I didn’t want to ‘just travel’ as I planned to take off for one year. For the last couple of years, food has become a more important and interesting topic in my life. A plant-based diet became better suited for me. This realization started after watching some documentaries, reading articles and, later, trying it out for myself. Sustainability however, had been playing a major role in my life for much longer. Combining these two with practical curiosity, I challenged myself during my journey to start volunteering at places where the ideology of permaculture is a central topic. After my journey I want to understand the practices of self-sustainability better and see what it can bring me in my future life.
For people who are unfamiliar with the term permaculture; the word permaculture refers to ‘permanent agriculture’. Permaculture is the bundling of knowledge to design a functional ecosystem around people. It regards human beings as part of the ecosystem, instead of standing next to or above it. The purpose is therefore to create a collaboration between man and his surrounding nature, that is focused on the long-term survival of both. The designs of permaculture can be focused on various topics like food supply, water purification etc.
The search for my first volunteering opportunity brought me to Eastern-Germany, very close to the Polish border. I came in contact with an organic farm in a small village called Jänkendorf. As I was already in Leipzig, it wasn’t too far to travel to. As I haven’t volunteered before via Workaway, and didn’t had farm experience, I hesitated if this was something for me. The reply “you can come every time” on my long application mail also felt a bit too easy. But the hesitation slipped away and made room for joy when I set foot on the farm.
The arrangement was that I was going to be picked-up from Niesky, a town nearby Jänkendorf. And there was the owner of the farm, waiting for me. He was short but widely build, bearded and had a rough appearance. Without exchanging almost any words, he also seemed like the silent type. In about ten minutes we arrived at the farm. The clouds were dark and rain was falling, but this was a poor reflection of the past weeks and the weeks to come. The owner informed me it had barely rained for a month and this little rainfall wouldn’t change much outcomes.
I got a private room, but shared the cabin. Later, I was showed around on the area of the farm and introduced to Dexter and Bodor, the local two dogs. During the first evening, I got to see the flock of sheep we had to drive from one field to the other.
The physical labor started the next day by building fences. A few days after, with another volunteer, I started a big project which I would only finish once I nearly had to go. Clearing a big stable of sheep shit. It was hard to plow through after it had been drying there for maybe a year. It wasn’t made easier by the weather, with clear skies and temperatures reaching daily at least 30 degrees Celsius. To avoid this heat, therefore a regular working day would start early in the morning.
Cooking, showering, using the toilet, it all happened outside. Therefore, I was outdoors most of the day. And it felt great while being in a rural area, it made me start noticing the surrounding nature better. Having a good combination between hard work and relaxation, taking things step by step, also helped me to start feeling comfortable with this way of life.
For daytrips I went to Königshainer Berge. This is a former mine in the hills filled with water. So today it is possible to swim in this ‘lake’. Not too many locals visit this place, so there is enough space to take a dive. An ideal place to cool off from the summer heat. Volunteering here gave me the opportunity to explore these local spots you wouldn’t come across as a tourist when only visiting the main destinations and attractions.
The best part of this workaway was however, becoming more aware of the importance of nature and surroundings, creating deeper social bonds with people and being able to do groceries in the back garden. After gaining this positive experience, I will definitively search out for more similar volunteering opportunities during my travels.