In our community farm « The Lavra », we don’t host volunteers (or wwoofers) all year long. We prefer to set up a volunteers’ week and gather a group of people to help us boost the farm’s projects. At the top left of the picture are Steve and Kayou who created this place in 2012.
We host, accommodate and feed the volunteers while they help and learn on the farm. In March 2020 (right before the Coronavirus shut down…), our goal was to build new raised beds in the garden, and build a whole new pen for our 3 adorable goats: Anne-Sophie (who blesses us each day with delicious milk), Poe (her mom) et Ivy (her grand-ma).
Gabriel & Gabrielle : also called « Gab&Gab », « Gab unit » ou « G square ». A couple from Montreal in their thirties. Passionate about climbing, they bought and rebuilt a blue van to travel in the US and hit some good spots. They are on their way to British Columbia where they want to settle down and look for a more sustainable lifestyle. He is a civil engineer and she’s a nurse midwife. They found us through Workaway.
Kim : Freelance writer from the East Coast, Kim is on a solo road-trip across the US through Louisiana to California. She works remotely for several clients writing blog articles or entire books. She can keep working while traveling and volunteering. She teaches yoga incredibly well and also practices aerial silks. She’s looking for a community to live and has visited different farms along her way. She found us on Wwoof.
Misha : our last-minute pearl. A real gift from the sky since 3 of our signed up volunteers had bailed out the day before… Lucky coincidence on a full moon, she introduced us to one of our Chumash neighbors the same night! Misha is from Amsterdam, she left her job in video production to travel alone in the US and Mexico. She practices an energetic healing work called « Access Bars. » She crossed our way via Workaway.
Every morning at 7:30, we split the group into two teams. One goes greet our chickens, feed them and get the eggs. The other team milks Anne-Sophie and feeds the goats. Before the animal ritual, everybody is welcome to exercise or meditate in the yoga room.
We usually work 4 to 5 hours a day on the farm’s projects. We also organize different types of activities and workshops to create a rich, immersive and enjoyable learning experience for all.
Monday : The first morning we do yoga together. After animals and breakfast, we teach the volunteers how to roast their own coffee beans (that we order raw here) using this type of oven. In the garden, we start the construction of a new raised bed to grow more veggies this summer. We clean the space where we’ll build the goats’ tiny house, and we clear the cuttings from the vineyard’s pruning.
In the evening, I go with Misha to the women circle / full moon ceremony hosted by our neighbor who carries on Native American traditions. The rest of the group stays at the Lavra playing a game invented by Steve and Kayou « The Spirit of Wine » that combines wine tasting and Chinese Portrait. A fun and mindful drinking game 🙂
Tuesday : Our workshop of the day is Sourdough Bread. Brandon created his own starter a few months ago and it’s delicious. Making bread requires several steps in between which you have to wait (or do something else!) First we teach them how to feed the starter (with water and flour), and how to make a « leaven »: adding more water and flour to part of the starter.
In the garden, we finish the raised bed. We didn’t buy any material for this project. It is all made of upcycled wood pallets that we destroyed and re-assembled together. We add layers of chicken wire at the bottom to « gopher-proof » the bed. We create a mix of soil to start new seeds: sunflowers, beans, chard, peppers, lettuces, poppies, etc. We go get rocks and sand to build the goat pen’s foundations.
Wednesday : One of the team has the sweet privilege to go get horse manure early in the morning from a ranch next door. They raise very high-end beautiful horses (who produce high-end beautiful compost for us!) We plant sunflowers along the garden’s fence and move a big platform that will be used as a floor in the goat shack.
We start layering organic materials in the raised bed that we completed the day before. Piling different layers of branches, cardboard, goat / chicken manure and food scraps is called « lasagna bed » in permaculture. It’s a simple technique to build and grow healthy soil to plant in. Our neighbor Gary gave us a ton of seedlings: peppers, tomatoes and eggplants. We discover that those 3 veggies like to grow together, it’s the Ratatouille Guild! A tasty way to start our summer garden. Thanks Gary ❤
In the afternoon, we work the leaven with more flour to shape the bread. We let it sit before baking it. Brian is a farmer friend we met when harvesting grapes in his vineyard last fall to make our own wine. He is passionate about Aïkido and comes to teach a private class to our volunteers. He’s so talented and funny, everybody loves it. After a great session, we meet Steve and Kayou for an extra-local beer tasting.
Thursday : Steve and Gabriel use the auger to dig holes, a fun but heavy tool (and a new word in my vocabulary). Another team starts building the walls for the goat shack. We work on the foundations of the poles, stamping as hard as we can the sand in the hole, but nothing works. It takes us more than 2 hours to put 2 poles in, and they’re not even straight… Oups, it’s already Thursday. Imagining the goat pen finished by Sunday seems very unlikely. Oh well, at least we’ll have started it!
