Farming on wheels isn't impossible. It just
takes persistence and a passion for growing things. We'd been homesteading in Cape
Breton, Nova Scotia, for 15 years when my husband Charley and I found out I had progressive
At first I went on doing things as I always had, and Charley took over when I
got too tired. But gradually it got harder for me to walk and work. One day I went
out to the garden and got so overheated in the sun that I couldn't get back to the
house. I realized I'd have to give up my old role on the farm, which included a fair
amount of physical work--milking, cleaning stalls, feeding the animals, working in
By that time, luckily, our kids were grown up and on their own. We decided to
gradually let go of our goats and chickens and horses. I cut back on the amount of
freezing and canning I was doing. Charley rebuilt the kitchen so it was easier to
Then I got an electric scooter, and we joined Willing Workers on Organic Farms
(WWOOF). Now our garden is bigger and better than ever, with exotic details like
asparagus, strawberries, lemon balm, lettuce in winter. There are now flower beds
around our house, nicely weeded in the summer and banked with straw in the winter.
We're even thinking about getting animals again.
Susan checks the greenhouse plants from her scooter.
Charley and I moved to Nova Scotia from New
England in the early 1970s. We bought some land in a little valley in the Cape Breton
highlands, cleared 10 of our 75 acres, and built a house and barn with very little
money. We raised and home-schooled our children as they grew up side by side with
a world of nature and a barn full of livestock. I wrote several books and magazine
articles about creative cookery with whole grains and homegrown foods. Charley became
an environmental consultant, specializing in forestry. In the winter, we write. In
the summer, we farm.
You might say farming has been a lifetime passion. For instance, I have this thing
about peas. Planting peas is, to me, the quintessential springtime activity. The
erection of pea fences declares an occupational territory: We who live here take
farming seriously. It's a kind of commitment: that we will weed, water, hoe and pick
these peas. It's poetry. Pea vines will wend their way up the fences, clinging with
delicate tendrils. Flowers will bloom, pale as butterflies, and pea pods will fatten
like green earrings. We will pick them early in the cool of the summer morning, shell
them and use them as an essential ingredient in our household haute cuisine. We like
peas enough to do all this, and more.
But by mid-June of last year, I was beginning to feel as if the season was escaping
us. The garden was not planted. It was almost too late for putting in peas, even
in a place as far north as Cape Breton. We weren't sure we were capable of all the
hard work needed to get our garden under way. One morning I assembled the seeds and
made a new garden plan. But I couldn't go out and fork manure. And I realized it
was a lot to ask my husband to do it himself, along with all the other things he's
That's when I got a phone call from a young fellow in Halifax, wondering if we
would like the help of a WWOOFer.
"Sure would," I said, and welcomed Mark, who came to stay with us and
work with my husband for three very busy days. I spent most of those days making
sure there were good meals waiting for them, while they plowed, limed, manured, rototilled,
staked, raked, hilled and planted the garden--peas, beans, potatoes, carrots, squash,
lettuce, chard, corn, kale and broccoli. Then they set up a 30-foot greenhouse where
we put in tomatoes, basil, peppers and eggplant seedlings. We rolled into summer
with a flourish.
WWOOF is a loosely knit organization of energetic, independent young people with
an urge to travel. Each farm describes itself in a paragraph published in a booklet.
Participants choose a place they think they'd like, give the farm a call, and either
make arrangements or get turned down. There are WWOOF programs in countries all around
the world, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Germany,
Japan, Switzerland and Italy. You can find more info on the Net. WWOOF is just getting
started in the United States. The cost, for both participants and hosts, is under
The idea is that WWOOFers help out on farms
in different places in their travels. This cuts down the cost of transient life.
