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Raiding the Icebox a visit to countries in which I've often thought about living

musings on the wwoofing life

ICELAND | Sunday, 1 June 2008 | Views [4063] | Comments [1]

The greenhouse I filled. The baby beets grew up a lot in two weeks.

The greenhouse I filled. The baby beets grew up a lot in two weeks.

WWOOF stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms (link). The way it works is you pay annual dues to be a member, you are provided with a contact list of all the farms in a given country, and then you contact the farms and hopefully arrange a stay. Once you get there you work, usually 30 hours a week, in exchange for housing and food. The farm in Egillstaðir was only the second WWOOF farm I've ever been on, but I'm really struck by one thing in particular...

Isn't WWOOFing just a crazy idea? Can you imagine this working for any other profession (or that it works at all with farming?)? Can you imagine an accounting firm taking on people who know NOTHING about accounting in exchange for food and shelter? That's really the striking thing about it: you, as a WWOOFer, are not expected to know anything about farming (it's even crazy using the word "farming" since there are so many different types/kinds). Granted, some of the time you're doing basic manual labor, but still, you are directly affecting the farm's production. If you don't water those baby beet roots well, they will die. If you forget to cover them at night, they will freeze. If you don't plant those trees correctly, they will not grow (I spent my last few days on the farm planting trees, and discovering last year's failed attempt: rows and rows of brown-dead blue spruce). WWOOFing is certainly more than just an exchange of labor for room and board. One of the implicit ideas is that WWOOFers have an interest in organic farming, and so travel to different farms to learn. When seen in that way, the lack of experience becomes expected. WWOOFing becomes more than just performing farm work. Still, it's a jarring thought to realize that this farmer, who has taken you in, his well being depends on you doing your job well. A job that you sometimes haven't the faintest idea how to do.

The other story I wanted to share has to do with Eymundur, the farm owner. I wrote a bit about him and the farm in the last entry, but at the time didn't realize the full extent of his barley farming dreams.

Eymundur first grew barley to feed his cows (back in the 1970s and 80s). Apparently this is a typical use of barley - as a feed for animals. Honestly, I had no idea what barley was used for, but I guess many Icelanders are more in the know than I am. After Eymundur got rid of his cows, he kept growing barley, and began experimenting using it as a wheat and rice substitute. Now he makes bread with it; he makes a delicious breakfast dish with is; he puts it in soup; he makes several different types of veggie burgers using barley. Eymundur wants to start a barley revolution in Iceland.

He hopes that, by the time he dies (which he believes will be when he is 106 years old), all Icelanders will believe that they have always eaten barley. He wants to raise an entire generation on barley. This may not be as crazy as it sounds, since Iceland only has about 300,000 citizens. But as I said, Icelanders are more accustomed to the traditional uses of barley, which puts up barriers to the idea of eating it themselves. Eymundur said that the most common reaction is "barley? Isn't that what we feed the pigs?"

To overcome this barley stigma, and advertise his product, Eymundur goes on a grocery store tour in the winter months (Dec-Feb). He sets up a stand at the end of one of the aisles, lays out the seven dishes that he most often makes with barley, and doles out samples and advice on how to use barley. He says he has had reasonable success over the years selling his product once he gets people to try it, but what often happens, he laments, is that a year or so after selling barley to someone at the grocery display, he will see that same person and they will come up to him saying, "hey, I remember you! The barley guy! Yeah, I bought your barley, but it's been sitting in the back of my cupboard since then - I don't know how to use it!"

His largest single customer is the Reykjavik Hospital. For the past few years they have purchased thousands of his veggie burgers. Just this past year, however, they decided to stop. Why? Because they were steaming them in a gigantic oven, which is how they cook all their food, and this more or less turned the burgers to mush. Whoops. A friend of Eymundur's has scheduled a meeting with the head chef in the hospital for next month. Hopefully she can talk the chef into trying the barley burgers again, and teach her how to cook them correctly.

Through it all, Eymundur soldiers on. He grows many other crops, as I mentioned. Icelanders are going through a bit of a potato craze, he says, and so his potatoes are in demand. But it's the barley farming that keeps him going. It's what interests him and drives him. Currently he produces 20 tones per year. His next goal is to hit 60 tones. I'm not sure, and don't know if he is sure either, what comes after that. 60 tones is still a long way from feeding the whole country.

Tags: egillstadir, wwoofing

Comments

1

MATT,
YOU ARE AN AWESOME BLOGGER! YOUR DAD IS MAKING ME TYPE THIS FOR HIM BECAUSE HE REALLY IS A BAD TYPIST. DO YOU THINK THAT BARLEY WILL BE BETTER THAN TOFU????? HOPE ALL IS GOING WELL FOR YOU. WE MISS YOU.
ALYSSA IS TAKING HER DRIVERS TEST TOMORROW JUNE 4TH IN YOUR OLD CAR, HOPEFULLY SHE PASSES.
WE ARE HAVING A PARTY FOR KATHY ON SATURDAY JUNE 7TH FOR HER GRADUATION AND NEW JOB AT SHARON REGOINAL HOSPITAL WITH THE CARDIO THORACIC SURGEONS.
LOVE DAD AND KATHY

  DAD AND KATHY Jun 4, 2008 8:50 AM

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