Chasing after cute animals, making jam, and growing wise on a porch swing. The country life city folks dream about. Here's how Singapore native and recent college grad Eileen Lee found it through WWOOF-ing, working on an organic farm, in Wakayama, Japan.
WAKAYAMA, Japan — I've always dreamed of becoming a farmer's wife. I grew up in Singapore, and you know how it is: grass is always greener on the other side. Especially on the rolling hills of Switzerland, a place I had recently traveled to and fallen hard for. I pictured peaceful days spent reading and growing wise on a wooden, prairie-side porch swing.
But after a while, like any fast-paced city girl in need of instant gratification, I got tired of waiting around for my big, strong farmer husband and decided to take matters into my own hands. As part of my three-week university graduation trip, I traveled to Wakayama, Japan, to spend eight days working at Komeichi, an organic farm that does agriculture au natural. I learned a bit about vegetable farming from farm owner Yohei-san and his family and staff while living in their lovely traditional Japanese home. I signed up through WWOOF, an organization (similar to helpx) where volunteers can work on farms in return for food and lodging.
Everything at Komeichi is grown as naturally as possible — no pesticides, no fertilizers, no weeding, no pruning. It sounds like less work, but it's actually a lot harder — we did all of the farming manually and used minimal machinery. During my stay we planted cucumber, eggplant, carrots, and capsicum (resulting in the only vegetables I know how to say in Japanese). Spring in Wakayama can be chilly, and Yohei-san and his family generously loaned us their farm clothes to throw on over our jeans and tees to keep us warm.
The farm was organic to the core. I took it a step further by setting myself a personal rule of no cell phones or cameras when I'm on the field. Disconnecting from the outside world was a true escape. I finally started to feel like I was living the simple life.
Komeichi is primarily a rice farm, but it wasn't harvesting season during my stay, so we helped out in other ways than just working the fields. On weekends, Yohei-san opened his small pizza house where we volunteered as kitchen helpers and sous-chefs. Japanese buns and oven-baked pizzas were our reward.
An unexpected treat was getting to know Yohei-san and his farming staff who felt like family. My Japanese is actually quite terrible, and their English isn't too great either, so every day was a charade of communication. Yohei-san and his good friend, Taichi-san, play the drums and sing. Many an evening was spent joining in for some musical fun as they practiced for their performances. Their adorable cat, Shiro, was a constant and pleasant comfort around the house.
I'm back in Singapore and still remain a daydream away from my fantasy of becoming a farmer. But my experience at Komeichi allowed me to live out a different fantasy, one I didn't even know I had or wanted — becoming part of a simple community and culture so different from my own. WWOOF-ing is really one of the most cost-effective and rewarding trips you can take. I hope to return to my friends at Komeichi and spend my days planting organic gardens, and my evenings growing wise on a porch swing.
MORE ABOUT WWOOF JAPAN
A year's membership to WWOOF Japan it 5500¥ (roughly $53). By becoming a member, you can access all of the host farm's profiles and information. Contact hosts through the website to arrange for a stay. After your stay is confirmed, you just need to get yourself there, and then everything else (food, accommodation) is covered.