Ōtaki’s WWOOFing grandma

Christine uses some of her WOOFing time picking summer berries
Christine uses some of her WOOFing time picking summer berries

Washington is a fair way from Ōtaki but when you’re a jet-setting grandma with WWOOFing plans, it’s no distance at all.

Earlier this year Ōtaki-based Christine Culling, and husband, Peter,embarked on a long-planned cruise, travelling the dramatic, often wild, coastlines of Alaska and Canada. After meeting up with son Oliver and family (temporarily based in the States), Christine headed to Washington and the relatively unknown (at least to New Zealanders) Maury Island.

Maury Hill Farm is a one acre property situated on Maury Island, Vashon, Washington
Maury Hill Farm is a one acre property situated on Maury Island, Vashon, Washington

Maury Island is a small, tied island in Puget Sound, connected to Vashon Island by an isthmus built by local homeowners in 1913. Semi-rural with large areas of farmland, forest and relatively undeveloped shoreline, the island is home to Harley and Holly Miedema. The couple own Maury Hill Farm, the one acre garden homestead Christine has choosen from around 65 Seattle properties, all listed on the WWOOF USA website (the directory lists 2,045 organic farms and gardens across USA).“I was really keen on the WWOOF idea,” explains Christine. “There’s plenty of WOOFERS in our community — my son gave me confidence as well, he’s often travelled as a WWOOF worker.” After arriving on the ferry from Seattle, Christine was met by Harley “in his old pick-up” and transported to where she would be living and working for the next 12 days.

The garden is home to a wide range of vegetables, berry bushes and fruit trees
The garden is home to a wide range of vegetables, berry bushes and fruit trees

“My WWOOFing adventure had truly begun! Holly and Harley were really welcoming. I felt at home straight away, probably helped by sleeping in the guest room, inside the house, rather than in the studio building outside. I felt part of their family.”

WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) offers travellers a place to sleep and meals in exchange for around 20 hours of work a week (room and board).

Christine is a morning person, “more energy in the early hours,” and started her days at 6.00am, working through to 11.00am. It was five solid hours of planting, weeding, harvesting garlic, and picking summer fruit, berries such as blueberries and strawberries, and “lots and lots of beans.” The farm has a large vegetable garden, fruit trees, grapes, a small apple orchard and occasionally, chickens and pigs.

Garlic, of various varieties, had been the main crop for many years, but Christine says the current focus was on the whole vegetable garden.“Harley and Holly use permaculture principles, working with nature, and looking at plants in all their functions. They consume most of what they grow, it’s a self-sufficient lifestyle.”

Food preservation is Harley’s primary interest and he makes sauerkraut, freezes produce from the garden and orchard and makes pesto from their garlic, including the scapes. This is the soft, lime-green coloured stems and unopened flower buds from the garlic plant. Generally used as you would shallots or scallions, scapes can be blended into hummus, bean dips, salad dressing or blended into pesto with lemon juice, pine nuts, olive oil, parmesan and salt and pepper.

“The scape pesto was nice although it had a real strong garlic flavour! We also used to walk around the garden, just picking and eating!”Christine says the “picking and eating” was encouraged, all part of the laid-back, welcoming atmosphere.Harley was chief cook, using produce from the garden, while Holly worked as “a busy school teacher.” Although not so physically able or active, Christine says Harley was great at giving directions and “very knowledgable about farming.”

Working five hours in the garden during the morning, followed by several hours of walking every afternoon, resulted in one fit grandma.

“The island is quite isolated — there’s very little public transport. My afternoons were spent walking, lots and lots of walking. I got to really know the whole island.”

Christine is keen to have further adventures along the WWOOFing road, particularly at the end of a holiday. “I hope to stay and WWOOF in New York next time. It’s such a good way to connect with the country. I’ve already checked out a bed and breakfast with a big garden, about 25 miles out of the city,” she says.“I’ve worked at tasks in the garden here, hard, physical challenges, so outside my comfort zone, things I would never do at home.

It’s been an empowering time for me, an educational, fun adventure.”