Farmer 2 Farmer: Lessons From a Week Volunteering on a Patagonian Farm

Posted by Heather Shobe on February 28, 2019

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“¡Tú lo sabes!” Says Aunt Rosita (You know it!). “So tidy, so good. You are a farmer!”

It’s February of 20017, and I’m on a South American odyssey that includes one week volunteering on a traditional farm in Patagonia. I speak very little Spanish, and what I do know is very different than the Argentinian dialect that surrounds me. My host family speaks little English, and we’re getting by on a series of hand signals, facial expressions, and a translation app I’ve downloaded to my Ipad.

As a small farm operator, I’ve hosted a number of farm-stay helpers in the past, and have a good idea of what’s needed from a volunteer. This experience taught me something else.

Here’s what I learned about being the best farm host I can be in the future:

  1. Smile. A smile goes a long, long way in comforting a helper and allowing them to ease them into your home. This was the most connecting and frequent form of communication I received from my warm-hearted and wonderful hosts.
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  2. Be patient. It takes a lot of mental effort and energy to learn and practice a new language. A helper will appreciate your corrections, so don’t hold back unless asked to, and please understand that they may feel more drained than either of you expected.
  3. Hire people with skills. It will make your life, and theirs, much easier. It quickly became clear to my host family that I knew what I was doing, and their burden of training and micro-management was relieved. 
  4. Reaffirm that safety is a priority. If you communicate nothing else, be explicit about potential dangers, protective equipment, and limits to what your helpers should do. Encourage them to slow down and maintain mindful awareness of their surroundings. In my own eagerness to please, I admit falling victim to some minor, but out of character, stumbles.
  5. Give them tasks, but allow for flexibility. While they are there to help, they are also on a journey of discovery. They will appreciate the ability to take pauses, at their leisure, for writing, taking pictures, or taking advantage of opportunities for exploration. For the best experience, see #3 above!IMG_1791
  6. Introduce them to your family and friends. Your authentic life is what they came to know and learn about.
  7. We are all one. The needs of farming are the same in Patagonia as they are in British Columbia. Resourcefulness, adaptability, simplicity, and routine – these we have in common. We collect nails, we covet bailing twine and string, we make do, we improvise. Water is our most precious commodity and our greatest asset.
  8. It is better together. As independent and introverted as I am, there is a deep and satisfying contentedness that comes from sharing work, land, and production. It delighted both myself and my hosts to show off our respective work, our accomplishments, our creations, our farms. Rejoice in the work of your volunteers – it will motivate them, and encourage more hard work. You are a gift to each other.

Heather Shobe is a writer and gardener who runs Eden Tree Farm and Gardening, a small farm and agricultural consulting business in Vancouver Island’s Alberni Valley. Find out more at www.edentreefarm.ca or contact her at heather@edentreefarm.ca

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