Given that my first WWOOF experience in New Zealand turned out to be a bust, I’m counting my most recent WWOOF stint in Cambridge, New Zealand as my first true WWOOF experience. For those who need a refresher, WWOOF stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms and is quite popular in New Zealand. You provide your labor and they provide room and board (usually).
I reached out to Alistair and Suzie Osmond in early October and they agreed to let me stay at their place for a week in Cambridge, New Zealand. Cambridge is situated in the heart of Waikato, the region most associated with the verdant rolling hills spotted with herds of sheep throughout.
Alistair and Suzie run a terrific Bed and Breakfast called Earthstead Villas, which I would recommend to anyone looking for accommodation in the area. The attention and detail they put into their property and their villas is astounding. Not to mention the beds are perfectly made and appear to be the fluffiest, most comfortable bed in the country. You must trust me on this. It took everything I had to resist belly flopping on the beds each morning.
If you stay at Earthstead Villas, the biggest perk is meeting two different yet complementary individuals: Alistair is a civil engineer by trade with an entrepreneurial heart. He’s interested in any money-making idea and is the can-do-it-attitude guy you want backing every new thing you try. He gets easily caught up in money figures and before I knew it, he’d start talking my ear off about some random guy who got into the corset industry and is now making $10,000 a week net! He’d get so wrapped up in his money talk that he start staring off into space, talking himself through what sounded to me like those impossible 10th grade math questions: “If Ben is traveling by train going 85 mph, and Susan is on a bicycle going the same direction at 15 mph, what is the local time in Tanzania?”
Suzie seems to be the glue that keeps the business running. She has the ability to think clearly and act quickly and is the only one who seems to be able to bring Al back down to earth when he goes off on a tangent about how much 30 guineas from 1930 would be today. Suzie has a calm energy and is a terrific listener. We were able to connect on a lot of heavy-hitting topics and her genuine interest in my stories was appreciated. She’s also a fantastically thorough storyteller and when she’s trying to remember a very specific detail about a story, she does this fantastic thing where she closes her eyes and lifts her head to the ceiling, with a subtle smirk on her face. When she recalls the detail, her eyes snap open and she picks up right where she left off.
Two of their grandkids frequented the house often so it was a busy place. I had the pleasure of meeting their oldest grandkid, a five-year-old boy who is a terribly entertaining little psycho. He’s currently obsessed with death and after learning I was 25 years old, his eyes widened and he declared that I was probably going to die soon. I’m not his only target, though. He’ll approach smoking strangers on the street, look them dead in the eye, and tell them they are going to die from smoking. He’s a confident little booger.
The Osmonds try to live as self-sufficiently as possible and they are 100% committed to eating based on the Western Price diet. If you’re not familiar with that, you’re not alone. It’s a diet that comes from a dentist in the USA and focuses on eating whole, healthy foods and eliminating processed, fatty foods. Their beef comes from the cows in the paddocks, the eggs are collected every morning from the hen house, the honey is harvested from the beehives and they try to eat as seasonally as possible, picking all of the fruit and vegetables necessary from their garden. It’s a tremendous amount of work for two people which is why they have a rotating door of WWOOFers. Suzie said in the summertime, she usually gets 4-6 requests a day.
I’m fortunate to have gotten the chance to stay with them and I could have easily stayed another six weeks without learning all of the ins-and-outs of their farm. But even in my two weeks I soaked up a lot of knowledge and learned things I should have learned a long time ago in addition to things I never even knew existed. It’s hard to pick just a handful of things I learned, but these are my top five favorite takeaways from the Osmond home.
1. How to make a bed
When I studied abroad in Spain, my host mom would make my bed for me every day. I felt weirdly spoiled so I decided I’d help her out and make my own bed in the morning. Every morning I’d tuck in the sheets and spread out the comforter as evenly as I could and every day after class I’d come home to a completely re-done bed with clean crisp lines and not a wrinkle in sight. After this happened a few times, I asked my host mom what the deal was and she said I had no idea how to make a bed.
