house at this passionately run spot. The cakes and muffins are ridiculously good, but the savory stuff is equally hard to pass up! 190 S. 3rd St. W., (406) 728-1358,www.bernicesbakerymt.com
3. Break Espresso: If you need a pick-me-up, this laid-back café-bakery does strong coffee. There’s also WiFi if you want to connect with your folks back home. 432 N. Higgins Ave., (406) 728-7300
1. Biga Pizza: Seriously one of the best pizza places ever. It’s run by Bob Marshall, who makes everything himself, from Flathead cherry chutney to sausages to the pizzas. 241 W. Main St., (406) 728-2579,http://bigapizza.com
2. Bayern Brewing: This eco-friendly brewery makes the best hand-crafted true Belgian-style beer around. It gets its water directly from the Missoula aquifer, rather than the chlorine-laden city water. 1507 Montana St., (406) 721-1482, www.bayernbrewery.com
3. Ten Spoon Vineyard & Winery: Our only organic local winery. It grows and uses some of its own grapes as well as organic Flathead cherries. 4175 Rattlesnake Dr., (406) 549-8703, www.tenspoon.com
1. Roxy Theater: Originally built in 1936, this is one of the oldest historic theaters in Montana. It screens great films on major cultural, social and wildlife issues. 718 S. Higgins Ave., (406) 728-9380
2. Hiking the ‘M’: Ending at the big white ‘M’ on Mount Sentinel—the ‘M’ is in honor of the University of Montana—this is of the best hiking trails in Missoula, if not the state, if not the world! The view of the city is spectacular. Start: Campus Dr. (behind Washington-Grizzly Stadium)
3. Pearl Café: Locally grown food, prepared from scratch. It’s woodsy, with a warm and intimate atmosphere, elegant yet casual, and owned by a wonderful woman, Pearl. 231 E. Front St., (406) 541-0231,http://pearlcafe.us
At a Glance Information
There are many separate WWOOF groups operating in different countries. Annual membership fees range from around $20 to $50. WWOOF USA has around 12,000 members; to join, go towww.wwoofusa.org.
THE HEIRLOOM PROJECT
Some spots are still available during fall/winter. Contact Project Heirloomfor details.
—Location: western Montana
—Population (2010): 66,788
—Tourist information: www.destinationmissoula.org
—Major festivals and events: International Wildlife Film Festival, May, and Montana CINE International Film Festival, October (www.wildlifefilms.org for both), Big Sky Documentary Festival, February (www.bigskyfilmfest.org), First Friday Gallery Night (www.firstfridaysmissoula.blogspot.com)