It was an accident, the way most of my volunteering efforts seem to go. I applied to a bunch of farms in Hungary and they were the only ones who even bothered to respond to tell me no. One did drag in a week or two later, another rejection. I had decided to head south, making a break for the much warmer Croatian coast. This Angeleno doesn’t know what to do out of temperate, warm climates. The farm was also a hostel so I figured why not stop there. After weeks in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and then Budapest, I could use some country downtime.
They came to meet me at the bus stand and told me there was some volunteer work all of a sudden if I was interested. Little did I know what I was getting myself into. I hope everyone is so lucky as to have a great first (and every) WWOOF-ing experience. WWOOF stands for worldwide opportunities on organic farms. While I won’t turn down an organic apple, I had originally chosen Workaway as my site of choice because I really don’t care what kind of farm it is. I wouldn’t be volunteering on giant corporate farms either way. Turns out I have about the same luck either way, so there may not be too much more of this in my future.
But more importantly, onto the harsh farm work to break my urban romantic notions of farm life! Actually, I expected all sorts of ridiculous physical hard labor and feel like I got the better end of the deal. I will gladly accept delicious, hearty home cooked Hungarian food and a roof for what turned out to be not too bad at all. The first task was cutting down dried cornstalks devoid of corn to be used as goat feed. The giant stalks go into a machine that shreds them into goat edible chips using a giant belt attached to a device that looks like it existed in the steam era.
Luckily I got the really hard work out of the way first. The rest of it was easy compared to this first day of tiring labor.
A lot of the tasks seemed more for more learning benefit. Nothing says city slicker like my obvious confusion about plants and farm animals. However after a week and a half, I now know how to milk a goat. It did take a few jolting tries that involved a few goat kicks to get it right though.
It seemed like most of the things have been harvested but some of the plants were still producing well into the fall. So there was a lot of picking, eating, and preserving going on. Turns out picking tomatoes growing on the ground looks a lot like the strawberry growers I used to see on the side of the road. How their backs and haunches don’t constantly hurt is beyond me. We also preserved pots and pots of pears that took a good bit of work to peel and core. I can’t say I’ve ever successfully grown enough of anything to need that many rounds!
A lot of the more regular tasks involved making sure all the animals were in all the right places at the right time of day and happily fed. You don’t really get a day off from this one. It’s a good chance to live out the Old MacDonald song though.
Putting the animals away at night was actually easier than I thought it would be as most of them happily ran into their shelters or lined up outside waiting to get in.
Also on the farm were one cat and two rather hyper dogs. The cat was particularly friendly around milking times, hoping to catch some spare goat’s milk. Sorry cat, that’s for our tea and cheese making. He only got some when a goat became infected so it wasn’t good for human consumption. Cats weren’t the only ones eating well on a farm though. I enjoyed so many wonderful home cooked meals that were a real breath of fresh air after months of eating in restaurants. Especially in a peasant culture like Hungary, this seemed like the best way to discover foods I didn’t even know about. There was lots of sausage and sauerkraut to be had. However it was also refreshing because I had a salad just about every night, which I also haven’t really had for months.
The gigantic squash were turned into lecso, a red stew like thing consisting of lots of peppers and whatever other vegetables as filler, and fozelek, a sort of cream of vegetable stew/soup/side. Apparently Hungarian squash are tender at much larger sizes. Kohlrabi are also popular in this area and I had a lovely soup of it with liver dumplings. Move over sweet potato fries, because kohlrabi fries were pretty tasty.
The husband of this duo is British and they spent some time living there, so I got to enjoy lots of tea.
The time really flew by as I got into a groove of some farm work, lots of tea breaks, enjoying many delicious new foods, and reading from the extensive English library. I may very well have to return in the future for a longer stint of this. My hosts did let me know they often get two to three requests a day, so I may not have much more volunteering at new places in my future. I realize now that like interns, volunteers need a lot of supervision and time to become useful. I guess they’re not really the quick free labor most people expect. Oh well, I’d happily come back to this farm. I’ll just have to watch out for those nippy geese and lovesick goats!