Volunteering for a slice of Turkish life


Kate Fennellwas happy to leave behind the chilly winds of Dublin to discover the delights of ‘Wwoofing’ on an organic farm in Turkey

However, after my month-long stay volunteering on a lush and fecund organic farm in the southwest of Turkey the wonderful world of “Wwoofing” – World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms – was revealed to me. Since then, from speaking to other seasoned Wwoofers and checking the official website, I realise the possibilities of exploring cultures and countries across the globe in this way, without spending much more than the airfare, are endless.

The seeds of my Wwoofing were sown when I visited Pastoral Vadi, an organic farm in the southwest of Turkey complete with sheep, hens, ducks, dogs, cats, frogs and lizards, as a paying guest a few years ago after a Turkish friend claimed to have discovered the “Garden of Eden” half an hour west of Fethiye and that we had to go there.

Indeed, with such an introduction it was a wonder I wasn’t disappointed when we first went to spend New Year’s Eve there in a gentle sunshine three years ago. In fact, one couldn’t but be struck by the absolute beauty of this expansive green, green valley, lined with row upon row of aromatic lemon, lime, orange, fig, olive and pomegranate trees, hugged on either side by enormous tree-lined mountains which overlook the rushing river Kargi, a much-needed source of irrigation to the fertile soil.

It was when this autumn’s chilly breeze came blowing once again into Dublin that I realised a return visit to Pastoral Vadi was due and, if memory served me correctly, they accepted volunteers to work on the farm in return for bed and board. Time in the sun and nature without breaking the bank was the dream.

So, after firing off an e-mail and getting a positive response I found myself a week later sitting on the veranda overlooking the orange groves, shamelessly sipping a gin and tonic after my hard day’s work, listening to the crickets, swatting the mosquitoes, and feeling the stiffness in my muscles subside as I relaxed into the warm evening air, smiling contentedly as I thought of that chilly wind snaking its way through Dublin.

Over the month, along with the other 10 or so volunteers, I harvested various goodies such as olives, grapes, pomegranates, nuts and figs, we cut hay for the animals, painted signs, collected firewood, prepared the ground for new vegetables and helped the cooks prepare the delicious meals throughout the day.

A mixum-gatherum of volunteers passed through: there was Sevgi, a fiftysomething Turkish lady who had already been Wwoofing on several farms along the western seaboard from Izmir to Fethiye; Ali, a German/Turkish film-maker who needed a quiet place to work on his film script; Anna and Roberto from Venice, who were starting two years of travelling; Fatush, from Istanbul, who needed a few days break from her husband – just the tonic apparently – and a trickling of foreign backpackers who were exploring Turkey and the Middle East.

After the morning shift between 9am and noon, we would usually take a dip in the pool on site, cycle the few miles down to the beach for a swim or go for one of the many scenic walks in the surrounding area. The second three-hour shift would start at about 4pm when the temperatures were more clement – in the low 20s – and continue till dusk, which usually segued nicely into the evening aperitif for us hard-working farmers on the aforementioned veranda before dinner. Bliss.

TURKEY IS relatively new to organic farming, official legislation from the EU having being introduced as late as 2004 and state certification granted just 10 years previously.

Since October 2010, a Turkish environmental agency, EPASA, dedicated to the environmental protection of special areas, has managed to gain the collaboration of the departments of the environment, marine, forestry and other organisations in developing legal frameworks to protect designated areas from the impact of urbanisation, agricultural pollution and construction for tourism. The state will also now allocate grants to farms which would like to go organic, covering the costs of certification, training and soil analysis.

The country’s current output from its 5,000 organic farms is by no means paltry: more than 200 products are produced for export, mainly to the European Union, but also to Australia, the US and South Korea, generating an income of roughly €25 million for the country. Due to the higher cost of buying certified organic produce at home, the domestic market is still small but it is growing.

What has grown exponentially, however, is the number of farms, such as Pastoral Vadi, which have been set up in the past 15 years or so to receive guests, thus strengthening the country’s already robust eco-tourism industry. There are now more than 40 such farms stretching from the Black Sea near Georgia right round the Aegean coast to Antalya on the Mediterranean.

With sunshine all year round in the south, they are a popular destination for the more eco-minded holidaymaker who’d like comfortable accommodation in beautiful surroundings but away from the noisy crowds such as frequent the beachside resorts nearby. In high season, there are often various kinds of workshops organised on site from pottery to yoga to painting in which the guests can participate during their stay.

AS VOLUNTEERS, our accommodation was comfortable but basic, but for the paying guests it is four-star rustic and very affordable. For €30 a night, plus three meals a day, guests can stay in one of the 14 large and spacious wood and stone houses which were designed by Ahmet Kizen, the founder and owner of the farm, who was an architect in his previous life in Istanbul.

Each house has its own wood-burning stove, which is handy for the nippy evenings from October onwards, and the eucalyptus trees on the grounds are regularly cut down to provide an endless source of firewood.

I was lured into one of these mini-mansions on my last week there and volunteered part-time, paying €15 a day for three hours work and full board. A more perfect antidote to the stresses and strains of city life on my limited budget I couldn’t have imagined.

I left with the glow of sunshine on my cheeks, slightly more toned biceps and the knowledge that if I couldn’t hack the cold and the current climate at home (in all its senses!) it would still be sunny in Pastoral Vadi if I wanted to return.

* pastoralvadi.com

How to Wwoof

Founded in the UK in 1971, Wwoofing now involves more than 6,000 hosts in 88 countries. First known as “Working Weekends on Organic Farms”, it then became “Willing Workers on Organic Farms” and in turn has changed to “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms”. See wwoof.org.

In Turkey, there is a dedicated organisation, Ta Tu Ta, which inspects and certifies the farms according to European standards. Anyone wishing to volunteer on a farm must do so by contacting the designated tourist agency, Genctur. Details at bugday.org.

Go there 

Turkish Airlines (turkish airlines.com) flies from Dublin to Dalaman via Istanbul. Fly Thomas Cook (flythomascook.com) flies from London Gatwick to Dalaman. A shuttle bus travels the 40km from Dalaman Airport to Yaniklar village, which is 3km from Pastoral Vadi.