Stephanie Hsu takes us through life on a Swedish farm as part of her WWOOF Sweden experience which links volunteers with local organic farmers and growers.
It’s not my farm – but I call it that anyway. While the owners are Swedish, it really is an adopted home of sorts for free spirits hailing from all over the world. It’s one of those places that I simultaneously can’t believe actually exists and keeps me grounded; knowing that it’s there. I am so glad I found it. It’s apple season now, the musteri is running full force in the brisk autumn sun. I’m already planning entire weeks of trading in books and student pubs for fresh-pressed apple juice, crisp fall weather, and stomping around in boots.
The sense memories I glean here are so specific and different from my “real life” – Clipping flowers still wet from the morning dew, taking lazy naps in the light-flooded greenhouse, home-made dinners under the apple trees. I always keep my iPhone tucked into the pocket of the usually (ratty) oversize jacket I throw on the minute I arrive on the farm, because magic lurks around every corner.
In the mornings, I wake up on “the bus” around 7:30am; where I’m swaddled in blankets to fight off the cold at night. Last year, my friend Stephanie and I took this trash filled VW bus and cleaned, painted and organised it into a cozy little home. I stagger out to get ready for the day – and someone’s usually been on breakfast duty, setting out oatmeal, honey, cream, dried fruits, bread and butter. First order of business – a massive cup of coffee out on the veranda overlooking the farm.
At around 9am, we gather around a whiteboard for the morning meeting where we review tasks to be done for the day and get assigned duties. The morning meeting, thanks to Lars, Emilia, and that sarcastic Swedish humor, is always subtly hilarious. Each worker on the farm is assigned, on their arrival, an area of the farm to tidy up and clean before visitors come and that usually takes up the first hour or so of the day. It’s one of my favorite times at the farm – everyone bustling about, doing their individual tasks; the farm still hushed and quiet, slowly waking up to the day.
Last year, when I was an official worker at the farm, I was assigned the barn “dining area”, and, in the process of readying the space, discovered the joy of working with flowers (which may or may not play a role in years to come. I’m still thinking on it).
Then there’s always people needed in the dishroom (to clean up after the cafe customers) and, now that it’s fall – the musteri, or apple press. The cafe is busiest in the summer season, while the musteri opens in the early weeks of August. Everyone who isn’t in the dishroom, musteri, or on some sort of special task (i.e, building a chicken house) stomps into the fields to do some weeding or harvesting.
When I arrived on the farm, I had already missed the morning meeting and the chance to sign up for cafe shifts. The musteri was relatively quiet, so we headed out with a few baskets to gather fallen apples (and, naturally, to snack on a few good specimens while we work). Rotten apples are salvaged and thrown into one basket for the pigs to eat; the relatively whole ones go in one basket for the cafe to make juice with.
Typically, people bring their own apples (from their backyards) to press and pasteurize at the musteri for a fee. There’s also the option to pick apples from the farm’s own orchard – or to buy the ready-made juice available in the cafe. It’s interesting that in the US, “cider” can refer to pressed apple juice (“hot cider”) – but in Sweden it seems to refer solely to an alcoholic beverage (and there can be pear cider, blueberry cider, all kinds of alcoholic ciders).
I press a batch or two in the musteri just to re-gain a feel for working there, and then I’m off to the fields, instructed to go and help harvest beans. They’re big, purple ones this time. The produce grown on the farm is either used in the cafe dishes, or arranged in a little produce stand to be sold to visitors. If you don’t have a chance to stroll all the fields, the produce stand is a convenient way of telling what season it is at the farm. When my family visited less than a month ago, the stand was quite different – but now pumpkins have emerged in the line-up, little warm-hued heralds of fall.
We work until we’re finished with our tasks for the day, and the more brave of us head off towards the lake for a brisk bike ride and swim before dinner. I’m more of the coffee-on-the-porch set, and everyone is on alert for the dinner bell ringing across the farm. While lunch is more of a rushed affair, dinner never disappoints. One night, we have freshly-caught fish from the lake. A few kind souls had stayed up late to throw in the net and gotten up at the crack of dawn to haul the bounty back. I could write a post on all the wonderful dinners we’ve had at the farm. Everyone eats with gusto – no shame, when you’ve been engaging in wholly physical labor, all day.
Night-life in the Swedish countryside doesn’t always match the purity of the water, air and trees – I’ve seen many a drunken soul staggering about in the orchard after the numerous weddings and parties that take place on the farm – but most nights, it’s games, bonfires, and quiet chats in the darkness. This time, we made a bonfire of unwanted books, piled haphazardly in the “give-and-take” shop at the edge of the farm property.
Some truly strange titles went into the fire, and then it’s time to pile on blankets, get on the bus, and hit the hay – a very apt farm metaphor, indeed.
About WWOOF Sweden
WWOOF Sweden represents farms spread out all over the country. It provides opportunities to meet people that have a genuine interest in learning about organic growing, country living and ecologically sound lifestyles. You get a chance to learn organic farming, stay, eat and work with farmers that grow organically using ecologically sound methods and provide hands-on experience.