Vester Norge – Friday 31st March to Saturday 14th April
We arrived into Grindsted early on Friday, to be certain that our WWOOF hosts wouldn’t have to wait for us, and so we could nip to the shop to get them a bottle of wine, and some snacks for us in case we weren’t well fed. How little we knew! Suitably provisioned we sat and ate yet another packed lunch in the sun.
At the appropriate time, a dusty silver Toyota estate pulled into the bus station carpark and a well-weathered bearded man and a woman stepped out. We eyed each other and half-hesitantly approached. Upon a call of “Frederick?” from Phil the ice was broken and we all knew we had the right people.
We drove with Kirsten and Frederick through the Danish countryside for less than half an hour, then pulled up by a post box by a dusty track. This was the place! The car turned down the track, and after a few hundred metres we reached the farmhouse and sheds. We had landed exactly where we would have wanted. The place was lovely. Frederick had refurbished and rebuilt most of the buildings himself, and it was as quaint and quiet and idyllic as a dairy farm in Demnark could be!
SIDENOTE: SO WHAT ON EARTH IS A WWOOF?
WWOOF is an acronym of an idea born in New Zealand: ‘Weekend Working On an Organic Farm.’ Nowadays the work isn’t fixed to just the weekends; and the meaning is different depending on which country you’re in, but the use of WWOOF to describe it is universal. Broadly speaking, it’s an organisation that allows certified organic farms to host volunteer workers, who will work on the farm for a few hours a day in exchange for board and lodging. I’d been skeptical in the past, but for our journey it seemed like a great way to save money. On top of that it felt like it would be a good way to immerse ourselves in a different culture.
So, with this in mind, we signed up to WWOOF Denmark, costing about £20, to see what we could find. I’ll write more on WWOOF-ing in general in a few weeks, once we’ve been to our second farm! If you want to make sure you don’t miss it, sign up to the newsletter, below.
BACK TO THE STORY…
Almost as soon as we’d walked in the door it was time for afternoon tea. The smell of homemade bread filled the house. We sat and were presented with homemade jams, honey, butter and cheeses from their dairy, and milk straight from the cows! As soon as we’d had our fill Frederick invited me out to help milk the cows. This is exactly what I had wanted! So, suitably equipped with a blue coverall and some wellies, I went out with him to herd the cows and get milking.
It took me five days to reliably be able to get milk out of every cow. Up at 6am every day and straight to the milking shed.
On Saturday we began together, moving chopped firewood from one place to another. Hannah declared: “This is already like a holiday for me.” Then, without any fanfare, Hannah was asked to get on a tractor and roll a field. Hannah doesn’t have a driving license. After a few hours she rolled by Phil and Frederick and yelled out: “How do I stop?!”
HANNAH DRIVING HER FIRST TRACTOR:
In the afternoon Phil took over tractor duty and was taken round to a massive field and kept on rolling. He was rolling the same field for three days.
By Saturday evening we were beginning to realise that we needn’t have bothered with the extra snacks. These people could eat! An advantage of having a farm is that most things can be grown in-house. Every day Kirsten baked fresh bread, and each day a different loaf or two.
Our routine has been this:
- Phil up at 6am to make a tea then go milk the cows;
- in again at 8am for breakfast (laid out for us) of fresh bread, jams, cheeses, etc;
- work from 9am to 12pm;
- then lunch at 12pm (always something cooked or leftovers, and more bread and cheese), followed by a siesta;
- then finally work from 2pm to 4pm, after which Hannah and I had some free time before an always delicious and healthy dinner.
- oh, and at 4pm we also had tea with bread, cheese, jams, waffles, cake, pudding, etc.
While Phil rolled his field for a few days, Hannah had been working in the vegetable garden. Our hosts didn’t rely on the garden for all of their food, but they took plenty from it, and there was plenty of weeding and hoeing and tilling to do.
On Tuesday, we were reunited. Frederick took us out to a field and said he’d started freeing a fence, and wanted us to continue. This became our mission for the next three days. We’d be pulling, digging, cutting, setting posts, tamping, straightening wire. After having built and repaired fences on a ranch in Wyoming fifteen years ago, this was familiar territory to Phil. As I write this, we’ve still got a third of a field and a couple of days hard work ahead of us to free and repair that fence!
HANNAH ‘REPAIRS’ THE FENCE:
Come Friday there was spitting rain and a wet mist in the air. Hence, fence duty was off. This was, however, a welcome respite. Hannah’s back pain had kicked in with a vengeance, and Phil was waking up with locked fists. So we set to clearing a field of a pervasive weed, then clearing up the chicken coop in the hope that they’d be out soon. As in Britain, all chickens are being kept indoors here to help prevent the spread of a bird flu. Ordinarily they’d have the run of the whole place and had a huge coop for nighttime to protect them from foxes.
Also on Friday we had a new arrival. The second of the week! Frederick had separated the cow from the herd that morning expecting a calf in the next few days. But before lunchtime we had a brand new wet calf on our hands. The calf earlier in the week had come a little unexpectedly, so we only met it at over half a day old. This one was brand new! We watched it take its first wobbly legged steps, and try to suckle at it’s mother’s teat (unsuccessfully for quite a while). Hopefully we’ll see one or two more next week.
Three or four hours after the birth the cow passed the placenta, and a little after that we passed through the shed to see her chowing down. It looked quite chewy. And cows don’t have any top teeth. Yum.
Hannah: “I can’t believe that cow ate it’s own placenta! That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.”*
So, that brings us to the end of the week. It’s been a wonderful week of hard work, and good food, and sunshine, wind and rain.
Hannah and Phil x
[*editor’s note: in real life]