I was a little shocked and a little annoyed at how much energy she was putting into a thing I was just going to mess up again in a few hours. I’m a chronic un-tucker so as soon as I get into a bed, the first thing I do is yank the sheets out of their tucked position so my feet can breath.
At the B&B, however, a proper bed is a must so I learned all about ironing sheets, hospital corners, fluffing pillows, boxed quilts and duvets. I even learned out to arrange the twenty-five pillows that unnecessarily adorned each bed.
This is a fairly useless skill for me unless I someday get into the B&B business, but I do feel good about at least having the knowledge of a proper bed if I ever need to mask my unkempt vagrant style.
2. How to fold a fitted sheet
I’ve never really had the luxury of having more than one set of sheets so folding a fitted sheet has been mostly irrelevant for most of my life, but it still remains a great mystery. What do you do with the elastic-y corners? Do you just roll it up in a ball, shove it in a dark closet and call it good? I would. Until now, because I’ve been shown the light. To fold a fitted sheet, grab a folding partner and take one end of the sheet. Grab the left corner, turn it inside out and fold it into the right corner. If that doesn’t make sense, just look it up on YouTube. There are literally hundreds of tutorials on this very serious issue.
3. What EC is
My hosts were week old grandparents when I first arrived at their house so the first week of WWOOFing was in the midst of the squishiest, tiniest human I’d ever seen. One of the weirdest and most unfamiliar new baby techniques they practiced was Elimination Communication (EC). It’s more or less infant potty training. The idea is that babies don’t want to poop their baby trousers which is why when you take a diaper off an infant they immediately pee or poop.
The theory goes that after a baby feeds, you hold its butt over a teeny tiny little pot and let it eliminate wastes for what seemed to me a very long time. The caregiver tries to recognize and respond to the baby’s need to defecate and the babies are eventually supposed to be able to communicate to the caregiver their needs, even before the baby can talk.
My hosts said that westerns usually do not practice EC because they find it kind of gross. After seeing a piping hot stream of liquid poo squirt out of the baby and into the pot as I walked into the kitchen for dinner, yes, I can confirm that Westerners do in fact think it’s gross. Because it is. Admirable but seems like a lot of dirty work.
Side note: I did hold the tiny human and it fell asleep on my shoulder so I think I’m qualified enough to earn the title of Child Whisperer. Or can a Whisperer only be used for animals? Can someone clarify? I'd like to be one.
4. How amazing healthcare is in New Zealand
All this baby talk brought up a lot of questions about New Zealand’s healthcare, which is amazing for NZ residents. The government pays for everything. They had zero costs after having this baby and the insurance was government funded, not an employer plan. ZERO COSTS. No deductible to meet. No hidden insurance costs. Not a cent was paid by the new parents. Weekly visits from the midwife? Free. Birthing facilities? Free. At one point during my stay, the new mom actually received a check from the government for having a baby.
Yes, they pay higher taxes but every single person in the country has access to extraordinary health care and can have as may free babies as they please. Good on ya, New Zealand!
5. Americans eat like animals.
The last week I WWOOFed with the Osmonds, I was in the company three other WWOOFers. As we sat down to dinner one night, the American guy pointed out how strange it is to see the differences in eating techniques. I looked around and everyone except the Americans was holding their forks in their left hand and knives in the right hand. They would cut their food into appropriate bite-sized portions and then carefully stack the different foods onto the fork with their knife. It looks so delicate and easy. American apparently do this weird thing where they hold their fork in their dominant hand and when they need to cut something, the put the fork in their left hand, pick up the knife, cut the food, put the knife down, switch the fork back to the right hand, and finally eat the piece of food.
After being aware of this, I realized how inefficient it was and tried my luck with the other, prettier way of eating. I looked like a drunk gorilla trying to start a car with a french fry. I’m adding this high on the “What the hell, America??” list, right next to never switching over to the metric system and the Celsius scale. We’ve got work to do.