A man poses with a wheelbarrow and hoe in front of a small vegetable patch

I'm a developer here at Ten4, but in my personal time I've become interested in urban permaculture, cultivating a small garden at home to bring down my household's food miles a bit. Gardening is the antithesis of programming; computers do exactly what you tell them, to a fault, while nature will mostly do what she wants. It keeps you humble.

Staff with seven years of service at Ten4 are entitled to eight weeks of paid sabbatical. I became eligible for mine in 2020, and some months before then I had stumbled upon WWOOF, an organisation that links organic farmers with those who want to know more about the farming lifestyle. In exchange for (mostly enjoyable) work, you get food, a place to stay, and the opportunity to see how things are done on a working organic farm. It's completely voluntary; no money changes hands.

A farm is obviously very different to an urban back garden, but many principles of organic growing can be practiced at any scale. WWOOFers often aren't just in it for the learning; it's also just nice to meet like-minded people, and get out of the city and back in touch with nature.

After applying through the WWOOF website, I was accepted as a volunteer at Longview Farm in Shropshire, for three weeks in August. My time was spent weeding, digging, chopping, planting, feeding, mowing, reading, and sleeping. I left invigorated, and muddy.

People take sabbaticals for all sorts of reasons; pursuing a passion, educating themselves, getting out of a rut, going travelling. It's a chance to change the scenery and devote more time to a cause than you would normally have available, even if that cause is sitting on a beach sipping cocktails. An employee (hopefully) comes out at the other end refreshed and full of ideas, so the employer reaps the benefits too.

In my daily life in the city, I don't normally meet people who are seriously engaged about ecological and agricultural issues, so it was great to bounce ideas off my hosts and fellow WWOOFers. It was fascinating to hear about the paths others have taken, very different from mine, that led us to the same place. I learnt new practical skills, many of which I've since applied in the garden; pruning is as much art as science, and the health of my soil has never been better. I came home with tons of interesting organic seeds. I got to spend quality time in a beautiful, peaceful part of the country, and witness some of the biggest bumblebees and thunderstorms I've ever seen. Most importantly, I had a welcome break from my usual duties, got my hands dirty, and came back full of positivity.

Upon returning to the office, my colleagues were eager to hear about my experience. Many were surprised and interested, as I was some months previously, that volunteering on an organic farm was even something you could do.

With the climate crisis looming, and multiple isolating lockdowns, many of us are looking for ways to bring a bit more nature into our lives. I like to think I did my part in inspiring a few new home-growers. There's even talk of an office veg patch!

WWOOF global site: https://wwoof.net/

WWOOF UK site: https://wwoof.org.uk/

More information on low impact living: https://mossy.earth/guides