It also enables them to learn about farming from organic farms and farmers. WWOOFing
appeals to a certain romantic spirit: One girl from British Columbia described herself
as a Knight of the Organic Road. As volunteers, they live and work on WWOOF-host
organic farms, receiving no wages except room and board and what they learn from
WWOOF was tailor-made for me. I may not be able to do everything, but I know what
needs to be done. Charley arranged the garden rows wide enough so I can get in and
out on my electric scooter. I prowl around, inspecting. I notice weeds taking over
the lettuce, peas ready to be picked, mice nibbling the tops of the carrots. I pay
attention to the watering of the squash, the flowering of the basil, the temperature
of the greenhouse. I think about how to accomplish things--hoses to be moved, vents
opened, the kitchen taken over by a freezing operation. I do a little picking as
I go; a couple of cucumbers, chives for an omelet, flowers for the table.
The bonus is that I get to share what I know with people who want to learn. I
enjoy being able to work in the garden with WWOOFers, showing them how to prune tomatoes,
how to thin carrots, when to transplant lettuce in the greenhouse, where to find
mint. I don't always insist that they always do things my way. The motto of 4-H in
my childhood was "Learn by Doing," and that's often the best way.
When Jessica arrived at the beginning of August, the peas were ripe. She picked
a bucketful, which my husband shelled, out on the porch, in a small, noisy contraption
which runs off an electric drill. I taught her how to steam, chill and freeze them
in the kitchen. The next day, Jess said she would rather shell peas by hand than
listen to the racket of that machine. "Fine," I said, and handed her the
bucket. By the time she finished shelling, her fingers were sore and she knew why
we're lucky to have a pea sheller. When we did the next picking of peas, a second
WWOOFer had arrived to join Jess. There were twice as many peas to be picked, and
there were no more complaints about the noisy sheller. They went swimming, instead.
WWOOFers come to our little farm from all over the world, which is part of the
fun of having them. We've had people from Australia, Germany and England, as well
as Canada and the United States. Madoka, who joined Jessica this summer, was our
first from Japan, but I'm sure not the last. We enjoy the cross-cultural experience
as much as they do, and make an effort to share music, art and cooking as well as
The best part of WWOOFers is their willingness. The ones we've had here enjoy
good hard physical work. I help them learn to put that energy to good use, and make
sure there's a meal waiting when they're through. Eating well is part of farming
well. Since many WWOOFers are vegetarians, it helps to have a good supply of vegetables
I much prefer having a few WWOOFers for a long stay to having new helpers every
few days. After a few months, they know how to dig a good deep hole in the ground
or hoe a row without hurting their backs. They've learned the difference between
weeds and vegetables, and they even know which weeds we consider edible. They automatically
water new transplants. They know how to run the wood stove, what to do with compost,
and our custom of making bread on a rainy day. They remind me about broccoli that's
going by. They know how to tell if corn is ripe and when mice are getting into the
strawberries. They know when to go for a swim. They're ready to start a farm of their
As for me, I'm ready to take some time off until next year, when I'll start another
garden plan and hope for a WWOOFer or two to come and stay and help us eat all the
food still in our freezer from the year before.
The OmegaTrac front-wheel-drive
power chair is farm and ranch ready right out of the chute, according to the manufacturer.
It has width-adjustable drive wheels, dual wheel option, and gearing "from grandma
to gallup." Standard options include cast aluminum machined wheels and a category-2
tow-hitch pin, so you can pull a few bales of hay or a couple of chain saws and a
post hole digger, a come-along and a water can. Seat width ranges from 14 to 36 inches,
and optional driver-adjustable height suspension lets you get your knees under the
table or feet over a stump. Its makers say it will climb over tree roots as big as
your arm, and cattle guards present no problem. With its 30.5-inch
turning radius, the Omegatrac can clear standard doors along a 3-foot wide hall.
Without the duals, the turning radius goes down to 24.5 inches. Drive train is warranted
five years, frame for life. Call 888/234-1433 for a free video or write TEFTEC, 6929
Old Spring Branch Road, Spring Branch, TX 78070.