Article “Oughterard Newsletter”
The longer evenings and milder, dryer days bring out an almost primitive urge in many people, a desire to abandon the indoors and venture outside and blow away the last traces of winter.
Most might opt to take up an outdoors hobby, go hiking or tend to their gardens. However for others once they decide they want to experience the “great outdoors” they take decisive action. Simply just wanting some fresh air and to do some physical work in a relaxed atmosphere was the reason why two recent university graduates from Belgium found themselves living and working on Uncle Matt’s Farm.
Sandrine and Benedicte arrived in Oughterard last autumn as WWOOFers. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and it is an organisation which facilitates the pairing up of volunteers who want to work and live on a farm with hosts. One of the aims of the WWOOF organisation is to provide volunteers with firsthand experience of life in a rural setting.
Generally speaking the WWOOFers don’t receive any financial payment but are provided with food, accommodation and learning opportunities in exchange for help on the farm or with farming activities. While some people cannot get their head around the idea of working without payment, Sandrine and Benedicte said they would have found it strange to be paid, “WWOOFing is about sharing and helping and learning a new culture. WWOOFing is more about helping rather than working.
Some people think it’s strange that we chose to do something where we didn’t get paid but for us it would have been strange to get paid when we are living there and Padhraig and Catriona are more like family than employers. This experience has opened our minds; it was an adventure for us, something atypical.”
Their daily tasks were varied with both saying their favourite thing to do on the farm was picking potatoes. They also helped with preparing for the market, picking vegetables, planting and weeding, driving the tractor. On Uncle Matt’s Farm they also had the opportunity to make chutneys and bake carrot cakes with Catriona. While the work is physically tough and tiring, it’s not stressful and the two Belgians found it was the perfect anecdote to years of study and actually they saw it as a break after university before they started their teaching careers.
Learning new skills and getting to work outside aren’t the only benefits of volunteering as a wwoofer. When Sandrine and Benedicte were at Uncle Matt’s Farm they travelled at the weekends and got to see many places. Before applying to be wwoofer they had been advised by people who had already been to Ireland to come to Galway and the variety of the work on Uncle Matt’s Farm appealed to them.
They both really enjoyed their experience and would recommend WWOOFing and in particular Uncle Matt’s Farm to anyone, “you meet nice people in a nice environment. It’s varied work and on Uncle Matt’s Farm we have our own independence because we live separately, it’s living basically, getting back to nature.
It’s better than just travelling because we have more than each other. Catriona and Padhraig have welcomed us into their lives and introduced us to the Irish way of life in a way we couldn’t have experienced if we were travelling independently.”
The two young women were sad to be returning home after their adventure in the west of Ireland, but yet happy to have enjoyed their time here so much, “we’ve had a chance to learn about authentic Irish culture. We’ve come to Ireland but we’re not like tourists, we have taken part in village life.”
Uncle Matt’s Farm is two miles out of town on the Galway road, turn right and follow the signs. Farm shop is open Thursday 10 am – 7 pm and Saturday 10 am – 3 pm. Phone (087) 2113764 to order your box of vegetables or call to the Village Market Friday.