The writer is a former Spotlight News reporter.
I’ve always disliked the color pink. But when searching in a field for tiny pink potatoes on an organic vegetable farm because a frost is coming, and there’s a treacherous windstorm, and it’s raining sideways, and the soil is ricocheting from the ground into eyes, and it’s so cold that cheeks are numb to the bone… well, finding each one is like finding the most beautiful gem.
Even in these conditions, insanely, unforgettable conditions, I don’t regret a single suffering moment that day.
I was in Iceland.
Rewind to a month earlier. I was a determined Spotlight reporter, fresh out of college and searching for my next big move. It was time to do the one thing I had always talked about but never attempted: traveling.
My boyfriend had decided to WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farming) at Vallanes, an organic vegetable farm in the east of Iceland. He flew out Aug. 1 to begin his two-month journey.
With a phone plan set up, two months without him seemed tough, but doable. But as a pseudo-hippie, I was also interested in getting my fingernails dirty on a farm. After only a short time, it was mutually decided: I would join him. To WWOOF, you only need to pay for travel and while farming, your host feeds and shelters you. Flight booked, muck boots bought and overalls considered, I said goodbye to my Spotlight family and made the endurably long trip across the sea.
While I could write an entire book about my less than three-week adventure, I’ll just highlight pieces for now. First, just in case your 10th grade geography teacher failed you, Iceland is actually green and Greenland is actually ice. Yet, Icelandic weather can change three times in one day. For the most part, the weather stayed beautiful up until a few days before we left, when a snowstorm blanketed the mountains in front of the farm and sent extreme winds to our land.
Arriving at the farm on a cool September morning, the sky was brilliantly colored and the air was immaculately fresh. I was given the grand tour of the farm, which grows vegetables including parsley, lettuce, kohlrabi and its main grain: barley. As an incredible source of protein, I learned to love (and eat) barley with every meal and embrace all its flatulent side effects. Afterwards, I settled into the Monster House, where the nearly 15 other WWOOFers lived.
Now, I’ve gone to sleep-away camp and college, but I’ve never felt as quickly at home as I did at Vallanes. WWOOFers come and go, and when I arrived my boyfriend and I were the only Americans on the farm. We were surrounded by people from countries like Spain, France, Serbia, Belarus, Italy, Belgium and Germany. Everyone was friendly and eager to learn about one another, and with English as their second (or third … or fourth) language, the Americans became the “go-to crew” for communication breakdowns. It was nice to feel useful. We all tried to pick up Icelandic, but found it nearly impossible.
We worked six days a week, beginning at 9 a.m. Each person was given a task, and it was yours until completed. They ranged from harvesting, to packaging for Icelandic supermarkets and restaurants, to picking and washing berries. While some of the work could be considered “hard labor,” a lot of it was just monotonous. Working with others allowed for bonding, but oftentimes I found myself working in a field alone, cutting mizuna and staring at the statuesque mountains in front of me. With hours to think and let my mind be free, my normally anxious persona drifted away and I experienced an unfamiliar feeling: calmness.
It was a whirlwind that went extraordinarily quickly. If I hadn’t bought my return ticket, I’m fairly certain I would have stayed. Now that I’m home, part of me almost feels like my trip was a dream. Another part of me feels that if I talk about it, it’ll be gone forever.
For those few weeks, my phone was off, I hardly turned on the farm’s circa-1990 computer and I let go of everything I carry on my shoulders. I met amazing friends, learned the value of hard work – especially when we ate the food we planted – and discovered a new passion. I’m beginning to plan a three-month adventure to Europe this spring, visiting my new buddies and trying to WWOOF from country to country.
While the beauty of autumn dominates New York, a part of me can’t help waking up, peering out my window and hoping to see the refreshing openness of the Icelandic sky, the mountainous backdrop or hearing numerous accents outside my bedroom door.
It’s only recently that I’ve fully removed the soil from under my fingernails.