This weekend I got my first taste of farm life in Bavaria. I WWOOFed for a small farm about an hour outside of Munich. Here are some of my first impressions.
The farm, which has been in the family for generations, is now primarily a horse and cattle operation, with a flock of chickens for kicks (although, I didn’t get to meet the cattle, as they are currently “summering” in Alpine meadows). The current generation of farmers is a young-ish couple with Gerber-baby-adorable eight-month-old twins. One member of the previous generation also lives there: the father of the husband, a relatively silent, old man who spent most of the time sitting around swatting flies, but showed up punctually for every meal.
The farm considers itself “Demeter,” which is the strictest level of organic (or “bio,” as the Germans call it) farming in Germany. In a nutshell, it follows the rules of biodynamic farming as proposed by Rudolf Steiner, the same guy who started the Waldorf schools. Demeter principles include planting according to cosmic rhythms, acute attention to nurturing the soil without chemical inputs, localized production and distribution, and the respectful treatment of animals.
My first, first impression is that farming reminds you of the limits and capabilities of your body in a way many people don’t normally experience in today’s “modern” world. As someone who sits at a desk to make her living, I was reminded mostly of my body’s limits. In fact, as I type this blog, I am wincing from a pain in my arm I acquired from lifting too many heavy loads of horse poop with a shovel. Despite this, I found the sensation (and the results) of physically pushing myself to get a job done to be quite satisfying.
Secondly, the experience revealed the importance of community-building within a farm. Everyone has to pitch in to get everything done, from mucking out the stalls to drying the dishes. The community also encompasses other farms in the area. I learned my host farm is part of a Demeter cow cooperative, of sorts; that is, the farms share the responsibility of rearing and tending the cows, as well as the fruits of the labor: meat and dairy products. They also share equipment and knowledge, as they have regular meetings (with other Demeter farmers) to discuss biodynamic methods and principles. Evidence of this sense of community lay in the warm atmosphere of the party my hosts held the night I was there, at which the cooperative’s farmers were in attendance; as well as in the hurried group effort to move some newly-cut hay into shelter, so it wouldn’t get soaked (and, thus, ruined) by a quickly approaching storm on my first afternoon.
Third, Bavarian farm houses–or rather, farm complexes–are so cool (for lack of a more eloquent superlative). While my host farm’s house is not the most spectacular of those I have seen from the outside, I finally got a chance to see one from the inside. Many Bavarian farm houses are huge and shelter both the people and the animals–that is, the people live on one side, and the animals (usually the cows) live on the other side or in a wing, of sorts. (Unfortunately, I don’t own a camera, so I can’t provide pictures for a visual explanation.) I wondered what this physical connection between human and animal living space does to the farmers’ mentality around their relationship with animals.
Fourth, I guess I never realized how rigid the day’s work schedule on a farm must be. There seem to be certain windows of the day in which various tasks can, or must, be done. For example, the horses must be fed at certain times and their stalls mucked frequently. This brings a rhythm to the day I don’t experience at my desk job. Also, not once did I find myself losing focus and thinking, “I wonder what’s happening on Facebook right now.”
Finally, the experience exemplified how trusting and welcoming people are capable of being towards strangers. Not only did I trust my host farmers to keep me safe and relatively cared for while under their roof, they trusted me to be respectful of their household and their property and warmly included me into their family and community.
I will be interested to see how my thinking about farm life might change, or not change, the more I experience it.