Bristol based guest blogger Laurence Jarrett-Kerr writes about his experience of spending the week WWOOFing on a Cornish farm. To read more from Jarrett check out his blog chasingwilderness.com.
WWOOFing – A family’s farming experience
We drove our clean city, three-door hatch down a tight, muddy Cornish lane. No sooner had we parked up than our cheery host family greeted us and took us in our wellies on a tour of the land.
We’re a family of four living in Bristol. I grew up in the countryside, helping out with the harvest on the next door farm, playing in hay bails, drinking raw cows’ milk and loving the outdoors. Adele is town born and bred, growing up in San Fernando, Trinidad, and living only in cities since moving to the UK. Our children are one and three and we were going WWOOFing https://www.wwoof.org.uk/ (WWOOF stands for worldwide opportunities in organic farming). In other words, we were set to spend a week on a farm in Cornwall, working for our food and bed.
We’ve both become really passionate about the food system. We buy organic where possible, we grow our own veg and we’ve recently started an organic food buying group in our area of Bristol. So, going to a small farm, seeing the food chain up close and participating in the business-end of the food chain was an intriguing prospect.
Within minutes, our hosts showed us their four fields, 50-strong flock of Jacobs sheep, two Gloucester Old Spot pigs, the site of the outdoor kitchen they are building, their chickens and the site of their veg garden – all of which we’d be getting quite acquainted with.
Our first day, we were hit squarely in our food hole about the reality of the food chain. Well, more like slapped, probably. Each pig’s back legs has to be tattooed before slaughter. I would help load the pigs into the trailer the following morning. The tattooing process is called pig slapping as you put a load of ink on a spikey thing and slap them very hard on each rump. Both sides of the rump need to be marked as it gets sawn in half in the butchering process. Eek.
I was excited though a bit uneasy, initially, but, as I watched them get ‘slapped’ and go right back to eating I realised how meaty and strong these guys are.
The next day we, eventually – after much swearing and coaxing – loaded them and they were taken off. A few days later, the butchered meat turned up and we eat the most delicious chops and sausages I’ve ever had. Of all the meats, pork and possibly lamb are the ones said to seriously taste different if they are well-fed, organically-reared and kept in great environments.
We timed our trip with lambing season, thinking this would be fascinating for the kids. Days came and went. We wandered the field trying to spot activity and nothing was happening. They just kept on munching away on the leafy, salad-like grass sown.
We set up pens, I drove the quad (awesome fun for a city boy), Adele painted the chicken coop, we planted veg and, finally, on the last day, lambs came.
Again, as we eat amazing (older) lamb from a previous set that evening, I had to contemplate these animals as a) the food on my plate and b) money in the pocket for this family.
Every lamb born is a bit more profit, every time the vet is called, more of that profit is gone. There are a lot of things to worry about, and yet they love livestock. They love rearing them as best they can: from ensuring the grass is of high-quality grass to allowing them to lamb naturally and outside in order to stop the spread of disease in a barn.
I’m struck with the sheer effort that goes into lovingly producing meat on this scale and in this way versus how cheap meat is in the supermarket. It’s just cemented in my mind that I have to eat organic 100% of the time if I can and support local farmers as much as possible. And to make that possible it might mean eating less meat, so that we can afford it, but it’ll be tastier and better for us when we do have it. And I might just be helping pay someone’s mortgage.
I can’t recommend going WWOOFing enough. It can just be down the road. It’s not a holiday – it is hard work. It’s tough doing it with kids. But it was great for my soul. We had fantastic weather (which helped). We met inspiring people. And we learned more about ourselves, about farming and about the food chain.
Seriously, go WWOOF.