The summer before I started at Pitt, I spent six weeks volunteering on a farm called Kleiner Drachen Naturhof (Little Dragon Farm) in Burkhardtsdorf, Saxony, Germany through an organization called World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms, or WWOOF. The trip was the culmination of a gap year between high school and college, which I had spent taking German classes, working an office job, and volunteering at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Kleiner Drachen Naturhof was a very small family farm when I visited, only two years old. They grew vegetables for themselves and sold some to restaurants, and in addition to that they collected wild edible herbs anda used them to make and sell teas, candies, and other products. I stayed with the family in their house for the whole six weeks. My host parents both spoke English, but their children and most of the neighbors spoke mainly German.
In a way living with my host family shielded me from some unfamiliar aspects of living in Germany – there was more English than German around the house and all the food was vegetarian. However, I traveled on my own around Burkhardtsdorf and outside the village, and I used my German then. I was also the only American in the village, and there were small cultural differences that marked me as an outsider, which I slowly learned to recognize.
I chose to WWOOF in Germany because I wanted to learn about more ways of organic farming, and in that respect, my trip to Germany was a success. At Kleiner Drachen Naturhof I learned a great deal about harvesting, processing, and using wild herbs – we collected and dried our own nettles, Ehrenpreis, plantain, and other plants to turn into tea, among many other herby tasks and the usual vegetable garden work. My hosts exposed me to the difficulties of being small-scale farmers in competition with large companies like Monsanto, especially with regard to regulations on use of land and the health of the environment.