Before we left for our trip, I would often daydream about what it would be like to work on organic farms in Europe. Most of these visions entailed idyllic views of the British countryside, a beautiful garden containing a bounty of fresh fruits and veggies, and a good assortment of farm animals. I imagined gaining knowledge about growing vegetables and cooking them and having a sense of contentment from getting my hands dirty and working hard. I also dreamed about a welcoming and enthusiastic family who would take us in and make us a part of their life for a few weeks. When Rose and I saw the listing for The Patch on the wwoofing website, we knew it was love at first sight. It was all of our wwoofing dreams come true, and even more!
The Patch is a wonderful and beautiful organic farm right outside of the small British town of Henley-on-Thames (about an hour west of London by train). Our host was Tamsin and her husband Marc, their two children William (9) and Katie (6), and their dog Pip. Their family is always on the go, and there is rarely a dull moment when the kids are around. As soon as we arrived from the train station, everyone welcomed us into their home with open arms.
Tamsin is the mastermind behind most of the gardening operations, and so we spent most of our days with her working in the garden. For just one person and a wwoofer or two at a time, she manages to grow an enormous amount of food, and all using environmentally sound and organic practices. The farm consists of about 12 garden beds, a fruit orchard, a handful of small greenhouses and polytunnels, one very large polytunnel, two pigs, six lambs, and about 15 chickens. She grows everything: lots of flowers, beans, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, salad greens, spinach, rhubarb, raspberries, strawberries, currants, and the list goes on. Of course there is always plenty of fresh produce for the family to eat, and every year the pigs and lambs are sent to the butcher and into the freezer to provide home raised meat for the year. The majority of the produce from the farm though is used for a CSA operation the Tamsin runs in the area. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, which is a system where people sign up to receive weekly vegetable deliveries directly from the farm. She also sells to a few small restaurants in the area.
As you can imagine, there is always something to be done on the farm, especially at this time of year. Our jobs were as varied as the vegetables we were working with, so each day was a great experience of learning for us. I will say that I have gained a severe respect for weeds though, and I have learned that you are never done weeding in a garden. Never. One of our favorite things that I did was transplanting tomatoes. Tomatoes are my favorite plant to grow so far in my limited gardening experience, and so I was excited to get to transplant close to 200 seedlings into their new homes for the summer.
With all of the great fresh food around, it only made sense that we ate some amazing food during our stay at The Patch. Tamsin was an amazing cook, and we learned some valuable things about cooking and preserving from the garden. We also got to experience delicious traditional British meals, like Sunday roasts, scones with homemade jam, and Cornish pasties. Tamsin also loves to bake sourdough bread, and so of course I was in heaven!
Probably our best day on the farm was our first weekend when we went with the whole family on a walk through the woods to see blue bells. Blue bells are a beautiful flower that only blooms in spring and completely cover the ground in certain areas of the forest. We spent the afternoon wandering through the forest, admiring the beauty of nature. Then we walked through some rolling fields of wheat while looking for herds of deer in the distance. At the end of the walk, we stopped in at a pub in the country where we had some pints of the local ale Brakspear and chips (fries for us Americans). After that, Marc took us on a drive through the countryside, which really has to be seen to be believed. It was like every perfect picture of the British countryside I had ever seen, but so much more. The road winds through small towns with old stone houses surrounded by sweeping fields of still green wheat and bright yellow flowers. We ended the night with a delicious family meal and great conversation. Perfect.
Although we were only at The Patch for two weeks, it seemed like longer. We learned so much about growing vegetables, cooking, baking, and living life with friends than I ever could have imagined. It was definitely hard to leave a place like that. Not that we weren’t excited about the rest of our adventures, but we knew that no other wwoofing experience could be the same. In just two short weeks, we made a lifetime connection with a beautiful family in England.