Monday, October 22, 2012

Farming in Flannel, or Weekend WWOOFing

First and foremost, thanks to so many of you for the wonderful comments on my last blog entry. I've never had so much positive feedback on anything I've ever written. In many ways, getting to share my story with you all and receiving so many wonderful responses has pretty much been on par with the happiness I got from crossing that finish line :) So thank you, thank you, thank you. May we all continue to share our stories with one another - and be stronger, wiser, more joyful, and better connected because of it! 

(In the interest of sharing, here's one of my favorite inspiring reads of the past few years.)

Second of all: let's talk about how awesome Vashon Island is. Several months ago, I wrote about Vashon here on my blog and said this about it: A perfect little getaway from the city, Vashon boasts a lively community of folks, including many artists, musicians and, evidently, runners. It's always a treat to visit this rural, small-towny oasis.

The context in which I've visited Vashon (three times, prior to this weekend) has always been for the annual Vashon Ultra in June - my first 50K ever, back in 2010, and an event for which I feel a strong affinity and sense of loyalty. Every year, I've vowed that the next time I visit Vashon, I'd actually spend a decent amount of time there, seeing something other than the road from the ferry landing to the race start, and the 10-mile loop of trails that comprises the race.

This past weekend, I finally made the pilgrimage - with a weekend of work trades set up to structure the weekend. Steve, who's been interested in WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms - learn more here), coordinated with a small farm on the island to exchange a couple days of manual labor for a weekend of room and board. I had set up my own work exchange elsewhere on the island on Saturday (thank you, Claudine!) to trade writing/website assistance for an amazing massage/bodywork session - before meeting up with Steve at the farm for a little taste of WWOOFing.

So let me state for the record that I'd be a liar to say that I truly experienced WWOOFing this weekend. More or less, I pretty much just mooched off the labors of Steve. While I was off drinking tea with Claudine and getting a 5-star massage, this guy was hacking through blackberry bushes, shoveling (literally) horse shit and seaweed and grape leaves into compost bins, and assembling a large-scale rainwater-collection system.

I did show up in time to participate in the grand adventure of digging up potatoes. Quite the treasure hunt in the dirt! After much shoveling, we finally unearthed some good ones - which were promptly boiled, mashed, and set out on the dinner table.

Our kind hosts, Scott and Andrea, cooked up a storm for us on Saturday night. It felt like Thanksgiving - with foods that were almost entirely grown in their garden. Salads filled with homegrown sprouts, apples, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, and sunflower seeds - all harvested that day (or that week, at the very least). Mashed potatoes, mashed squash. Unbelievably tender pork from a locally raised pig. Berry cobbler for dessert, with fresh blackberries from their yard. Heaven? Pretty darn close.

Scott and Andrea are very focused on simple living - making and building things from scratch, repurposing everything, bartering whenever possible, spending less money rather than racing to make more. At the risk of over-romanticizing the island life, I will say that there was a stark contrast in the pace of their daily life from my own - even just the notion of having time to sit down together three times a day for a genuinely relaxed, home-cooked meal...that was nice. (Surely I can, at the very least, afford to reclaim the lunch breaks I've already begun to lose sight of in my new job? Starting tomorrow!)

The weekend's takeaway, for me, was similar to that of the delightful "Team Sprout", whom Seyeon and I stayed with during our first foray into couchsurfing years ago in Austin: time is money; money is time; live humbly, and you can experience a different kind of wealth entirely. 

Much like couchsurfing, this experience made me hope to someday have a home (and garden!) big, warm, and welcoming enough to host strangers. I love the idea of meeting travelers from all over the world, sharing fresh food and terrific home-cooked meals, learning about one another's habits and beliefs and life experiences. It's an amazing thing to be welcomed into the home of a perfect stranger, and be given a glimpse into their daily life.

In the morning, after a hearty breakfast with Scott and Andrea, we put on our work boots and hit the garden again for a couple hours. I'll be the first to admit: for as passionate as I am about food, I know astoundingly little about gardening/farming. It was awesome to see what broccoli looks like growing on a plant, before it's been harvested. I loved seeing how enormous the beets were in the dirt.

The stems of the Swiss chard were such a brilliant pink. 

The tomatoes in their greenhouse, of course, were ten times more flavorful than anything you can find in a grocery store. I wish small-scale food production was part of our educational system. Sigh.

They were kind enough to send us away with bags of fresh greens and vegetables, a big bouquet of hand-picked flowers, and a bottle of wine (which will be eligible for opening in 70 days...) from the Andrew Will winery where Scott works.

We spent the afternoon exploring Maury Island Marine Park (connected to Vashon), which was gorgeous - and even made us feel like we were on a real beach on the ocean, tidal waves and all! :)

Although this entry has been almost entirely focused on food, I've neglected to mention the two other ridiculously amazing dinners of the weekend. It would do my blog, and the meals themselves, a serious injustice to leave out mention of them entirely:

  1. Delicious dinner at the Preston household, featuring bacon/mushroom pizza, squash soup, blackened chicken in cream sauce, and creme brulee. My friends got fancy!
  2. Sunday shabu-shabu dinner at Deby's house: traditional Japanese hot pot meal with virtually endless bowls of rice, noodles, meat, shrimp, gyoza (dumplings), tofu, and vegetables...all followed by copious amounts of homemade mochi, filled with red bean paste. Yummy.

One thing is for sure: I died and went to food heaven this weekend. It was a bit of a rough transition back to Earth today...

A big thanks, as always, to everyone who made this weekend a stellar one. I shared so many wonderful meals with people I only just met this very weekend, or a few months ago, or in the case of a select few (Cam and Avey, this means you!), a full 3+ years ago now. All of you, in my relatively brief time thus far in this beautiful corner of the world, have become like family to me. I thank you for bringing color to my life!


  1. what a beautiful post! it was so nice to see you all on sunday, though i wish we could've chatted more! welp, you'll just have to come over sometime to The Other Island! :)
    i am inspired by that garden! gorgeoussss!
    and, i love that "perfection" piece. i need to go back and read that a couple more times. xo

  2. Sometimes I forget how miraculous farming & gardening really are because I've been so close to it for three years now. It's really lovely to see this through your eyes.
    Glad to hear from you as always- you're doing amazing things.