I don’t know what I was thinking when I signed up for the WWOOF program on my trip to New Zealand. Just the name is a bit off-putting: Willing Workers On Organic Farms sounds a whole lot like rural slavery involving whip-cracking task masters and a diet of tofu and herbs.

However the deal is this – you work four to six hours a day in exchange for accommodation, food and (potentially) the sharing of knowledge and skills. I think it was the desire to experience a different, more real side of New Zealand that made me pay forty dollars in exchange for The Book of WWOOF, which lists all contributing farms in the country . After all, going clubbing in Auckland can’t be everything there is to traveling through this part of the world. But there was more to it, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it: That I could endure hard, physical labour, sparse food and general hardship. But boy, was I wrong. Working on a farm without getting paid is much funnier than I thought!

Most credits go to my temporary mum and dad, Gill and Graham, whom I called up after long deliberation over what kind of farm I wanted to work at (I chose them because they grow almonds, and I love almonds). The proper term for them is hosts but that just sounds too cold and impersonal to describe all the wonderful things G&G do for their willing workers: They baked me cookies and fed me hot chocolate at night, they let me use their canoe on the nearby river and lent me their best outdoor gear (gumboots – they are so much cooler than they look), and they taught me valuable farm stuff like how to avoid being peed on by a goat while you’re trying to milk it. It might come in handy again one day!

Days do begin shockingly early on a farm (we were meant to be awake at 6 am) – on the other hand I adapted to the rural lifestyle by falling asleep like a log at 9.30 pm sharp. There was really not much else to do at night: The next house was miles away, the sun was setting at six pm, and there were no street lamps to speak of, in short: No glittery city distraction could come between me and country life.

Of course it didn’t help that there was no stopping during the day – there is always a tree that wanted to be harvested and pruned, various animals that needed feeding or milking (and sometimes even killing for dinner); then there was weeding, planting, processing almonds, secretly crying in the shed over the poor chicken that lost its life just so you can have a nice roast…As they say  “There is always something to do on a farm.” Especially when the septic tank overflows. Bliss.

Surprisingly, I didn’t really have any urban cravings to speak of during my stay. Granted, on my first outing to the nearest town (to which I biked all the way, because that’s how rural I got) I desperately eyed up Thai takeaways and vending machines, but after a while I got past mundane things like that. Instead, I enthusiastically kept improving my goat-milking skills (clamp first, then press), broke my own records in wood chopping and, oh yeah, I got strong. I mean, wow: For the first time in my comfortable, non-strenuous life I was actually building up muscles. I can carry stuff now! I no longer get sore just from climbing a ladder! Plus: With working like a pack horse, I didn’t really have time for applying make-up (and I didn’t even mind!), and my arachnophobia declined antiproportionally to the amount of bugs falling on my head when I lay in bed.

The impossible happened: I became a country girl! And you can, too! There are only really a couple of things that should be considered before investing in a pair of gumboots. First, be willing to get your hands dirty. Because they will. Luckily, so are everyone else’s. Be prepared to spend a lot of time with just yourself as company. Singing songs and telling yourself jokes helps. Finally, don’t be scared to pick up weird skills! Goat-milking? Yeah, I still show off with that one sometimes.

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*guest post by Louisa von Reumont

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