People often ask what’s my favorite part of my RTW trip. I wonder if they are expecting an exotic, tropical answer (the Cook Islands is certainly a contender) or perhaps an adrenaline-inducing activity (hiking a glacier or skydiving, both good options). But my answer is always this: it’s the week I spent on a dairy farm in Tasmania.
There is a program called WWOOF, which stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms. The concept is to volunteer on an organic farm doing any number of activities — picking crops, working with animals, painting fences, pulling weeds, etc. — in exchange for free room and board. It’s a popular international program that first got my attention when I worked at Waldenbooks in a Connecticut mall back in 2003 while saving up for my study abroad semester in the Netherlands. [Quick shout-out to my former co-workers who I adore even though years have passed since we last saw each other; many of them kindly read this blog!] My co-worker Lauren brought it up one day and mentioned the possibility of WWOOFing (which pulls double duty as an acronym and a verb) in New Zealand. Even back then I was strategizing various ways to travel the world — there was a point in time when all I wanted to do was join Up With People, an international singing group (scratch that, I would still totally join Up With People today). So I filed WWOOF away in the back of my brain as something I’d probably never do… but, well, you never know.
Cut to ten years later. While traveling around New Zealand, it seemed like every third traveler I met had spent time WWOOFing. It’s an incredibly popular way to travel through a rather expensive country while still sticking to a budget. And most people who’d tried it had loved it — they raved about the people they met and the crazy experiences they’d had. Before I left New Zealand I decided it was something I had to try in my next country.
When I first arrived in Melbourne I officially signed up for WWOOF and received a book filled with contact information of host families all over the country. While I did not anticipate traveling to Tasmania on this trip, I decided that WWOOFing would be the perfect opportunity to visit a new place while trying out the program. I culled over the long lists of host profiles and flagged each one that sounded like a good fit — for example, there’s a couple who builds sets and props for local theater in their spare time (not surprisingly, these were the first people I reached out to). As I went down my short list of hosts alphabetically, it turned out to be harder than I thought to get an offer — most either didn’t have work or space for more volunteers at the moment. Little did I know this was all part of some higher plan because my perfect host family’s last name is near the end of the alphabet… and I’m grateful the first batch of email recipients turned me down!
To protect the privacy of my host family I won’t reveal their last name. But I am so excited to introduce them to you, because they mean the world to me. Chris and Giuliana run a dairy farm in the town of Cygnet, a little village about an hour away from Hobart (the main city in Tasmania… or Tassie, as most people here call it).
They have three homeschooled daughters living on the farm. From L to R in the photos below: Genevieve is 15 going on 21; I’ve never met a more mature teenager… and she makes the best coffees. Emalisa, age 18, is a budding actress and model; we had lots of fun chatting about Hollywood and theater. Elena, age 21, is an incredible artist; here she is showing off her latest creation on the right below. They also have an older brother who lives in Hobart.
The family is rounded out by several dogs, birds, fish, bunnies, and a whole heard of dairy cows. There is so much love on this property that my words here can’t do it justice.
And allow me to introduce you to the cast of supporting players, the other WWOOFers on the farm — here’s Marc from the Netherlands (on the left) and Fabian from Germany (on the right).
And here are my roommates for the week — Ju Hee from South Korea and Esami from Japan:
Here’s the room we shared:
Here’s a view of the property, followed by a reverse shot taken out the front window:
This is our view at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Gorgeous, right?
You may notice throughout these photos that we all wear the same clothes during the day. That is because upon arrival all WWOOFers pick out their “work clothes” and boots from a shed full of used clothing so that we can protect our own outfits while on the farm. I very much appreciate this, as I travel with very few items of clothing and would have been bummed if they’d been smattered with mud or manure! This is my uniform for the week:
We work for a scattered 6 hours throughout the day alternating between milking the cows and other miscellaneous tasks. Every chore (except transporting the trash) is actually quite fun and I especially enjoy the communal aspect of working together to accomplish tasks. Let’s start with the cows.
First, we gather them from whichever paddock they’ve been assigned to that day and escort them into the dairy.
We line up hay for them to munch on while they’re being milked:
… and in they go!
One by one we attach these suction thingamajigs to their udders. It only takes a few minutes to relieve them of their supply, and then we take the suction things off one at a time. As Chris does this, I follow behind him with a bottle of antibacterial spray to mist their udders so they don’t get infected in the 20 seconds that it takes the teet to close after milking.
We line up freshly washed milk bottles and fill them one at a time.
We top off each bottle and then store them in a huge refrigerated vat overnight. They will be delivered in the morning.
