If there is soil to be tilled, a flower bed to be mulched, a chicken coop to be cleaned out, sheep to be sheared, honey to be extracted from a hive, a Muscovy duck to be fed or slaughtered, a drip irrigation system to be installed, pigweed to be pulled out of the pepper patch, compost to be sifted, a field to be Bush-Hogged (look it up, city slicker)—I am not the first person you’d call. Trust me, I am not even on the list. I am the most urban person you will ever meet, by which I only partly mean that I am lazy.
So what am I doing here, lending a hand at the Three Roods Farm in Columbiaville, Michigan?Why have I, a lover of New York City and an eater of all foods chemically based, come to the heartland of America?Hint: it is not because I am good with plants, though I can sauté them; nor is it because I am a dog person or a cat person, and I am certainly not a livestock person. I’m here communing with the flora and fauna (while sneaking NutraSweet packets into my tea as if they were heroin) because I like exotic experiences, especially ones that last only a few days. And okay, to be honest, I did have to get out of my apartment so they could re-grout my bathtub tiling.
And so, I signed up to apprentice for almost a week at Three Roods through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a.k.a. wwoof, o.k.a. (originally known as) Working Weekends on Organic Farms. Together, these names tell you a lot about the outfit, but here are a few things they don’t mention: wwoof began in 1971 when Sue Coppard, a secretary in London, feeling the need for a little Mother Nature in her life, organized a weekend helping out on a biodynamic farm in Sussex. There are now 79 countries in wwoof, which means you can, for instance, clear bramble and milk yak in such places as Estonia, Guinea, Togo, and Tonga. The way it works is this: wwoof compiles a list of host farms that welcome volunteers in exchange for room, board, and an opportunity to learn about organic agriculture. Most wwoofers, I would imagine, do not show up with a photographer, a large trunk full of clothes, a computer, and a million questions. In other words, my cover was blown from the start.
I know what you’re thinking. This is one of those stories in which the author will have a life-altering epiphany and decide to give up her Manhattan one-bedroom to live in a yurt and grow alfalfa. Well, suffice it to say that at this point in our tale, I was still referring to farm chores as "errands."
Back to the land. The approximately half-hour drive from the Flint Airport to Three Roods is simple—there don’t seem to be many roads in Michigan so there are few turns to make. You drive past some farms and then you drive past some more farms until you pass by some more farms. Then continue all the way down Our Acres Drive and you will see a hand-crafted sign jutting out of the lawn that says may peace prevail on earth. You will also see a two-story barn; a coop sheltering the peeps of chickens and the rooster who doesn’t love them; a couple of stacks of wooden hives surrounded by a swarm of honeybees; a greenhouse built from a kit; several plots of raised and flat beds of vegetables; orchards of apple, peach, elderberry, and chestnut trees; and in the distance, a pasture of Shetland sheep. A German shepherd puppy named Schnitzel will bark hysterically as you approach. This is Three Roods Farm.
The 23-acre permaculture farm is owned by Robin Mallor, age 56, and her husband, Greg Kruszewski, 57, who sell the fruits and vegetables of their labor according to a 22-year-old economic model called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): locals, also known as subscribers, buy shares in the farm and are thus entitled to a portion of the produce harvested each week. When Greg and Robin are not helping to "restore the earth to health," as Greg told me over breakfast, they work, respectively, as a homeopathic consultant and a nurse and teacher of Integral Yoga and the Dances of Universal Peace.