WWOOF España: Finding Peace in the Finca

So my last post was all about a wwoof experience gone completely awry. In the true contrarian habit of life and travel, I now want to write about one that gets it right.

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A week after leaving the farm in Yecla. I got on a bus from Malaga to Torrox exhausted from sleepless noisy hostels, but as usual optimistic. Two fellow Americans were waiting for me at the bus stop. Their last place of residency was also NY; I was really surprised to find two other Brooklyn residents, (not native) in this rural part of Spain. I don’t remember much from that short car ride, just fleeting thoughts that the open air and windy dusty roads were a good start. I walk through the doors of a stunning Spanish villa and am transported back to England. There are 10 other people standing in the living room, all from the UK, except the two other Americans. They are all smiles and, “Are you ok?” I stand there somewhat consciously trying to grapple my head around all the people and their places here. Eventually all the pieces come together and I figure out who the hosts are, who are visiting family members, who are past and present wwoofers; who stays and who goes.

I was at Finca La Paz for a little under a month and the shifting of wwoofers, and visitors, and friends was consistent and played a huge part in my stay. But what played a larger role was the finca, the land, the garden; and what I could find there. The garden has been up and running for about six years and in the last two years or so a permaculture design and practice has been more rigorously implemented.  There were 12 huertos, vegetable beds, and over 60 different fruit trees not including dozens of olive trees. I could spend a post on each vegetable bed I think, expect for two and seven. Two just had asparagus that we just looked at in confusion for the first two weeks or so and eventually started watering twice a day. Bed seven just had sweet potato whose irrigation got turned off so they looked a little maltreated. But I spent a few hours weeding and mulching and with the irrigation back on in 10 only days or so they looked grateful for being remembered.

 

 

So permaculture is basically using nature with nature and not against itself. No spraying of pesticides, no extreme use of fossil fuels, only for the strimmer. We don’t just weed carelessly and profusely, rather we pull weeds and mulch, using them around vegetables and fruits to protect the soil from the drying tendencies of the wind and the sun. There are no chemical fertilizers, but the soil in the south of Spain is extremely dry so once a week there is a plant feed. There are four different types of fertilizers we used: potassium, nitrogen, iron, and manure water. The potassium is made up of ash from the fire place mixed with water. The nitrogen water is made of these weeds called stinging nettles. Their name is pretty self- explanatory, if you touch them with your bare hands you feel this burning, stinging sensation for about 10 minutes then it goes away. There was an agave plant that really helped for the impatient, like me. Mush up the stinging nettles and add water for nitrogen water. The iron water is made up of old pieces of iron soaked in the water and the sun for ages. Add more water, get more iron water. Manure water is exactly how it sounds. Let manure, a pretty horses’ or handsome donkeys’, sit in a tub for about a year so it becomes all liquid and gross-ish, and then it’s like Herminoe waved a piece of wood around, or time just passed, either way it’s manure water. All that is needed is a thin layer of feed into a watering can and then it is fully diluted with water.

A wwoofer veteran who has been coming to finca la paz every winter for four years left a manual behind with all the rules and guides of what to do; connecting huerto  to huerto. He wrote some lovely quotes one is, “Trust mother nature she knows how to take care of herself better than you do.” I guess that is what permaculture is, it is acknowledging the fact that the natural forest thrives and lives so well without human interaction. To use nature for cultivation we should follow the model she has set.

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Now in our oil drenched, energy obsessed age of comfort that is easier said than done. There are all these things we need. But besides that we have processed nature so far from herself it will take a few years for her to get her groove back. When she does, we may have to change a few of these needs to not cramp her style too much. Long hot showers, high toilet paper usage, non-local diets, electricity and running water for days. If we think about the source of many things we find “normal” well they are actually quite luxurious. If we think of the amount of energy and water is used for flushing toilets, running water while washing dishes, fully lite homes in the nighttime, and having excess food waste (as I am guilty of as someone pointed out because I tend to leave a bite behind), it isn’t permaculture. It isn’t using nature the way it was intended to be use. But baby-steps, this isn’t a sprint.

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Every week I spent at finca la paz was like taking baby steps; in my mind, intellect, and emotions. My knowledge of the garden and my familiarity with what the plants needed and liked slowly grew. Getting to know the chickens better and looking after them. Making a compost heap with brown and green matter. Planting baby tomato and basil plants with another wwoofer and watching both relationships grow. Coming from an experience that left my guard sky high and slowly letting the daily tasks and the sun melt it down. Like putting straw under strawberries to keep the slugs from munching into them as the sun burned into my muscles. Or carrying sacks of heavy manure up and down the hill in the garden. Harvesting lettuce, oranges, avocadoes, swiss chard, arugula, strawberries, onions, calbrese, broccoli, and many more food items for our lunches and dinners. Skipping down to the chicken house to collect eggs every evening around sunset. Eventually I started to find my equilibrium and optimism in my tasks and the people around me in a balance unlike I have ever had before.

