By Terri Smith —
It was raining and 8:30 before I remembered that I hadn’t yet tucked in the garden for the night. I tried to get Curtis to come with me, but he had already showered. I looked at Amelie, happily dressed in pajamas and checking her email and then at Johanne reading contentedly in one of the lovely dresses she always wears and asked, “Amelie? Do you want to come close greenhouses with me?” She looked sheepishly at me, “No-oo…” I laughed, as Curtis said, “Ask Johanne. It’s her last night to close them.” I looked back to Johanne who instantly agreed. “But I will run,” she added, because of the rain.
We walked out into the twilight and the rain was not nearly as heavy as it sounded on the tin roof. It was actually fairly warm. We jogged to the bridge, smiling, and as we slowed to walk over it I turned to her and said what I’d wanted to say, “Johanne, I’m so happy you came here.”
She looked at me oddly for a second and I laughed and clarified, “to the farm, not just out to close greenhouses.”
“Oh,” she said, and then, “Do you want I should close that one and you can close the other one?” I nodded and ran to the second greenhouse wondering and, I’ll admit, worrying that I shouldn’t have said anything.
Maybe she hadn’t had a very good time after all. What a strange place this must seem to her. She lives in a beautiful house in Quebec City and also has the most incredible ski chalet I’ve ever seen pictures of! I’m sure even her vehicles must be nice.
Meanwhile, we have a constantly evolving ‘clean-up’ mess outside the front door, and the usual worn-out Cariboo vehicles (including several that no longer run). Only yesterday my truck’s ignition finally decided it was tired of turning and wanted to retire. So, after several YouTube videos from which I learned how to start any number of vehicles without a key, I managed to take apart my dash and remove the tumbler so that I could start my truck with a pair of pliers. The truck starts again (though it does look like I stole it) and we’ve ordered a new ignition. I was really proud of myself!
Until that evening when we briefly got stuck in the co-op parking lot when my loose battery connection came undone and I found that my earlier repair job had cost me my ability to open the hood. But then I remembered my new “key” and used the pliers to pull the hood release cable. I was elated! I may have been projecting, but I thought I felt Johanne cringe in the back seat.
The two things he communicated on the drive out here that he thought were important we know about him were: that he knew Kung Fu and was telepathic.”
I finished closing the greenhouse thinking that I was really glad to have met her and I hoped she’d had a good time. I felt a moment of sadness wishing I had been a better host, helping her find her way more in such unfamiliar surroundings instead of just letting her figure out how to fit into this odd life. Ah well, I always intend to be a better host, but each week I juggle so many things that I will often seem to neglect those who seem content on their own. I hoped she hadn’t been unhappy here with us.
We met in front of the zucchini. We covered it together and I smiled at her and said, “That was the fastest we’ve ever closed the greenhouses.” She smiled back and said, “And I am really happy to have come here!” It meant the world to me.
Hosting volunteers every summer is one of the most interesting aspects of farming that frankly hadn’t occurred to me before I began. Road’s End is listed on three different websites for travelling volunteers: WWOOF (Worldwide Workers On Organic Farms), HelpX, and Workaway. Interested travellers can view our profile and then contact me if they are interested in coming here. These are wonderful programs; we couldn’t do what we do here without the help of our volunteers. Yet it is an odd thing, too. Strangers from around the world come and live with us, eat with us, work with us; they become friends and then they go. It is a bittersweet thing at times, but our lives are the richer for it.
And it isn’t always easy. If the people who come here are good helpers and easy to live with then it is wonderful, but we have had times where the helpers have been not so helpful nor so easy and sometimes they are downright weird.
Like one helper we had in 2012 who had backpacked across Canada carrying the essentials: a set of kitchen knives and a sledgehammer for pounding in tent pegs! He was an odd sort of person. The two things he communicated on the drive out here that he thought were important we know about him were: that he knew Kung Fu and was telepathic. The helpers who were here at the time agreed, “Once we realized he wasn’t going to murder us in our sleep, we really started to like him!”
Then there was the Belgian boy who constantly told me how everything was so much better in Belgium: “In Belgium the counters are always clean.” “In Belgium we never eat so late at night.” “In Belgium the houses are not this dirty.” “In Belgium you would never see a goat in the house.” Finally in exasperation I answered, “Then go back to Belgium!”
But overall, hosting world travellers has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. Just last night, Amelie, our helper from Germany who has become such a good friend in the two and half months she’s been here, helped me nurse a sick goat back to health (no, it wasn’t Amadeus). We stayed up till after midnight helping the hypothermic kid who had fallen into the irrigation ditch. And in the morning she got up early, made breakfast, and fed the animals so I could write this article.
I never imagined farming would bring so many people from around the world into our lives. My closest friends live in France, Germany, Portugal, and England. WWOOF makes the world a smaller place. I am lucky to be a part of such an amazing program.
Terri Smith is an organic vegetable farmer in the Cariboo with Road’s End Vegetable Company. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Literature and a diploma in Art.