In 2009, I discovered an organization called WWOOF and decided I would become a WWOOFer. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. I made numerous attempts to find a farm, but had no luck. I was about to throw in the towel when I finally located a small organic farm just north of Decatur, Texas that was open to me coming out and working with them. The farm wasn’t too far from the D/FW area, where I lived, so after driving out to meet the owners, I signed on for  a short stay.

I lived and worked full-time as a volunteer at Rose Creek Farms for five weeks during the hottest part of the summer (mid-August to late-September). I received room and board, but no pay. Since I lived in the D/FW area, I knew it would be very hot and very humid, but figured I could handle it. After all, I had worked in residential construction for almost ten years. Yeah, right, some twenty years earlier! Little did I know what I was in for.

I was 59 then, so no spring chicken, but was still in pretty good physical shape. But no matter what you tell yourself, a city boy at any age, much less my age, shouldn’t try to keep up with farmers who have been doing this type of work all their lives. To make matters worse, there was a strapping, 20-something WWOOFer from Ohio who was also working at the farm as a volunteer so, naturally, I had to keep up with him, too! Hey, I had my pride to consider. 😉

After sitting indoors on on my butt in front of a computer for years, I don’t mind telling you the transition to farm work was nothing short of brutal. After the first week, I thought I was going to die. After the second week, I felt like I was dead and just hadn’t fallen over yet. I was literally running on fumes and it was sheer willpower and determination that got me through those first two weeks. While I was there, I disintegrated a pair of jeans and two pair of leather gloves. I pulled more weeds than you can imagine, weeds that had been left to grow unchecked, weeds with well-established root systems, weeds that were not going to come out of the ground without a fight. In fact, I pulled so many weeds it took a month for my fingers to uncurl after I left!

But I learned to pace myself and made it through my first farming experience no worse for wear, much healthier than when I arrived, and with a much deeper appreciation for where our food comes from and for farmers and farming in general. The farm owners were two of the nicest people and two of the most hardworking people I have ever met.

In late 2009, after returning to the D/FW area, I was all set for my next WWOOFing experience — in frigid Montana at the very beginning of winter. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately!), my car started giving me trouble so I had to cancel the Montana trip.

In the Spring of 2010, I stumbled across a job that would get me out of the city again and actually pay me some money. So for five months (June through October), I lived and worked in the remote SE Oklahoma mountains, out in the woods, right on the very western edge of the beautiful and scenic Ouachita National Forest.  For five months, I lived a spartan existence and was pretty much cutoff from the outside world — no potable water, no air conditioning, no indoor shower, no Internet, no Smart Phone, no TV, and no newspaper. The closest Wal-Mart was to the east in Mena, Arkansas, about 40 miles away, or to the north in Poteau, Oklahoma, about 45 miles away.

For five months, I was physically active courtesy of all the manual labor I was doing — swinging a pick and working a rock bar while digging trenches for electrical conduit and French drains, and moving tons of gravel by shovel and wheelbarrow. But I breathed fresh air into my lungs 24×7, bathed my skin in warm (and oftentimes hot), direct sunlight all day long, and took outdoor showers under the crystal-clear heavens while fully exposed to the vastness of a mind-boggling cosmos.

The whole experience was overwhelmingly positive, well, except for the hordes of chiggers that literally ate my lunch. But I have never felt more alive and more healthy. I love being outdoors. The body and mind are not meant to be cooped up, living under artificial light, sedentary, breathing recycled, refrigerated air in the summer and recycled, hot, dehumidified air in the winter, engaged in mind-numbing distractions like watching countless hours of TV, or parked in front of a computer pretending your cyber-social interactions on Facebook are the real deal. Overall, it’s a very toxic and very unhealthy way to go through life. Living like that will kill your soul, dampen your spirit, and fog up your brain to a point where you can’t even think straight.

However, in October, 2010, I received a call from my aunt. Actually, she is not a blood-aunt, she is my aunt by her previous marriage to my uncle, who is long deceased. But, as far as I am concerned, she is still my aunt and I think of her current husband as my new uncle. They are both well into their 80s and have no children. The three of us are very close and we have a great relationship. They were (and still are) having a hard time getting around and needed help keeping their place up and running.  So I moved to West Central Texas to be with them.

Back in the city, three months of indoor living is all it took for cabin fever to set in. I felt like I was getting a little bit stir crazy, too. I needed to get back outside in the fresh air and sunshine — and I needed it now. I read an article in the local paper about an organic farm that started up last year, so I volunteered to work with them as often as possible in the afternoons because my mornings are pretty busy with my aunt and uncle. So this blog will primarily be about my experience working as a volunteer at Grapevine Farms in Abilene, Texas.