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WWOOFing at Windswept Farms

On Friday, July 23, we woke up to a violent thunderstorm, which happened to be the only day of rain that has hit this area in about two weeks. Of course we had plans and had to be up early. Today we were embarking on our first WWOOFing experience on Amherst Island. Both of us, but more so myself, have  been waiting a long time for this. We set out in the rain and made it to the ferry dock in Millhaven, just east of Napanee before hitting Kingston. The ferry leaves at 30 minutes past the hour and is very punctual. The ride took about 20 minutes across Lake Ontario. On arrival to the island, it was just as Rob had remembered as a kid.

Once we arrived on the North Shore of the island we had about a 10 minute drive to the farm. We passed through the “town” of Stella, which had one General Store and a Blacksmith shop and no other modern elements. We also drove by many old stone churches and gorgeous farmland that is yet to be spoiled by commercial property. From here we turned onto the third concession, which is nothing more than a gravel road that eventually runs right along the coast of Lake Ontario. The views are stunning. We turned down the driveway to Windswept Farm and were pleased to be greeted by Geoff and Bill, the owners of the farm.

They quickly welcomed us into their home and gave us the history of the farm. It has been owned for almost 30 years by Geoff and began as an undeveloped piece of land. Since then he has planted thousands of trees including black walnut, butternut, and ash. He built the farmhouse, a barn, garage and shelter for the cows all on a bare piece of land. He has been friends with Bill for decades and brought him on as a farmer. They have raised several kinds of animals in the past including chickens, ducks, pigs, and cows. This year they have 3 cows, who we named Beef Steak, Sirloin, and Hamburg. They have several types of crops including hay, potatoes, tomatoes, greens, celery, peppers, onions, a variety of root vegetables, cucumbers, and a beautiful  selection of herbs. The potatoes and root vegetables grow right on the shores of Lake Ontario in beach sand which I found fascinating. The field is actually on another gentleman’s land, but Geoff has been growing the  potatoes there for years so the family has allowed him to keep the patch. In the rear of the farm, they are working to develop a series of grape vines to eventually make their own wine. The barn is home to a  woodshop and several freezers containing last year’s catch. Beside all of this are hundreds of hay barrels which are stacked to the ceiling. In the yard, a pond has been created for ducks when they are around, and a mobile chicken coop for years when they farm chickens. You can also find several greenhouses so that some vegetables can begin to grow a little earlier. All in all, the property is laid out in such a way that it exerts a feeling of splendor deep inside the soul. It is amazing to be completely surrounded by life in all stages.

After the tour, we went back inside and waited for the sun to come out. We chatted about our backgrounds and learned about Bill and Geoff. Bill just celebrated his 82nd birthday and has had a variety of careers over the years. Now he takes care of the crops, enjoys creating things in his woodshop, and maintains the upkeep of the house. His philosophy on life is “It is better to wear out than rust out,” which explains why he is always knee deep in some sort of project. At least he has his golf cart to help him get around the farm easier! Geoff is the owner of the farm and lives on the North Shore with his wife Jocelyn. He comes over daily and helps to care for the crops with Bill. His wife Jocelyn maintains the herb garden and sells some of the greens to a variety of restaurants in Kingston. She visits a few times a week. There are quite a few others who visit the farm frequently who we met during our week stay there. Joe is a contractor from Kingston who helps Bill and Geoff out with building repairs and helped to design the greenhouses. He also creates stuff in the wood shop. Almando is a blind man who uses the wood shop once a week and is learning how to make  homemade cheese, kindly allowing his friends to be his guinea pigs. Doug comes over during the week to help around the farm and in return Bill and Geoff grow some food for Doug’s pigs. It was so interesting to watch a mini community work so well together. They all contribute different skills and at the end of the day everything gets done with plenty of time to enjoy the beauty of the countryside and each other’s company.

