From City Worker to Organic Farm Volunteer
Story and Photography by Erica Ehlers
This last spring, I quit my job inLincoln,Nebraska, and left my apartment to travel the country volunteering on organic farms in exchange for food and accommodations. It wasn’t an easy choice, but I had nothing holding me back except a steady paycheck and a place to call my own.
I’m not new to farming. I grew up on a conventional dairy farm nearLeigh,Nebraska. But after discovering organic dairy practices, which seemed natural and better for people and the environment at the World Dairy Expo inMadison,Wisconsin, I knew I had to learn more. And so, two-and-a-half years after graduating from college, I realized that I couldn’t let go of my love of dairy and I needed to take action.
To launch my adventure, I became associated with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), an international organization that connects volunteers with organic farmers. I initially heard about WWOOF while working on my Bachelor of Science degree in veterinary technology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
My first WWOOF farm experience was with Doug and Krista Dittman at Branched Oak Farm nearRaymond,Nebraska. I chose this farm because of its dairy and cheese production. I had also been to the farm the previous year for a cheese-making class, so I felt comfortable going back.
Just prior to my arrival, I had been having doubts about my decision to join WWOOF, and I didn’t know what to expect. After getting into the swing of things on the farm that first week, however, I started to feel more at peace with my decision to join.
I enjoyed learning everything that the Dittmans taught me. They gave me a lot of hands-on experience during the five weeks that I stayed with them. I especially enjoyed moving the cows to new paddocks of fresh grass because it was fun to see them eat the grass. It was also exciting to see customers come to the farm to buy cheese and raw milk because they had such great things to say about the taste and health benefits.
Additionally, I was astonished to meet so many people who share the same feelings about organic farming, which makes me more excited about the future of farming. There was a lot of work and early mornings spent milking during those five weeks, but that’s farming for you. Being surrounded by people with the same goals and passions made it worthwhile.
I plan to continue “WWOOFing,” but I do not plan to stay inNebraska. My adventures will continue through other parts of theUnited States, where I plan to stay one to two weeks—unless I find a place I really connect with—because there is much to see and learn. I want to make the most of this great opportunity while I can. The road is wide open to me, and I am taking it wherever it leads.