It wasn’t that I was always comfortable or always felt amazing, rather multiple times in a day I felt so present. Now thinking back on it what dragged my emotions in all sorts of turny ways didn’t have to do with the garden. Working there gave mIMG_1515e a calm presentness that can only be truly recognized when it’s gone. But I did appreciate it along the way; at the point when I turned off my knee-jerk reaction to run and seek for who knows what, I saw how truly amazing it all was.

 

Another quote from our garden guide, “You can cut down all the flowers, but you can’t cut down the spring.” There is this consistent renewal of energy in nature that is just there, pulsing, driving, procuring, coming. It can’t be stopped. Pain can be felt and others can try to put you down or attempt to take pieces of you from yourself; but each of us as individuals and collectively are a force of ourselves that cannot be stopped. To be immersed in the beauty of that left me feeling aided in the pursuit of my life, I guess, or something of the sort. It is just an energy that cannot be defined.

 

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WWOOF España: Cuando las cosas se Desmoronan

I don’t want to write this story, but I feel unsure how to move forward with this online journal of mine without telling it. So here it is.  I arrived at a farm in Yecla, Spain on Feburary 21st. I was told before that there would be a man named Justo on the farm and other wwoofers. My bus pulls into the station at about 11pm and Justo was there waiting for me. He spoke only Spanish, but really slow Spanish which I was grateful for; my Spanish has been slowly improving but it’s nowhere near fluency. In the car on the way to his house he mentioned something about another pueblo or house and how I could ride a bike to go there. I just learned how to ride a bike recently (I know, no judgments please) and was nervous that there was a lot of travel for work. So I asked a question about if there is a lot of work at this other house. He obviously misunderstood and said this isn’t a hotel. I immediately felt uncomfortable, offended, and honestly a little bad about wwoofer reputation that he just met me and felt the need to remind me that his home isn’t a hotel.

The next day when there were only two places set for breakfast I realized that there were no other wwoofers. I was looking forward to working with people, but was pretty indifferent at the same time, it is just how things go. He has a beautiful home there is a patio in the middle of it where the sun or stars can shine down. It is in the shape of a square and opposite the main house are two spare rooms where the wwoofers sleep. The bedroom was made up of a mat with a sleeping bag, a bathroom, and no heat. In the back of the house was a huge garden with lots of plants covered with mulch next to rows of broccoli, lettuce, garbanzo beans. Lots of nice green things. We gathered vegetables for lunch and headed to “el campo.” Where we worked is about a 7 minute drive from the house and basically the whole time I was there we were putting up fences to protect the almond trees from the rabbits. The work was monotonous, physical, and a bit technical. Also the weather was really cold and windy. But it was good, I like the feeling of being physically exhausted and then eating the healthy slow food. I felt great. When we return to the house for dinner I felt that Justo had become more comfortable with me.  He started sharing his opinions about all the problems in the world, and about how America, New York in particular, is the devil’s home etc. I have my own feelings about my home city and country from personal, social, and political perspectives. My opinions are not more valid than another persons; but it is difficult to listen to someone speak with so much authority on a place they have never even been. At first it was a conversation between similarly minded people. But it soon became a lecture about everything, particularly food. He went onto say food is so important and he understands this more than other people and how what he grew was far superior to everything. I understood what he meant but I also thought of all those farms in Ireland I saw and how I met so many people who were actively living lives off the grid. No use of fossils fuels, limited use of supermarkets and who composted everything, down to their own poop. I was confused and tired and just waiting impatiently for my exit.

The next few days were about the same. The same demanding work, the same organic food, and Justo’s attitude remained the same but became more difficult as the complaining and judging became more insistent. He would say how his whole life is a lot of work and no one else wants to work, no other life is as difficult as his. How he wants to change the world with his almond trees and organic food. How the wwoofers come from big cities and they don’t work enough and having them is more work for him. How wwoofers don’t respect his life. Also how everyone kept leaving. How no one wanted to work as hard for a brighter future. How no one cared as much as he did. Sometime in the middle of my stay I finally said, I thought that the work was fine, that the food was good but that the energy was really negative and heavy. And that I felt he had many great facets to his life here but that it doesn’t matter if it isn’t a place people want to live. I said that for him to get what he wanted he couldn’t expect everyone who came here to be who he wanted them to be. That he would have to change as well. He said he heard me but then I think he just started resenting that exact thing about everyone. No one was him; therefore, everyone was somehow less.

