University meets WWOOF: An interview with student and WWOOFer Iona Desouza

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Posted Mar 27 2017 by Sophie Paterson of Lowimpact.org

Hours spent in the library? Check. Essay and assignment deadlines flooding in? Check. Tractor driving, wool spinning and weeding at weekends? Check! This week Lowimpact.org met student Iona Desouza to learn about how her experiences WWOOFing across the UK have shaped her and her time at university.

Lowimpact.org: Tell us a little about yourself, Iona.

I’m an Illustration student at Plymouth University. I grew up in Southend in a big family and didn’t have an awful lot to do with the countryside but have fond memories of helping my dad on his allotment and going on bike rides all over the place; my parents don’t drive so we had to find different means of getting around! My family are all quite creative and, not coming from a farming family, I’ve always veered in the creative direction rather than pursuing my love of being outside – but it’s always been tinkering in the back of my head.

How did you first discover WWOOF and what motivated you to get involved as a student?

I was going off on one once about how I think organic is the way to go and my mum suggested going wwoofing so I could learn about it from a practical experience. I am so grateful to her now for mentioning it to me. As a student we get such long summer holidays so in my first one I planned to work for June and July and then wwoof in the highlands of Scotland for August. Since then I have wwoofed in all of my spare time, even my weekends during term time. It’s a wonderful way to spend your time off uni and you’re not spending a load of money! If anything you’re probably saving.

Can you tell us about your experiences so far?

I have had sooo many lovely memories from wwoofing, hosts are always very welcoming. I’ve got up to all sorts because of it: kayaking amongst seals in Scotland, lots of horse riding (lots of bareback horseriding!), tractor driving, hand wool spinning, foraging and at times getting very merry indeed. Of course there are lots of jobs that come with it; I’ve spent many hours weeding and picking but it’s so nice to be able to see where your food has come from and then how you can turn it into something tasty like jam, ice cream or maybe a cheeky bottle of wine.

Has WWOOFing changed you in any way?

It’s changed my life in many ways. I could probably make a book on it and all the fabulous people I’ve met through it! My career plan has changed from independent artist to farmer and part time illustrator. It’s become a very large part of my illustration work, I can’t seem to stop drawing images around farming and food. It’s definitely what I want to promote and support in my artwork.

Quite significantly, then! And what about your university friends, are they aware of what WWOOFing has to offer?

To be honest I think I live a bit of a double life with my coursemates, I work hard and am in uni every day during the week but disappear on the weekends to spend time at Cuckoo Farm where I have been wwoofing for a year and a half. Whenever I mention that I ‘wwoof’ I do get some very puzzled looking faces so I think it would be great if more people knew about it (I might also seem less crazy). We live in a bit of a worrying time, so much food is just readily available without us really knowing its source. I think it’s important that younger people are involved in food production and the responsibilities that come with it but you don’t have to want to go into farming to wwoof. It’s a way of seeing new places, meeting new (and rather nice) people but most importantly learning about how food is grown, enabling you to make your own purchase decisions that are fairer to producers and to have a greater understanding of a kinder way to produce food. So if you like the outdoors and doing unusual things I would definitely give it a go. Ah and I forgot to say, all the food you get tastes pretty sweeeet too!

Would you encourage fellow students to give WWOOFing a try too?

I would encourage anyone to wwoof really but it does work very well for students, there’s such a craze for travelling as a student and wwoofing is a beautiful way to do it. I haven’t branched out very far, only going to Scotland and my beloved Cuckoo Farm not far from uni but I’ve seen some amazing places that I otherwise would never have seen. You can be a little more adventurous and wwoof abroad, I feel it’s a far better way to understand people’s culture and lifestyle whilst seeing areas that are a little more secret. I’ve met some really interesting characters and have kept in touch with some hosts, even returning to one when I was a little stranded in Scotland once. If you’re interested in the outdoors anyway it’s a great way to get out and do something refreshing, away from the city.

Absolutely! So what does the future hold for you now? Are you set to continue your adventures with WWOOF?

I’m off to the Lake District next – my main interest has gone into sheep so I want to get some more lambing experience, and where better to do that than the Lake District I say! My long term plans are to finish my degree in Illustration and then find a farming apprenticeship where I can put my wwoofing experience into practice. I’ll continue to wwoof around the UK but as my dad’s side is Indian I’ve had thoughts on going out there and wwoofing, getting back to my roots! I’d love to continue with my illustration and illustrate the lives of those I’ve meet through wwoofing and the things I’ve learnt from it. I like to work traditionally using printmaking and I’ve learnt a lot about traditional craftsmanship just through the way hosts I’ve met live their lives.

We’re so glad to hear you’ve had such rewarding experiences so far and wish you all the very best in your future endeavours, Iona. We hope you’ll continue to share your love of all things WWOOF!

You can find Iona and her nature-inspired illustrations on Instagram and Etsy, as well as an example of her printmaking work here. If you’re interested in learning more about what WWOOFing could mean for you, please do visit the WWOOF UK website.

Student WWOOFer Iona Desouza's nature-inspired artwork