You Grow Potatoes By Planting Potatoes (And Other Things I Learnt WWOOFing)

In mid-June, I did a two-week WWOOFing stint at Wild Roots Farm on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms – a pretty amazing system of trade where you volunteer your time and skills in exchange for meals and accommodation. It’s mainly farms that participate (hence the name) but you can also work in hostels, B&Bs and other services. (The website explains the concept in greater detail)

I’d heard about WWOOFing here and there for a couple of years but it wasn’t until my friend Katie went WWOOFing in British Columbia – and loved it – that I seriously thought about doing it. I figured this trip across Canada was the perfect time to give it a go!

Thom and Jane were my hosts. They have a gorgeous 10 month old son, Felix, two cats, four chickens and  beautiful big property about 15 minutes drive from the nearest town. After spending a year and half in Toronto, it felt like the middle of nowhere!

The chicken tractor (built by one of the WWOOFers studying architecture). The idea is that the chickens walk around and eat the weeds in the garden bed. Once the weeds are gone, the tractor is picked up and moved to another bed.

Thom and Jane’s lifestyle was very different to what I was used to (as was the whole WWOOFing concept) but over the two weeks, I learnt heaps about sustainability, food, gardening and health.

Here are some lessons I took away from my time at Wild Roots:

1. You grow potatoes and garlic by planting potatoes and garlic! This may seem obvious but I guess I had never thought about how these vegetables actually grew. (As a sidebar, one potato normally yields 6-8 new potatoes.)

The potato and garlic beds.

2. I can – at least temporarily – live on a vegan diet. Not as scary as I had imagined (but the transition was made much easier by my hosts and fellow WWOOFers who were amazing cooks)

Vegan feast. L-R: Homemade hummus (Costco size!); potato salad (my contribution); Nova Scotian red wine (now that is some vegan I can easily do!); beet salad.

Nothing better than salad straight from the garden!

3. There is immense satisfaction in admiring the result of six hours work pulling up big, stubborn dandelions by hand!

Before.

After.

Oh, and I found out you can also eat said dandelions. Who knew?!

Dandelion kimchi (a Korean condiment).

4. The appreciation of peace and quiet.

I’m such an urban person, and love the hustle bustle of big cities. But there was something so nice about only hearing three cars go past the house a day. I also learnt to really enjoy the solitude and silence that accompanies farm work. No need to talk, just get in and do the work.

5. WWOOFing reminded me to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Nothing goes to waste at Wild Roots!

Leftover pasta water and beer yeast (from Thom’s amazing homebrew) is used to make bread; leftover oatmeal (our daily breakfast) is made into muffins; containers are always reused for something; there is a well and two rainwater tanks; and they compost everything they can – including “humanure” through their compost toilet!

The compost toilet was the first sign that life at Wild Roots was going to be a little different than usual.

The toilet itself is basically a normal toilet seat and lid on top of a bucket. You do your business, cover it with woodchips, then empty the bucket into the compost when it’s full. “Bucket dumping” was definitely my least favourite job on the farm but as Jane said to me once, “It’s important to take responsibility for your own shit!”

6. That it’s ok not to shower every day! (I actually already felt this way, I just finally found other people who shared my view.)

For anyone interested in WWOOFing in Nova Scotia, you should definitely look up Wild Roots!

Mabou Harbour (a half hour drive from the farm)

A provincial park in Wycocamagh, the nearest town.

Day trip to Port Hood beach. Still freezing in June!

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4 thoughts on “You Grow Potatoes By Planting Potatoes (And Other Things I Learnt WWOOFing)

  1. Mum says:

    Now that you are a fully fledged weeder there is full accommodation, meals and gardening experience any time in McLellan street. My potatoes and garlic are coming along well. We just had some rain.
    Good luck with your travels.
    Love Mum

  2. moxieretro says:

    I’m glad it was such a wonderful experience, makes me want to go too!

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