Things just got harder. The next Friday, after we finished working I was looking forward to running away to my cold room. But he started talking about not having wwoofers anymore and how he was just alone. He basically reiterated all the negative things he had said previously. I went and took a shower and stayed in my room the rest of the evening not even resurfacing for dinner. The next day was the same, he was quiet. I ate breakfast and was off for the day, so I take a bike ride. I came back and helped him in the garden a bit before lunch. We ate in silence for the most part, then I mention something my brother told me about the soil on Church Ave in Brooklyn. They were going to grow something but the soil was so bad from years of pollution that is was impossible. I just said it to say something really and to talk about sustainability and hopefully lead to something about alternative ideas of growing food in NYC. A few moments later he said, “I am sad today.” I really didn’t want to but of course I said “Por que?”

He went on to say how he is dead, how the world is dead, and how everyone thinks everything is far away. The soil in NYC, the war in Iraq, Hiroshima, all these things are far away and everything is dead. He said he can stay in his little oasis and nothing can be done about the rest of the world. The energy has stopped, and he is already dead. I try to say something, and he cuts me off, “You and me no talky talky.” He went on to say, “Tu tienes no problemas, you are good, you are fine.” I was  infuriated I had confided in him things about me and what my life has been like. How my father works 7 days a week, how the people he blames for ruining the world also affect the people in America, in NYC, and how I know people who struggle every day to make ends meet, just the same as him. Not everyone can work the land, not everyone is concerned with the making of food, but that doesn’t make them less than him. That last day he just seemed to see his life and nothing else outside of it.

I see this as the problem. The people in suits have no idea about his life and the struggles he faces. And he dismiss everyone who doesn’t have the same values as him. There is no communication, no understanding, and no balance. It doesn’t matter what you do or what your cause is if you’re not willing to integrate your ideas in the reality of our distorted world. No one will hear you and no one will want to be a part of want you want to create.

He goes on ignoring me and saying he is dead. I left shaking. Of all the farms in Spain how the hell did I end up here? I also think he is right. Wwoofers, people, me, a lot of time we use words and not as many actions. Even wwoofers, I mean I have only met a few but not all of them want to change the world they seem to just want an escape and are looking for people who will facilitate that. I sit there thinking ok, I can see what he is saying, but why does he refuse to see me? I went back and asked him if he wants me to leave, he said no, “Es tu casa.” I leave. He comes back and says maybe I should leave and goes on and on, its so much Spanish and my effort to understand dwindles all I hear, “Muerte, todo est muerte.” He has so much and he doesn’t see, he can’t change the world if he can’t even find happiness in the one he has created. He finally leaft to go to el campo. When he came back I ask him when I should leave, he doesn’t respond. I said there are buses tomorrow. “Si, manana major.” Fine. I showed him the bus times and he says, “Que? Am I a taxi?” I prepare the food, I do this and that. At that point I started to cry, is he actually saying I don’t work right now? I said I am not a bad person or a bad worker and he knows this, he had given me many compliments about my work before. He just says you don’t help enough with the food. “Lo siento,” I throw my hands in the air and leave. I go to my room shivering and crying. Then I stopped, this is just life after all.

I packed up my stuff. In the morning I woke up really early to make the first bus, got my things together and left. I said to him good-bye. “Gracias, buenas suerte en su vida.” He wished me the same. I start the 1.5 hour walk to the bus with about 22kg (48lbs) of stuff. I try to hitch but no one would pick me up. I think I felt almost every emotion on that walk to the bus. As I was leaving, I think I was a bit numb, in shock of the situation. Then I started to want to cry. Then I felt grateful, for my strength. That for some reason even though life keeps handing me shit I don’t break down. Then I started thinking about how bad is this truly. For centuries people have been exiled from their land and have had to walk toward new lives. People have walked much further with much more baggage. People have dealt with so much more difficult situations than I have. But in the world I live in, having a bad hair day can ruin your week. Someone leaving you can ruin your decade. To the people I know what happened to me is basically the worst thing that could happen outside physical pain/ death. I thought about that. I thought a lot about my last few days there, replaying our conversations in my head. I thought about how I am not mad; how I felt disbelief about the situation. But also how I felt really bad for him, he must be so sad in his life to treat me like this. I thought about how much this sucks, but this is a part of life and worst things will happen. I mean good things will happen too, and there will be times when nothing happens. I eventually get on the bus and my whole body collapses in exhaustion. As we drive out of Yecla, I thought it is only 9:30am and it’s already over.

My mind continued to write the story way after I sat on that bus. But eventually the script stops, the story integrates among all the other stories told and untold. Life just goes on.