I’m back from my 1 month wwoofing experience in Switzerland and experiencing withdrawal symptoms, simply because it was just so amazing!! (wwoof stands for world wide organisation of organic farming which is established all over the world. basically you work for the organic farmers and get food, lodging and friendship in return!)
I’m so thankful to God for blessing me with a wonderful host family who welcomed me with open arms and shared their stories with us. We felt like friends right from Day one. And even though we were there to work for our food, we had a good balance of work and rest. We had afternoons and weekends off, and even hot days off! I can imagine how different things could have turned out; perhaps getting a family that treated us like workers and doing manual labour the whole day with few breaks.
Being in a farm for 4 weeks was so eye-opening. Just imagine a city girl, growing up in the hustle and bustle of Singapore, going to the quiet, serene rolling hills of Switzerland. What a contrast! Elka (the mama) commented that we city people are the best wwoofers to have because we are amazed by everything we see. Like everything. That was so true.
We saw our first double rainbow while driving back from the meadows in the 30 year old golden Audi and it was such a perfect moment. It was the first time I ever saw the start to the end of a rainbow because in Singapore, the rainbow is bound to touch some building and disappear. Such an amazing sight!
We got excited by the abundance of wildlife, from the cute little cunning fox we spotted while driving past the forest to the occasional Bambis (deers) that wander into our fields with their little ones. And so did we love the cows, big and small. The big cows just ate all day (apparently they eat up to 70kg of fresh grass every day?!) but they were endearing in their own ways; mooing at us for more food or letting us pet them or visibly enjoying our daily scrubs. The small cows were more adorable though, they would lick us and chew on our clothes thinking its food.
Or simply how raw milk even looks like. Did you know that raw milk will naturally split into 2 layers, the cream above and the remaining milk below? So the full cream milk that we drink is actually homogenised, meaning that the fat molecules are broken up so that it remains with the milk and there are no two layers anymore.
Well, I was so sad when 4 weeks came to an end. I almost teared when I said my final goodbyes and left. Never had to say goodbye to home because I study locally, but I finally understood those emotions because the farm really did feel like home for 4 weeks. Really can’t wait to go back another time (earliest is 2 years later though/:) when the cherries and apples can be harvested, and the cows are happily chewing away in the meadows!
Upon returning to Singapore, everyone asks me, “So what have you learnt?”
And to be honest, I haven’t really learnt much because I was just there to provide manual labour. Misunderstand me not, real farming is not just manual labour but also involves brains (which obviously isn’t part of my job because I have zero clue about cow health / milking). But as a wwoofer, my main role is to just do labour-intensive jobs like weeding, feeding, cleaning. So I guess, I’m a super good weeder now? Give me your messy garden and it’ll be clean in no time, haha.
Though I did not learn lots, I took away lots from this experience.
Firstly, I definitely made new friends and strengthened old friendships on this journey. Meet the Berger Family! 🙂
We first met Bruno (the dad) who came to pick us up from the bus stop in his golden Audi. He is like the Big Friendly Giant in Roald Dahl’s books but only friendlier. And he doesn’t really speak English so it gets really funny at times because he randomly throws out English phrases that he knows. Eg. when we comment that the food is piping hot, he goes “Hot and Spicy”. Or when Elka was talking about how their neighbours were not very nice, he went “Nobody is perfect.” And the funniest was when we talking about cows and their shit, he piped “Shit happens.” HAHAH He is such a funny guy. Wished I could speak German so that I could talk to him more ):
Then we met Elka (the mom) who hurried us in for lunch when we first met her, which kind of set the tone for the rest of the weeks because she was always cooking up something yummy! It was amazing to see her cook up a meal in half an hour for 6 people or make her sourdough bread. She’s the kind of cook who just opens her fridge, takes out whatever there is, eyeballs the quantity and whips up something quite amazing.
Together, they have 3 kids- Christin (the oldest), Bianca and Toni (the youngest). Christin is funnily sarcastic but so warm and welcoming. She’s really tall (like 1.8m) and enveloped us in a huge hug when we first arrived. She also brought us on a walk in the forest where we talked about everything under the sun and laughed at us waddling / sliding down (with our butts on the floor) a very very steep slope. We Singaporeans aren’t very good at hiking. On the other hand, the Swiss are naturals.
