Hawkes Bay, known specifically for its sunshine, instead greeted me with a month of rain and overcast skies. But luckily for me, the Bay is also wine country and I did have a few glasses of red to make up for the inclement weather. I spent the month of August wwoofing at The Family Farm–a 600+ hectare dairy/beef/chicken/pig farm with a brand new eco lodge for hosting guests and events. The infamous Joel Salatin has been to this farm, as has Nicole Foss, the fascinating economist I crossed paths with in Motueka. The Family Farm also has a partnership with the Air New Zealand Environmental Trust, which has given them the funds to replant native bush throughout their land, restoring it to all its former glory.
There are just two families involved in the project right now, but it seems like that could change soon as they attract new interest. My hosts were Greg and Rachel Hart and their children George, Emma, and Bill, and Otis the cat. I had to write a song called The Otis Blues because my newly developed cat allergy really had me down once I saw how cute Otis was. But I digress. I loved my daily morning routine of doing my yoga practice (usually) then hopping on the Kawasaki Mule (basically a glorified super rugged golf cart) and zooming around the farm to feed the chickens, piglets, sows, and Elvis the boar. After about a week, I added twice-a-day calf feeding to the routine. I really enjoyed it until 60 bull calves arrived and had to be wrestled into place at each feeding. They kept growing each day and I stayed the same, so naturally they started to win the wrestling matches, which made my life much more difficult. At least some of them retained their cowy cuteness as they grew.
When there were 75 calves to feed instead of 15, the Mule got loaded up with a huge milk container and feeding troughs and was therefore dubbed the Teat Mobile. It was quite a sight to behold, especially when I was driving it decked out in oversized rain gear probably looking like a crazy person. I learned to make slow, gentle stops so milk didn’t come splashing out of the open-topped container. Unfortunately it took me suffering through a few milk showers to learn that lesson.
A few weeks in, the calves started to get sick and had to be tube-fed electrolytes. Now there’s an experience I don’t care to have again. Forcing a large plastic tube down a sick cow’s throat is even less fun than it sounds. Needless to say, working with animals taught me a lot about patience and how I could really use some more of it! Maybe it was karma, but soon enough the cows weren’t the only ones needing electrolytes. I spent my last week at the farm with some sort of stomach flu, which was a total bummer but it did give me time to re-read two Harry Potter books, so I remained in decent spirits. During that week the fireplace became home to nearly 20 tiny baby lambs that had been rescued from the cold, damp weather. We nursed as many as we could back to health but still, many died and were eventually joined by a calf who couldn’t overcome his sickness. I had to see death as just another part of farm life, so it was quite rewarding to see the lambs that push through, and get to bottle feed them each day. So fluffy! On another note, I also got to teach my first post-training yoga class to the eco lodge’s inaugural guests. They were a group of employees from a nearby hotel on a team bonding weekend, spending their day planting trees and finishing it off with games and a feast. The lodge was still being finished when I left but it’s already beautiful. Overlooking a pond and a chunk of gorgeous countryside, the huge wooden deck will surely be paradise in summertime.
So I suppose The Family Farm was just as it’s namesake suggests–a lovely family experience on a beautiful working farm. It felt nice to be out in the middle of the land surrounded by so much unoccupied space. Some of the clutter in my head seemed to fall away and leave me with more space to enjoy the present. Unfortunately, I think it has all returned by now, but any respite from brain clutter is always welcome, no matter how brief.