This is Lucas and his father Andreas.
This summer I volunteered for Lucas for about 45 days on his small organic farm in Portugal.
I met Lucas through a website called WorkAway.com, where travelers can trade work for accommodation and food. It’s a very different sense of volunteering because while volunteers are not paid, they get a place to stay for free. For example at Lucas’ farm I was required to work 6 hours per day, 6 days per week, in exchange for a bed and three meals per day.
My first day at Quinta do Vale I sat down to read the rule book. The first page was so inspiring that I just had to copy it in my journal.
QUITA DO VALE
Living, Rules and Tasks.
Volunteering work isn’t always easy and funny, especially when it happens on a farm. Farming requires many physical skills, but the most important thing is that you are able to think for yourself! Most of the situations can be easily solved since a volunteer uses his head, logic and sense, But it is always better to ask if you are not sure.
Volunteers should be aware of some fundamental concepts; sustainability is the most important one.
Every volunteer, with his work and free time, contributes for a sustainable process at the organic farm.
If a volunteer receives a meal based on products from the garden, [they] should be conscience of all process behind that food. Another volunteer had invested his work planting, watering, weeding, harvesting (and even preparing and canning) the vegetables or fruits that others will eat.
If we consider the hours of work that other volunteer did to create that food we will understand that the working time, (normally 5 to 6 hours per day) is effectively less because we consume some of the work others did. So in the end after a day of work the farm will have a progress of 2 to 3 hours a day.
Of course, that won’t happen in a practical way! But volunteers should understand that farming isn’t just plant and eat – it takes time and lots of effort. It isn’t individuals doing tasks, but a group of committed people that with different actions will achieve a main goal- a sustainable life.
Lucas took many volunteers on his farm, many of whom had never worked on a farm before. Each new person had a different work ethic, different level of energy and different level of competence. Some volunteers had never used a shovel before working for Lucas.
He took me on a tour of the farm that first day, pointing out vegetable gardens, fruit trees, the stables, the chicken coop, landscapes that needed to be irrigated, fencing projects, the goats’ favorite snack-time trees, and lots, lots more. I was concentrating so hard. I’ve never listened to a person so intently. Get it down, do not forget, because I’d have to start work on all this the next day. The whole time he talked I listened, and only occasionally I thought “OMG—he is so intelligent. How does he know all this? How does he keep track of the entirety of the farm cycle in his head?”
On top of keeping track of the farm and coordinating all of the volunteers, Lucas held a full-time job in Lisbon. His income supported the farm and his father, who had been injured badly from an accident working on the farm.
Back home or in other jobs I’d always fell into the rat race. How much money do I make per hour? How many hours do I have to work to pay rent and buy groceries? How many hours will I work this month, how many weeks will I work this year? Will I ever get a vacation?
But at Quinta do Vale things didn’t work that way. Work quickly became a task-based energy. What do I want to accomplish today? How many days do I need to build this fence? How many jars of jam can I produce from these buckets of plums? Why do I only count 8 goats, oh crap! Where’s the last baby goat?
Farm work can borderline chaos compared to working for an hourly wage. Farm work tests our intelligence as human beings.
At the end of the first day Lucas and I sat down to dinner with the rest of the volunteers. Eel soup! With eels from the lake on the farm! It actually was DELICIOUS.