Hankering for a taste of the good life? Like the idea of exchanging your time and hard work for food and lodging on a farm? Then WWOOFing is for you.
The 1970s was a spirited time for people who cared about the environment – they developed renewable energy, sustainable buildings and organic agriculture.
In 1971, Londoner Sue Coppard made a deal with an organic farmer – she would volunteer a weekend’s work in exchange for food and lodging. So began World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), now a global organisation with member farms in 100 countries.
If you want to learn how to milk a cow, lay a hedge, grow oats, or make jam – look no further; in the UK alone there are 560 host farms and smallholdings to choose from.
Work varies according to the host and the season but the deal is the same every time; you trade your labour for meals, accommodation and experience. The work can be hard, but the rewards are rich.
A family affair
Glynhynod Farm in Ceredigion is a wonderful place to volunteer and the Savage-Ontwedders an inspirational family to work with. They arrived in the Teifi Valley in the early 1980s to translate John Seymour’s seminal Self-Sufficiency into Dutch.
They have been making artisan cheese there ever since for their Caws Teifi Cheese business, recently adding to the enterprise by launching Distillfa Da Mhile Distillery (Wales’s first organic distillery) in their 400-year old barn.
WWOOFers get a warm welcome here – there’s always work to be done in the dairy, the distillery or around the farm. True to the spirit of WWOOFing the hosts (John, Paula, John-James and Robert) are passionate, industrious, and proud to be organic.
This is one of only four artisan cheese makers in Wales still using ‘raw’ (unpasteurised) milk. It’s a privilege to take part in the process: watching the magic moment when the milk becomes solid and then helping to mould the curds into cheeses. And what a selection – seaweed cheese (made using local Welsh laver), sweet peppercorn cheese, cumin seed cheese (a Dutch speciality), Caerphilly, Celtic Promise and more besides – all delicious and creamy on the palate.
There’s plenty of work on the farm too, laying hedges, clearing land or hand feeding hay to the herd of Highland, Jersey, and Welsh Black cows.
The beautiful Teifi valley is home to several dairies and cheese-makers, and WWOOFers get an insight into how the farming community inter-relate – finding out about the local milk co-operative, Welsh cattle markets, and how grazing land might be traded for cheese and sausages perhaps, or windfall fruit for brandy.
WWOOFers are helpful when unexpected work like the windfalls arrive. The apples need washing, sorting and pulping before brandy-making begins in the gleaming copper, wood-fired stills, with their dials and valves like a marvellous Wallace and Gromit invention.
Cracking whisky is made here, and orange liqueur that smells of Christmas and scorched marmalade. And then there’s the gin. Red clover, white clover, juniper, elderberry, peppermint, coriander and angelica are just some of the 20 ‘botanicals’ – ingredients that crackle round your mouth in bursts of flavour.
Meals are an important part of the WWOOF deal and at Glynhynod Farm the kitchen table is sacred; big enough for everyone and cosy enough to linger over the cheese board and talk into the evening about politics, farming, football and cheese. It takes a special quality of people to welcome strangers into their home, to demonstrate their work and answer the same questions again and again.
The Savage-Ontwedders have this quality in barrels and vats, and are great representatives of WWOOF, an organisation that promotes organic growing and living, community spirit, good food, and the good life.
HOW TO GET THERE
Follow the A487 south from Aberystwyth to Cardigan and turn left at Synod Inn on to the A486. Pass through the village of Ffostrasol and follow the signs to Caws Teifi. There are regular buses from Cardigan and Aberystwyth.
FIND OUT MORE
is a membership charity, teaching people about organic growing and low-impact lifestyles through hands-on experience in the UK.
Llandysul, Ceredigion SA44 5JT
Down the road in Ffostrasol, this restaurant specialises in Italian food made with local Welsh ingredients.
Pembrokeshire SA43 2TB
The Welsh Wildlife Centre is down the valley and just across the border into Pembrokeshire on the Teifi Marsh Nature Reserve. There are lovely walks around the site and a good café in the award-winning glass and timber visitor centre.