WWOOF (//): World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is part of a worldwide effort to link visitors with organic farmers, promote an educational exchange, and build a global community conscious of ecological farming practices. This is an account of my experience as a WWOOF-er at the Muddy Pumpkin Farm in South Dakota. It was certified awesome.
From where we were standing, we could see the whole, wide Missouri. Hal, the patriarch of the prairie family, was born right over yonder, as he would say, pointing out into the river, to a spot that has since been flooded to create Lake Francis Case. We first met Hal down at the bunkhouse, a building that would forever be in stages of construction - you know, the kind of building that would get a superfluous roof deck before it ever got a floor. We had been investigating the property because no one was answering the door at the farmhouse at the end of the dirt driveway.
Knock harder, he suggested. The door is probably unlocked.
Note: This was the first time I ever saw Tina. A momentous occasion indeed.
Back at the farmhouse, we knocked with renewed vigor until the door finally opened. Enter Jo, the dubious intern, who became our guide to the farm upon our arrival and eventually, one of my most treasured friends. We also met Mark, Hal's son and the brain behind the puzzle of farming in an arid climate, who immediately ignored us and left us to Jo's devices until he deemed us worthy of his esteemed friendship. (Believe me, it was worth the wait). We were also introduced to a handful of cats who would continue to come out of the woodwork for days, including the farm's namesake, Miss Mud Pumpkin herself.
(The pretty lady above is Mud Pumpkin. Pictured below is Milk Wort and Tippy, Tina's mother and brother, respectively.)
Picture this: nestled within 25 acres of prairie scrub, cedar gulches, and cattle land, lay 5 cultivated acres of unique farmland. A literal oasis in a statewide desert otherwise interrupted by cattle, wheat, corn, and soybeans, bordered by the Badlands to the West and the monocultural flatlands to the east. Here, the Missouri River and the White River cordoned off the peninsula of the homestead.
Prominently, the two story farmhouse was featured as central meetinghouse and agricultural home base. Beyond that, the decrepit and mysterious "depot", a vestigial landmark from the days when the prairie was sliced through with rails, currently at work as a colossal junk drawer and pigeon coop, but still eerily charming. A ways down the winding dirt road is the permanently under construction bunkhouse, resting on a grassy cul-de-sac alongside a broken down travel van and an out of commission tow-behind-trailer that we were sent to occupy for the time being. And peppered throughout all of this: vehicles hastily painted camo, tractor pieces and parts, and a three story tipi constructed with cottonwood trunks. A true apocalyptic hamlet, and in other words, paradise.
WWOOF-ing turned out to be like a dream for me. We would wake early, as farmers are wont to do, and meet at the farmhouse to drink coffee and eat a light breakfast before hitting the fields. During the bulk of our stay, there were about six of us twenty-somethings splitting the summer duties; we either weeded, harvested, trellised, or planted before we took turns preparing lunch, followed by a bit more work before the summer heat became unbearable for us. Then we might take a siesta or head down to the shale-y banks of the Missouri to cool off.
Either way, we were rife with anticipation of our nightly leisure. At least I was, for I quickly became hopelessly enamored of our hosts and ragtag team of transient workers. They were brilliant, funny, engaging, and boy, could they cook. We spent many evenings concocting smorgasbords, dipping into the day's bounties whenever inspired, challenging each other to create the tastiest meals we could imagine. My true chef was born within those short weeks and I had never before appreciated food like I did when I raised and harvested it myself.
And they could party, too. Even though we were exhausted from the daily, semi-back breaking labor, we still tried to make each day magical - going on adventures, sharing feasts, and turning everything into a celebration whenever possible, trying to incorporate beer and felt Settlers of Catan in to every possible nook and cranny.
When one of the adolescent chickens died, Clubby - the chick with the deformed foot, we threw a pizza party complete with elaborate funeral in which the deceased was laid to rest beneath a towering cottonwood tree. We wore costumes, made margaritas, and knocked golf balls deeps into the prairie. It was just that kind of whimsical.
AGP and I had so much fun we even stayed for an extra week so we could celebrate the Fourth of July with our new friends on the banks of the Missouri. So American.
But eventually, and much to my chagrin, we had to move on from the camaraderie of agriculture and continue with our trip. As we drove away, I worried that I might be saying goodbye to the Muddy Pumpkin forever, never to return. Never to see my new friends again. This vexed me.
(Spoiler alert, I do come back and I do see my new friends again! Hooray!)
AGP and I move on to Wyoming and delve back into our transient, adventurous lifestyle.
Catch up on the whole adventure!: The 'Go' Series