The first definition for root, the verb, on Webster’s is “to furnish with or enable to develop roots.” I use root mostly only when referring to root vegetables and tubers, sometimes garden weed roots when talking to my mom about her garden. Then today, sending the pointer of my brain in search of the right word and being given to root was a treat… It was a surprise, a little like remembering the window seat behind the curtain.
In 2015, I took my first step in making a longtime dream come true: I signed up for a work-exchange website. The dream was to WOOF, or to work on an organic farm, a teenage notion I’d carried with me for years. WWOOF, Work Opportunities on Organic Farms, is a series of international organizations that match willing workers/volunteers with organic farmers around the world in exchange for room and board and well the experience of farming.
It took little time to fall in love with a farm perched on Okanagan Lake, filled with orchards and run by artists. It was enchanting and it made its mark. I immediately followed them on Facebook, devoured as many photos as I could and I started to dream. I guess a seed was planted.
When I quit my job earlier this year, I told myself it was a chance to make my dreams come true. Only at first I was faced with the ghastly prospect of wanting nothing and having no dreams. I knew I hadn’t been able to feel proud of myself while working for the company I did, only I couldn’t figure out what direction in which to take my life in order to make things better.
Then, I learned to sit with the confusion with an open heart of love and trust. By listening amidst the confusion and panic I found that deep in my chest still lay all the things I hadn’t dared reach for. I didn’t necessarily feel the connection I had at one time, but there was a list of dreams I hadn’t realized, and they were still alive.
This farm, in the Okanagan, was on the list.
I sent an email and they were open to take volunteers.This was perfect. I set my availability for three weeks in August, and things were great. I had to send several emails in order to finally book a Skype interview, but following that I was sure I wanted to go.
I hadn’t researched the woofing experience much because my drive to woof at that point was related to the immense gratitude I felt at having found a place to root myself, even if it was in what seemed like dreams of old. It was about atonement.
So I didn’t think much when the guidelines indicated long workdays (longer than the WWOOF suggested 4-6 hours each day) and didn’t hesitate to accept an extra day of work each week. I also didn’t think much about the living situation… I was to stay in a teepee, according to the guidelines, with access to a solar shower and a compost toilet. Lunch and dinner would be provided.
After the Skype call I booked my flights and submitted my itinerary. Then, days before my scheduled departure (which is tomorrow), I received a call asking whether I would still be going and given information on a slight change regarding living conditions. I was to now stay in a trailer and access to facilities would remain the same.
The trailer would have enough electrical capacity to support a reading light, and perhaps charging my phone, but no more. It also turned out that another woman woofer who had been scheduled to join the farm during my stay had backed out. Instead, a man/young man? would be joining and instead he would stay in the cottage on the farm.
By this point, the reality of having agreed to working for 40 hours each week with nothing but an outhouse for a toilet hit me. I didn’t want to cancel my commitment… While my mission to go to the Okanagan had been about going through the eye of the needle (of my dreams?!) I could understand that organic farmers are an especially vulnerable type.
I emailed my host with my concerns. I explained that I would feel safer with indoor accommodation. I asked whether a room in the cottage would be available to me, and even if I could reschedule to a time when the cottage might be available. In the cottage, the rooms of which are rented separately, I would presumably have access to a bathroom and shower and kitchen, all indoor. I would be able to charge my phone and laptop and sleep on a bed, feeling safer than I would in a trailer alone. I would have been happy with any indoor accommodation, and I made sure to note in my email that I would be exchanging 36+ hours of work each week for this.
But unfortunately, the response was that the cottage wasn’t available to volunteers and no mention of any other indoor accommodation was made. This was disappointing. The farm for me represented a two-year vision, a dream. The reality seemed while as beautiful aesthetically to include people without the sense of justice and fairness necessary for this sort of exchange.
What do I mean by that? That I think it is more than unfair to ask somebody to work 40 hours a week for personal financial gain while making them stay in a place with no heating or cooling, no access to a fridge or bathroom or shower, or even enough electricity to run a computer and potentially even to charge a phone.
And while the host could have chosen to reserve a room or two in their cottage for volunteers, depending on how many they planned to keep, in order to provide them with a safe place to stay, she chose something different. I felt used and disrespected and yet more than that freed of something.
I felt freed of the vision of this farm and freed from the regret of not having tried, because here I really had.
Luckily, the location of the farm happens to be very, too near the BC wildfires, so Air Canada was more than obliging to cancel my reservation and allow me to use the funds for future air travel without any penalties for this reason.
It’s tough finding atonement and direction by following past dreams. I would have lots of stray thoughts in the last weeks, after my connection with this specific farm in the Okanagan had faded due to disharmonious communication with the host, and these thoughts were about how crazy I was to want to spend time farming. At this age? At this point in my life? Your focus should be on building your career. You can’t take time off work. Everybody else is working so hard… It was difficult, but I guess worth it.