Heading Off: Two Weeks on Alison's Biodynamic Farm

On Monday, April 5, I woke up early and bicycled through an unseasonable Norwich snow flurry to the train station. My silver and blue pack, Persimmon, was stuffed to bursting and strapped to my back. I wobbled in the icy gusts of wind under my heavy cargo. Collin, with a day off from Easter, kindly biked in front as I focused all my attention on balance and using my hips and quads to get up the hills.

Although I never had this exact experience on the Watson, it felt like déjà vu: I was reminded of all the early mornings when I rushed to leave one home for another, all the GoJek and Lift scooters I rode for transportation in Indonesia and Malaysia, all the moments of movement when everything I needed was on my back.

Today I was making a smaller journey, just one hour south by train from Norwich to Manningtree. I'd leave the district of Norfolk, steam south through Suffolk, and get off just past the border to Essex. My destination: Alison's Organics, a biodynamic farm.

I'd found the farm through WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It's an excellent program where volunteers can find organic farms to host them for periods ranging from days to months. Hosts provide food and lodging, and volunteers work around six hours a day, five days a week, with no money exchanged. I'd always wanted to try it but never felt like I had the time.

Well, lockdown was lifting, spring weather was melting back into freezing winter, and I was on spring break from my master's program at the University of East Anglia. Time to give it a try! I arranged with Alison Bond to spend two weeks WWOOFing (yes, that's a verb) on her five-acre smallholding.

Clear, cold skies.

Home sweet home! I'm staying in this caravan. (Caravan is the British word for trailer - I like how it gives the whole place a circus vibe.)

An unwelcome houseguest. I found two of these plump spiders living under a board on my windowsill. They're in the genus Drassodes, "ground spiders that... live under rocks or bark in mostly dry habitats." I guess the caravan windowsill fit the bill. (I moved them both outside where they can find a new mostly-dry home.)

My loves. Alison keeps two flocks of layer hens to "do the gardening." They live in portable hen-houses surrounded by an electric mesh fence, so Alison can move them to whichever piece of land needs weeding, fertilizing, pest-elimination, and digging.

The greenhouse is the centerpiece of the vegetable farming operation, augmented by three poly tunnels, one propagation tunnel with heated beds for starting seeds, eight outdoor beds, and several orchards of cherry trees, raspberry canes, and currant bushes.

Inside the greenhouse is a lush jungle. Here are rows of garden peas.

The pea flowers are out, ready for pollinators.

Winter purslane, or miner's lettuce, is a prolific, self-seeding green. I love the lilypad leaves. A less-creative farmer might call it a weed, but Alison appreciates its vivacity and uses it for a succulent, vitamin-rich addition to salad mixes. (It's delicious!)

Eight Castlemilk Moorit ewes eye me suspiciously.

Alison also keeps a flock of eight primitive-breed sheep called Castlemilk Moorit. They have sturdy horns, milk-chocolate fleeces, and an endearing tendency to walk single-file around the pasture in a tight nose-to-tail line as if they were crossing a mountain pass. I can't wait for the ewes to lamb, hopefully later this week...