WWOOFing Around in Argentina
As summer hits Argentina and the idea of spending every waking moment outside becomes an exciting reality, Claire McKeever shares highlights of her time in the outdoors on a WWOOFing (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) experience, at a farm just outside of Buenos Aires. If you’re in the mood for something a bit different this summer then you might just want to follow in her footsteps.
After living in Buenos Aires for over a year, I was beginning to think that a little respite from the city wouldn’t go amiss. Plus, it was nearing the end of my time in this incredible city (and country) and I wanted to make sure I soaked up every last bit of it. Cue the opportunity to spend a few weeks in the great outdoors as a “WOOFer”. Yes, pure, unadulterated sun and soil… Ahem. Not for everyone maybe but I was definitely looking forward to some time away from the city and to experience a different way of life.
The whole idea of WOOFing is that organic farms offer volunteers free food and lodgings in exchange for their willingness to help out. It’s not a bad deal but I did hear of travellers ending up on a farm where they had to ration a few tins of food between them and others who froze in makeshift tents in Patagonia. Despite hearing horror stories like these, something in me still wanting to give this WOOFing thing a go. And so, before I knew it, I was heading out of the city and not quite knowing what I had gotten myself into. Here is how it went down.
Arrival at the Farm
A two and a half hour train and bus ride later, I found myself on the roadside, looking on as the bus sped off, leaving a trail of smoke behind and me wondering if I had got off at the right stop… Eeek. Thankfully, as I looked around me and at the directions I had scribbled down on a piece of paper, I knew I was in the right place. After wandering down a quiet country path, I was relieved to see a large gate with a sign with the name of the farm, “La Farfalla”, painted on it.
Soon enough, I was welcomed at the gate by the owners, Marianna and Mati. And, after sharing an obligatory ‘mate’, I was given a tour of the grounds of the farm and introduced to all the animals: fifteen chickens, five hens, three sheep, two geese, one horse, one rabbit and three dogs. I was then led to my room, which was in fact a mud hut built within the farm grounds. It comprised of a simple mattress on the floor and a small en-suite that had a ‘dry toilet’ in it (I’ll leave you to work out what that entailed if you don’t already know). It was a humble but very liveable space and I was most excited about having a mud hut all to myself!
Life on the Farm
I was surprised by how quickly I got used to life on the farm and how much I enjoyed it. It wasn’t long before I was getting up at the crack of dawn to feed the animals (coming from someone who is in no way, shape or form a morning person), then shepherding the sheep back to their pen before sunset. The middle of the day was spent working in “La Huerta” (vegetable patch), when “Tornado”, the farm’s horse, would come and keep me company as I weeded and prepared soil for new crops. In the afternoon, Mati or Mariana would prepare a wholesome lunch then we would all go for a siesta before working into the early evening. Some days I would spend my siesta time hanging out on the hammock reading or just looking up at the trees and sky overhead. It sounds very cheesy but it was moments like this that I really didn’t want to be anywhere else.
Story of “La Farfalla”
Mariana and Mati, the young Argentine owners of “La Farfalla” (meaning butterfly in Italian), dreamed of having their own farm for years and, after spending time working and saving in Europe, they finally bought a plot of land back in Argentina that allowed them to fulfill this dream.
As we spent evenings sipping wine and chatting, Marianna and Mati would share how they knew absolutely nothing about farming before starting this venture. According to them, it was very much a case of “learning on the job”, as well as asking locals and friends to help them along the way.
Since their humble beginnings, they have achieved so much… For one, they have created an impressive eco-friendly farm, where simplistic and sustainable living is very much apart of who they are and what they do. Put it this way, there’s not an Apple device or hipster coffee shop in sight and these guys aren’t in the least bit perturbed by that. What’s more, the word ‘waste’ doesn’t exist at “La Farfalla”, with every bit of surplus food either being used as compost or food for the animals.
In addition to running the farm, Marianna and Mati provide nutritious food to local health shops and Mati has even started to produce his own artisan beer, “La Cana”, along with his friend, Juan. Not only that, Marianna makes and sells pottery at local markets and teaches tai chi on a regular basis. They are quite a pair.
To end, there is no way of saying this without sounding cliche but spending time as a WOOFer at “La Farfalla” was life-changing and an experience I’ll never forget. Although it was hard work, the slower rhythms and stress-free way of life at the farm were infectious and I do hope I can hold onto some of the amazing things I learnt there. Who knows… I might just run my own farm one day.