Just before delivery, we add a sticker to indicate that the milk is intended only for pets. This is because by law you cannot sell unpasturized milk for human consumption in Australia, even though it is perfectly safe and the family drinks it daily. Ironically, I have a milk allergy so I can’t try it myself.
Here’s a sample of a miscellaneous task we did during the week — Giuliana has a huge walk-in pantry full of food items that need to be cleaned out and organized. A perfect assignment for someone with OCD tendencies such as myself! Fellow WWOOFer Marc has been looking forward to that job but I beat him to it and Giuliana teases us about it all week. He gets credit for the alphabetizing, though!
Here’s the glorious pantry — I want one of my own someday.
One task that I worked on with Esami and Ju Hee was to add hay around the growing garlic to protect them from weeds. The hay blocks sunlight and prevents weeds from growing — this is a natural and organic way to block them instead of using chemicals.
Random photo: one night a neighbor’s car got stuck in a ditch outside and we all pushed to get it out. It’s a bad iPhone pic but I don’t want to forget about the miscellaneous moments like this one.
Also, you may notice that a lot of these photos are grainy or perhaps not my usual high quality images. This is because I chose not to carry around my big DSLR camera most of the week. First of all it just wasn’t practical to use it when I was getting my hands dirty, but I also didn’t want my host family to feel like they were on display. So I kept my iPhone on hand at all times to more discretely capture moments from our week together. I did use my nice camera on the last day to document the farm and get some nighttime shots.
Now let’s talk about the FOOD! Giuliana’s family is originally from Italy so she comes by her immeasurable cooking talents honestly. She hopes to open a cooking school on the farm in the near future — and what a treat it will be for visitors to learn authentic Italian recipes alongside this marvelous woman! Here’s a sample of the meals we had over the course of one week. You’ll notice every single thing is homemade… and there are at least 10 mouths to feed at every meal. I am so impressed.
Homemade chocolate pudding made by the uber-talented Genevieve:
Homemade bread loaves:
Homemade pizza made from the leftover bread dough:
Homemade pumpkin veggie soup:
Homemade bread pudding with raisins and lemon zest:
Homemade golden syrup dumplings:
Homemade pinwheel scones:
Preparing a giant chicken dinner with a veggie/potato mix:
Fabian peels, cuts, and chops as we prepare dinner.
Here’s Marc scrubbing potatoes:
Allow me to pause for a moment to share two stories about Marc.
The photo below left was taken shortly after he slid down mud while chasing a cow. The fact that this did not damper his spirits in away way — in fact, it gave him and everyone on the farm a good chuckle — speaks to his buoyant and easy-going demeanor. The photo on the right below is a shot of his new tattoo… which was supposed to be a “3” but the tattoo artist inked it BACKWARDS, so a second artist blocked it out and then drew it correctly below the block. Ouch. He takes a lot of ribbing for that.
Some beauty shots of the farm at sunset:
Here are some shots of the house with my DSLR camera. Note that the exterior is under construction and while I was there the entire back wall came out. They are making swift progress! I hope to return someday and see it all finished.
One of my tasks was to work on preparing those two huge windows so that Giuliana could paint them. By now they are probably hanging proudly in their spots over the stove.
In the next three photos you’ll see this family’s beloved dogs. Tip is in the photo below; he has since passed away. He was around 18 and not in great shape during my visit, but he was so loved by this family.
Here’s the living room where we gather around every night for my favorite part of the day — movie and dessert time!
This room is usually the warmest in the house so it’s a cozy place to gather (winter officially began during my week here and it is SO cold at night). We eat our homemade dessert while watching episodes of Sherlock and other movies.
These two Aussie classics are HYSTERICAL and I am so glad to have watched them with this group! The Castle is an older comedy about a man who’s family home faces compulsory acquisition as a nearby airport expands; he takes action to save his home / castle. Kenny is a recent mockumentary-style film about a very sweet dude who runs a port-o-potty business. Both are great but I’d especially recommend Kenny if you want an example of Aussie humor.
Watching The Castle:
Here’s a few nighttime shots. That light in the distance is in Hobart, which is about 35 miles away.
Do you see the Southern Cross constellation in the photo below?
One last night shot taken outside the girls’ room.
And here’s the whole gang, minus Chris (who’s holding the camera) and Emalisa & Genevieve, who were off the farm that morning. This is right before Giuliana dropped me off at the bus station. There were tears on both sides.
I’d like to extend a HUGE thank you to my host family and fellow WWOOFers for welcoming me with such open arms. I can’t believe I was only there for one week because it feels like such a complete, full experience — and in hindsight I wish I’d spent a whole month on this farm. I lucked out with a truly special bunch of individuals who I hope to know for the rest of my life.