After lunch, Kim leads a personal writing workshop. She had offered to give one and we all approved with joy. We even dreamt about it! When we planned the week together with Brandon we left a blank thinking « one of the volunteers might want to teach something… » Here are the instructions we followed:
Ex #1: Think about the different conflicts that you can see in your life right now, they can be opposed values. Conflicts are not only negative, they drive and pull our lives! (I picked patience / willingness to do).
Ex #2: Pick one of these conflicts and think about the times and situation where this conflicts arose. Make a list of those different moments…
Ex #3: Picture your happy place, the place where you feel the best. Dive into it with your whole body. Describe: what do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? How is the light? Immerse yourself and write what happens next…
Ex #4: Pick one of the moments in your list where the conflict happened. Dive into this scene now and describe what you see, what you hear, what you smell, how is the light and what happens.
Friday: Today is a new day for the poles foundations. We start again with new tools and we suddenly go 20 times faster! Steve’s energy is contagious and Misha is in charge of the playlist. Everybody shovels and stamps. « Rockkkksaaaand ». Sand, water, rock, stamping… Sand, water, rock, stamping… We put 35 poles in the ground while dancing and laughing, crazy.
We’re so happy and proud, and already sore. Team work makes the dream work. Gabrielle made a delicious huge pasta meal we all devour. In the afternoon, one team builds the « farmer corners », a way to strengthen the corners’ structure of the pen with beams and wire. The other team cleans the house, cooks and sets up the yoga room to host the lecture tonight. The botanist Matt Ritter, who teaches at CalPoly, is talking about global warming and local species. After the talks, people gather to share drinks and thoughts.
Saturday : This morning we teach the volunteers what to forage: mallow, curly dock, nasturtium, wild radishes. All those edible weeds are growing wild in the spring in the garden and are packed with good nutrients. We add new experiments to the « Mushroom Station » by plugging oak logs with Shiitake, Oyster Mushroom and Lion’s Mane (that we order here from the best). It’s as easy as soaking the logs for a few days, drilling holes, pushing the plugs inside and sealing the holes with wax. A very simple and inexpensive way to grow your own mushrooms in a shady spot of the garden.
We warm up goat milk to start making some chèvre frais that we’ll eat tomorrow. The goat pen is officially completed at the end of the day. Fence all rolled out and nailed in. Mission accomplished, weeee! We look at all this work and efforts and cannot believe our eyes. The pen is there, the goats are going to move in very soon 🙂
Sunday : Everybody deserved to chill hard and enjoy this last day. We play with different seasonings for the fresh goat cheese, adding grilled sage, roasted coffee beans, peanut butter, crackers, honey and flowers. The different recipes are enjoyed on fresh warm bread. We sit all together one last time around the table to play « Mascarade », a game brought by the Gab’s and perfect for a rainy day. The fireplace is crackling. It’s a very soft Sunday.
This week’s benefits far outweigh the simple fact of completing projects together for the farm. The energy created by a group of people learning, working, experimenting and laughing together is incredible and truly magical. Learning from each other, from their backgrounds and their vision is what I love most. And their enthusiasm for all the things they discover here feeds my energy in a very direct and positive way.
On a daily basis, I am very comfortable with the idea of coliving. I naturally like to live with other people. Eating together every day, slaving around in the garden or waking up over a coffee creates very quickly a sense of community based on trust and honesty. And this community, even when it’s a small one (we were 7), can accomplish so much!
We are very lucky to be in a place that already has several tiny houses and alternative accommodations that ensure privacy for everyone. It makes the volunteers’ lodging way easier and more enjoyable for all in the community. Our garden, our goats and our chickens give us delicious essential food « for free » everyday. That allows us to reduce the grocery shopping needed to feed the volunteers and ourselves.
What I want to remember from this week is the incredible positive joyful and collective energy. And the huge satisfaction that comes with having completed the goat pen project from A to Z. As well as the infinite pleasure that goes with meeting inspiring people to connect and grow with.
As for their point of view on this week, here is the sweet card they left us.
MERCI SO MUCH GABRIELLE, GABRIEL, KIM & MISHA. We love you ❤
We also send a big thanks to BENOIT (from Bretagne), MARCIE (from LA) and BEN (from North Carolina) for their precious help in the garden this winter. We love you too!
If you want to live this kind of experiences :
-worktrade in organic farms : Wwoof
-worktrade all types of projects : Workaway
-worktrade all types of projects : Help-X