I Went Farming to Inspire Myself During The Pandemic

This morning, I looked out my window at a pink-streaked sky, sunlight bursting into my room. I groggily pulled on my tennis shoes and shuffled to the door of my trailer. Orange clouds yawned in the sky, stretching from one end of the field to the other, as the sun peeked over the distant hills. I hadn’t seen a sunrise in a while, preferring sleep to the quiet satisfaction of starting my day with the morning light.

Now, I’d have the chance to see it more often. I checked my phone and figured I only had a few minutes to savor the view before I’d need to get ready. It was my first day of work on the farm.

I arrived yesterday, masks and negative COVID-19 results ready. On the flight to Portland, I’d nervously checked the notes I’d made about where to meet my host, Bill, and how far the drive would be to the farm. Meeting a strange man to take you somewhere unknown will never get easier for women, and my stomach reminded me that I’d need to be on the lookout. I got off the flight anyway, chalking it up to an adventure. If I could travel Europe by myself, then I could conquer Oregon without any problem.

Newly graduated and still jobless, I had been searching for something to fill up the rest of 2020 and, potentially, salvage it. I was living at home, working as a Sales Associate for a clothing store, and didn’t know how to inspire myself to live again. Then one day, as I picked at the same sandwich I ate every day during my twenty-minute lunch break, I received a text from my friend Madisen: Did I want to go WWOOFing?

WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is an international organization that connects smallholder farms with volunteers. For those interested in traveling the United States, WWOOF presents an educational opportunity to learn about sustainability and eco-friendly farming practices. In exchange for a predetermined number of hours of work per week (set by each host), volunteers are provided with meals, shelter, laundry, and more. It sounded perfect to pass the rest of the year, hiding from COVID-19 on a secluded farm. Three weeks after she texted, we solidified a plan to drive up the scenic West Coast and work our way down, splitting time between three farms in Washington, Oregon, and California.

Of course, something was bound to go wrong. After several months of looking for jobs in our respective fields without hearing back, Madisen and I set out on our trip. We were heading up to Berkely, California for the night when she got a job offer she couldn’t refuse, forcing us to turn around. I went back to Texas, reluctant to return to piles of clothing that needed to be straightened, folded, and hung up day after day. I sifted through the WWOOF pages, wondering if I had the guts to farm on my own. Ultimately, it was the prospect of eating that same sandwich every day that forced me to commit. I wrote to the farm in Oregon that was going to host Madisen and me to ask if they were willing to accept one volunteer instead of two. A couple of weeks later, I was back on a plane.

Fifty miles south of Portland is the small town of Scotts Mills, where I will be spending the next three weeks. At this particular farm, I am expected to work twenty hours a week in exchange for room and board, allowing me plenty of time to write, explore, and spend my evenings however I’d like. The land is home to a variety of plants and four large pigs that I am assured will not attack me. Bill is a kind, older man with a lot of knowledge after working on a farm his whole life. As he showed me around yesterday, he named the plants we passed, their components, how he uses each part of them in a new way. He pointed to a spot of green in the distance where the area’s recent wildfires had burned the grapes of a vineyard. The owners had decided to salvage as much as they could by making gallons of grape jam and juice. A few jars sat in the fridge if I wanted to try them.

After the small tour, Bill showed me to my trailer, a space that would be wholly my own, next to the pigpen. As I stepped into it, the pigs heard the trailer creak under my weight and ran towards me, expecting food. I set down my things and wandered the land, stepping across twisted tree roots and around the huge compost pile behind the greenhouses. Everything was full of color, burnt orange and bright yellow, more than I’d ever seen back in Texas. Though the harvesting season is nearly finished, I passed bright red apples hanging from branches, yellow tomatoes gathered in a wooden bin. The trees echoed these colors in the late afternoon sun, their leaves nearly gone as winter approached. I had thought it would be freezing this far north, but I took off my jacket and wrapped it around my waist, letting my camera bounce against it as I walked.

Every day will be different here, and I won’t know what to expect from my workdays until I am told what needs to be done each morning. It’s exciting, putting my hands to work in a way they never have experienced. It’s also comforting that Bill and his wife are seasoned hosts, whose routine is easy to fall into.

Towards the end of the day, I joined Bill, his wife, and another WWOOFer, Olivia, in the kitchen. It was Taco Night. Bill sent me outside to find two plump jalapeños to chop, along with two green peppers, a large onion, cilantro, and many tomatoes. I was in charge of the salsa.

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Jaxx Artz is a freelance writer with a passion for food, sustainability, and travel. She is either working out of her kitchen in Brooklyn or exploring Spain.

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Jaxx Artz

Jaxx Artz

Jaxx Artz is a freelance writer with a passion for food, sustainability, and travel. She is either working out of her kitchen in Brooklyn or exploring Spain.

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