We were lucky enough to have a helping hand from our Wwoofer (volunteer) Nisreen this summer, who’d traveled all the way from Boston, Massachusetts to work at Farm2Fork for three weeks.
She’s been chronicling her journey as a Watson Fellow in a blog, as she explores innovative agroecological techniques by working alongside farmers, ranchers, gardeners, and researchers in various parts of the world.
We wanted to share an excerpt of her writing with you, which sets out a typical day wwoofing at Farm2Fork. We loved having her to stay and wish her all the luck in her future travels.
This is a cut-down version, but you can read her full blog here.
I lived and worked for three weeks on a second farm in Somerset, England. This animal farm uses organic and holistic practices to produce meat, without the use of synthetic chemicals or fertilizers. While putting up fences, wheeling chicken cages, and asking the farmer millions of questions, I have learned about his approach, the challenges small farmers are facing in England, and a variety of other farmer-developed strategies for low-input animal grazing.
First, we move the geese from inside the shed out onto the pasture, by opening the gate and then walking behind them. Out on the grass, they enjoy a diversified diet and sunshine. We then distribute a layer of dry hay onto the soiled pen ground, refill the feed, and replace the water.
Next, we go to the chicken trailer-park (unofficial name), and move the mobile chicken cages onto fresh grass. We lift the covers from these chicken-tractors, remove the containers of food, lift the wheels up by chains at the corners of the cages, and then push the pens forward, until the grass underneath has been completely replaced. The advantages of such a system are plentiful. Firstly, chickens do not tend to roam far from their home base, so this moving-cage-system forces them onto new grass, ensuring more feed and a cleaner environment. Otherwise, odors and disease could build up in the areas surrounding the pen. Also, the new grass provides a more nutrient-rich diet. Meanwhile, moving the chicken pens distributes chicken poop all over the field, fertilizing new ground. Even with full and constant access to grass, we still provide organic grain for the chickens to ensure that they get all of the nutrients that they need.
I first learned about this mobile-cage technique while reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, but flew all the way to England to observe a technique first developed by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia. This adaptation of a technique developed by a farmer in another part of the world contributes to my interest in how farmers innovate and share knowledge. In this case, the farmer I work with read Salatin’s You Can Farm, and was inspired and continued to research from there.
After the chickens, we box and prepare meat orders to ship to customers, and then we take a tea break.
After tea, we tend to other farm tasks, such as putting up fencing, cleaning something, herding sheep that have escaped our fence system, organizing meat packages, and doing other things depending on what needs to be completed. After a lunch break, we continue with these tasks.
Next, we move the cattle and sheep onto new grass by taking down and putting up electric fences, making new grass available to them, while blocking off other pastures to give the grass time to recover. The farmer adapted this method from Allan Savory’s Holistic Management (which Savory trademarked), an approach that promotes the health of grass to support grazing systems. The farmer I worked with believed that in using Holistic Management, his farm was not as negatively impacted by the heatwave, because he adjusted his technique to slow down animal rotations to parallel the stunted grass growth during the drought. This encouraged the cows to eat all types of plants growing in the grassland, rather than just chomping on their favorite grass. The cows were still well-fed, as we could tell from their calm behaviors in the field and the consistency of their manure.
The sheep tend to find ways to escape this fence system in search of their favorite plants, their wool creating some insulation between the electric fence and their skin. So, we often spend some time herding them back into the correct field, and finding ways to strengthen the fence so that they do not escape again!
Finally, we bring the geese back into the shed.
During my first week on this farm, I grew easily frustrated with myself. I wanted to complete farm tasks well and efficiently, but found the learning curve to be steep. I had to patiently remind myself that this was new to me, but I often felt that I had to prove myself. As a woman, with some farm experience, and as a native English-speaker (some volunteers are not) I often felt I had to prove I was strong, capable, and competent. I found that this was making me a bit stubborn. I thought back to how it took me two months of tree planting during my reforestation internship in Panama last summer to learn the technique for using a palacoa (post-hole digger). I had been so focused on completing the task, that only hundreds of holes later did I try my supervisor’s strategy and improve my technique.