During our stay we had a variety of jobs, none of which had any deadlines. The pace of life here was very relaxed. You do what you can and there is always tomorrow. In the mornings, we helped Bill in the woodshop with small sanding projects and learned how to use a variety of tools. During the afternoons, we made our way to one of the various gardens and weeded, harvested, staked, or planted. In the evenings, we prepared many of the meals and enjoyed them on the porch taking in the sounds of the country and watching the sun go to rest. There were several odd jobs completed during the week, such as wiring electricity, adding trim to the greenhouse, cleaning, and taking trips to the dump after cleaning out the barn. In between jobs, we would meet on the porch with a glass of wine or a cold beer and tell stories before getting back to work. The whole lifestyle was almost like a step back in time. There were no sounds of the city heard in the distance, no tall buildings to spoil the view, no television. The whole atmosphere on the farm is one that I long for.

Our stay was not just work, we had time to explore. One day we took a drove around the island and Bill gave us a map and historical guide of the island to point out places of interest. Most of the farmhouses on the island were built in the 1800’s and many of which are still in their original state. Several houses are lined with stone fences which were created by an Irishman using local rocks from Lake Ontario. There are only a handful of roads since long ago all property was divided so that each piece of property would have access to water. Not much has changed, so it is pretty safe to assume that many of the residents of Amherst Island own a large chunk of land. During our ride, we stopped at one of the only pieces of shoreline that looked to be public. We walked along the shores of the Lake and quickly noticed lots of wildlife including geese, ducks, seagulls, mink, butterflies, and snakes. The water was so clear and blue that we felt like we were standing in the ocean. The views were breathtaking.

Another day while we were harvesting potatoes and pruning the patch, we decided to go for a swim in the Lake. The shoreline in front of the patch was a little rocky, but we heard about a mysterious sand bar that on a calm, shallow day, can take you all the way out across Lake Ontario to neighboring Nut Island. We searched for the sand and after about a 5 minute hike we found it. The water was so cool and calm, the perfect remedy for a hard day’s work. It was so neat to be standing in the middle of the Lake with land on both sides of us watching the birds fly above us. On our way back to the potatoes, we came across a nest of killdeer eggs on the sand and a frog camouflaging in the grass. We drove back to the farm in Bill’s truck with a whole heap of potatoes that we dug up, both red potatoes and fingerling potatoes.

Bill is a man who is very embracing of other cultures and was very interested in our time spent in South Korea. He also loves to eat. Therefore one afternoon he sent us into Kingston and asked us to visit the Asian Market so that we could buy supplies to cook a Korean meal. He invited about 12 of his friends over for supper. I was eager to comply with his request, obviously because I love to cook! So we took the ferry into Millhaven and continued on to Kingston. It took about a half hour to arrive. There were two Asian marts in town. We picked up the ingredients to make Dwenjeong Chigae, Pork Galbi, and Vietnamese Spring Rolls. We were able to find Samjeong, Kimchi, and Kim which would make our meal complete! While visiting one mart, we had a nice conversation with the shopkeeper about his hometown, My Tho, Vietnam. It was so neat because we visited that town two years ago during our backpacking excursion. What a small world! After our trip to the store, we headed into a small pub to grab some lunch before heading back to the island. The Korean dinner was not for another two days but since there is no grocery store on the island it is best to prepare in advance. The night of the dinner arrived quickly and two hours before the guests were expected to arrive, the power on the island went out leaving the house in complete darkness. I didn’t panic, but I did begin to get a little concerned about how I was going to cook for 12 people arriving in less than 2 hours. Bill and Joe came to the rescue and fired up the backup stove which was powered by propane. We used this to cook the meat. Since the burners in the house were all propane as well, it turned out to be a success. 7:00 arrived and only one guest came, so the dinner I prepared for 12 was eaten by 5, with enough leftovers to feed Bill for a month! The dinner turned out well and everyone seemed to be happy with the food prepared, although it is hard to replicate true Korean cuisine after eating so many dishes traditionally prepared.

Our stay at the farm was coming to an end and we both started to get a little sad. Over the past week we have been surrounded by wonderful hospitality, great conversations, good food, and amazing people. As we drove back to the city, we already missed the sounds of the birds, the peace and quiet, the bright blue skies, being surrounded by life in all directions, the moo of the cows, and the chatter of old friends. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience and are eager to plan our next trip to Windswept Farms and Amherst Island.

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