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.
The view during a break in the acacia grove from the hard work of cutting and tying dried corn stalks in the fields.
The nearby church tolls its bells three times a day to let you know the work day has started, ended, and when to get lunch. If I kept bells on me, they’d constantly be going so I could constantly eat.
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.
The view from the drinking patio which was quite pleasant on the many warm days. A good place to catch a sunset over the hills.
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.
One of the hosts, Alan, milking a goat happily munching away on grain and fruit in the milking stand.
I also learned how to turn unpasteurized goat’s milk into cheese the slow natural way without rennet. I’ve been wanting to know how to make cheese all trip. Turns out making small quantities is only a few minutes of work a day.
Little did this urban kid know that male goats came without horns and female ones could have horns. This was good news for me because this male goat started getting a little cuddly but then started head butting me when I ignored him. He looks so silly and innocent when he’s just standing around sticking his tongue out.
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 good greenhouse effect. I tore the dying tomato plants and weeds out to give the remaining eggplant and pepper plants a better chance.
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.
Here a cluck, there a cluck, everywhere a cluck-cluck. These guys were post-factory adoptions after they were too old to be productive enough. They still lay a few eggs here and there. Hens sound like hissing cats to me.
On sunny days the goats, geese, sheep and sometimes one of the dogs would be led up to the fields to munch on grass and run about. It could be more work getting them back in the stables at the end of the night.
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.
When I was a kid my Mom warned me that geese are dicks because one nipped her pretty hard. She was right, geese ARE dicks! These guys have been hissing and chasing me all week.
Indonesian running ducks are extra slim, standing taller than most ducks I’ve seen. They’re great for gardens because they’ll eat bugs but not vegetables. As a bonus they’re also apparently delicious. I want one the next time I have a garden.
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.
Why must this cell phone picture look all suspicious and grainy? Those are some giant squash though! You can’t tell from this picture, but they were probably almost two feet long and well past American edible squash range. The top two remind me of Chinese squash.
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.
Every morning brought a delicious spread of fresh breads and rolls from the market that morning and homemade jams and preserves. This is a sour cherry studded chocolate brioche that was delicious when toasted.
The husband of this duo is British and they spent some time living there, so I got to enjoy lots of tea.
A staple in the fridge were Pottyos, a very Hungarian chocolate bar filled with quark cheese. Apparently it started in Russia but never caught on there like it did here. It’d be tastier to bring along if it didn’t need to be refrigerated. I think they sell them in China now.
The Hungarians eat a lot of pork so my going away feast consisted of a delicious pork meatloaf that comes studded with hardboiled eggs accompanied by homemade pickles. It was delicious out of the oven and just as amazing as a sandwich. That’s fozelek in the upper left and lecso in the upper right.
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!