Bianca’s the responsible middle child whose main job at the dinner table is to pack the leftovers in the most suitable box. Sounds funny? It actually requires skill hahaha. She’s the artsy one who paints and dries wild flowers for her biology university project and also the one who always gets bullied. Toni is their youngest child who is in the Swiss army and only comes back for the weekends, so I only saw him a couple of times but because of him, I’ve tried the Swiss army chocolate and it is so so good. It is a milk chocolate bar with bits of crunchy cereal in it to cheer tired Swiss boys up. It’ll definitely cheer me up any day.
I did farming with 2 of my good friends at different timings. The first 2 weeks were with Esther, my good buddy from primary school (oh gosh, look how well we have grown!). We ate lots of cakes (7 slices in 2 days), travelled like we were in The Amazing Race (rushing everywhere), plucked some Elderflowers for syrup, weeded a patch of grass for a new pumpkin patch and cooked up a Singaporean meal for them. The next 2 weeks were with Joy, my newfound good friend from medical school. It’s really funny how our friendship developed because we were actually friends since 11 years old but only started properly talking to each other last year. We cleaned up the farm, came up with a Cow Wellness Program (scrubbing the cow clean while they were being milked), battled the Nettles, and made a damn awesome Earl Grey Tea Cake 🙂
Secondly, I’ve learnt so much about the farming world and come to envy how close-knit the community is. Neighbours will come and go at the dining table, bringing with them food and laughter. One neighbour, Peter, organises farm parties for the city people. He makes fresh sausages to supply at the party while his wife and daughter would make loads of cakes for dessert. Anything leftover gets directed to our farm and it is a w e s o m e. One morning, we came home to a tray full of blackforest cake, cheese cake etc. We also get nice fresh sausages occasionally! Another neighbour, Barbara and her 11 year old son, Noah, help out at the farm every week and we got invited to their house for cheese fondue! 🙂 Noah is super cute, he wants to be a farmer when he grows up and is best buddies with Bruno. (can you imagine a 50 year old and a 12 year old being best friends?!) They can talk about tractors all day!
Thirdly, this experience has definitely changed the way I see loads of things. For example, now I’m way more thoughtful about the waste I produce and the plastic bags I use. A wonderful thing about Switzerland is that everyone is so environmentally conscious. It’s ingrained into their culture. Everyone brings their own bag to the supermarket for their groceries. Everyone splits their trash into recyclables and non-recyclables. It’s something I wished Singapore would start doing. I’m actually quite disgusted by the number of plastic bags we use whenever we go on a huge grocery shopping trip. So I’m making sure that we bring our own bags to the supermarket from now onwards. Also, I bought a compost bin so that I can turn all my food waste into nutritious soil for my garden!
Also, regardless of whether you’re staying in an apartment or house or farm, somehow everyone has a lingonberry bush/ apple tree/ cherry tree/ rhubarb plant to call their own. And they make amazing food from their produce, like lingonberry cupcakes or rhubarb tart. This spurred me to come home and revamp my garden so that there’s more edible things growing. So now my garden can boast of a slowly, but growing pumpkin patch, very fertile ladies fingers, an onion that gives us chinese chives for garnishing, some english chives, a couple of zucchinis, a couple of eggplants (but no eggplant yet), random chinese vegetables that we use for stir fry, a crazily growing dill plant/ tree, many basil plants, few pots of rosemary and one pot of english parsley. It seems like loads of plants because it actually is! We actually spend at least an hour a day watering the plants, trimming them and tilling the soil. It’s a lot of hard work but it’s therapeutic at least. And nothing quite beats the feeling of watching your plant thrive and literally bear fruit 🙂
If you ever have the time to try your hand at farming, I urge you to do so! It’s an experience I would never trade anything for and one that I would always remember, especially because I grew up in a city. I really hope to return one day, to see the apples and cherries in full produce and the cows happily grazing on the meadows. Till then, I can only relive my memories as I toil in my small little garden.