It started with an ad on Craigslist: Free holiday on an organic farm on Long Island; work for your keep and enjoy wineries and great beaches nearby.
The farm would even supply transportation from New York City and bicycles to get around once you arrive. All a friend and I had to do was take the subway to a farmers market in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and a van would pick us up. I suspected it was all too good to be true. But when we got to Williamsburg, it was clear that these farmers were genuine and making a lively trade at the produce market. We helped load boxes after the market ended and took the two-hour ride to Garden of Eve, an 80-acre organic farm on the north fork of Long Island.
Owner Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht met us in the farm store and showed us the accommodations. The apprentices and migrant workers were staying in the farmhouse, so we had a choice between an adjoining garage or a gazebo in the fields.
We chose the solar-powered wooden gazebo, with a partially glass roof looking up at the stars. Beds are provided; bring your own sheets.
We began work the day we arrived, mowing the lawn with a little tractor and then working in the fields with the apprentices, all of whom were very helpful and gave us lots of advice.
This is hard, physical work and the aches will build up if you’re not used to it. Of all the crops, tomatoes were the most difficult to pick. When broken, freshly picked tomatoes spray a natural irritant that stings so badly I couldn’t see and had to wash out my eyes before restarting work.
Any produce damaged during harvesting can be flung to the farm’s 1,000 egg-laying hens, who live in a free-range enclosure in the fields.
Garden of Eve takes in volunteers from mid-April until Thanksgiving, so chores vary according to the time of year.
In spring, volunteers move plants from the greenhouses into the fields, feed them and tend seedlings.
“Generally, we don’t turn away volunteers if we have room,” Kaplan-Walbrecht said. “Volunteers are good workers and they help us to see our farm with fresh eyes because they are so enthusiastic.”
After work and a shower, it’s a walk or cycle to the nearby beach, which offers a magnificent view across Long Island Sound. The farm rents a beach house to its farm managers, and the managers let us relax there when we weren’t on the beach.
When we weren’t working or at the beach, we were visiting the local wineries. My favorite, Palmer Vineyards, is within walking distance and is known locally for its rose merlot. Palmer and many of the local wineries offer tastings throughout the summer.
By day five, I was really tired. The volunteers’ work schedule is only loosely enforced, but you are expected to work 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. The aches were worth it for the huge free organic lunches cooked by the apprentices.
By day six, I had to be back in the city, so we look a ride in the delivery van after one of the best holidays of my life.
It was a workout, a vacation and a return to nature, a chance to check out wineries, stargaze and swim in the ocean, all virtually free. The only time I used cash was one night when we ate out in one of the many authentic Mexican restaurants nearby. Try doing that in Vegas. Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, at www.wwoof.org, can help you find opportunities around the country and world.
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