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“I’ll see you in a few weeks, I guess.” I mutter my half-assed goodbye to my parents before I give them quick hugs and hurry to the security line. I hand my ID and boarding pass to the TSA agent. I make my way through security and into the gate area quickly before my parents can change their minds and make me stay home.
I’m a 17 year-old girl going to live in Nova Scotia, Canada for five weeks with people I had only talked to through emails. I was going to WWOOF from June into July of last summer. WWOOFing (WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is an exchange between volunteers and hosts all over the world, where volunteers trade experience and help for room and board, as well as opportunities for cultural change.
So basically, I was going to spend most of my summer working on a farm. To most of us Johnson County kids, that sounds deplorable. My decision to spend my summer weeding vegetable gardens instead of laying out at the pool came mostly from the desire to travel, but also from my interest in nutrition and sustainability.
When I was making my summer plans aka avoiding getting a summer job like my parents expected me to get. I needed a way to get out, so I started looking into WWOOFs after my older cousin gave it a positive review.
Amazingly my parents had no qualms about letting their underage child live in a foreign country for an extended period of time with strangers. It is even more shocking when you consider that they fear for my health and safety if I’m home alone for a few hours. Regardless of this seemingly-flawed parent logic, I did my research. Only being 17 years old, I was limited to three countries out over 60 countries with WWOOF programs. I had Ireland, Italy and Canada to choose from.
I settled on Canada, and became a member of WWOOF Canada, which is as simple as paying a small membership fee and creating a profile. Then, I began the process of sending out cookie cutter emails about who I was, glossing over the fact I had no idea what went into organic farming and hate manual labor. I hid the Prairie Village Princess persona and tried to market myself as a dirt-worshipping tree hugger.
Even though many of my emails for hosting requests went unanswered, I got accepted* to come to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, a group of islands in Nova Scotia in between the mainland of Canada and Newfoundland. Don’t know where that is? I didn’t either, and wasn’t really sure until I was driving down the highway with my hosts Terri and Dave and their Alaskan Malamut the size of a polar bear drooling in my lap. My first farm animal encounter.
I spent the next several weeks in a daily routine collecting blue and pink pastel chicken eggs, weeding vegetable gardens, chasing loose ducklings and learning practical life skills like how to use a hammer and that if you don’t breathe out of your nose, a chicken coop doesn’t smell all that bad. But it wasn’t all monotony: there were moments of excitement when llamas and the eight live lobsters in the fridge meant for dinner escaped.
After my month, aside from the constant bug bites and my irrational fear of roosters, my time in Nova Scotia was well worth it. What WWOOFing offered me was the chance to go out of my comfort zone. Both in terms of the amount of independence I was suddenly given and the work I was doing. I had expectations to do morning chores feeding animals, do garden and general farm upkeep and help make dinner, which only four to six hours a day. Other than that I got to integrate into my hosts lives, meet their friends and community members, and experience what life is actually like in Cape Breton. I wasn’t just a visitor, I got to be a part of life there, even if was for only a short time.
I knew what I was getting myself into when I left Kansas City but I never expected to have been that impacted by vegetables. The easiest way to quantify the impact is my decision to spend more time and money this summer spending nine weeks WWOOFing in Marrakech, Morocco. I have the experience and knowledge to experience people and places that would inaccessible without taking time to live with them and experience their lives and routines.