Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I had the pleasure and great fortune of living at Sengersbroek for three weeks in January. The farm is home to 60 Bonte Bentheimer pigs, a (now) rare breed that in addition to being spotted and adorable is native to Holland. The pork industry there is dominated by other types of pigs that are foreign or unnnatural but are more profitable. Peter's family used to raise this commercial type of pig, but he has recently decided to revert back to a more natural breed, the Bonte Bentheimer, and now Sengersbroek has the largest group of them in the country (and the second largest in the world).
On the farm there are several barns, a vegetable garden, and fields where they alternately grow crops and keep their pigs. Because it was winter, it was often grey and rainy and cold. Teresa and Peter complained and apologized for this, but compared to any Minnesota winter it was outright temperate. After two weeks we were joined by two more WWOOFers, a British woman and a British man (who lives in Italy) who are writing a book about WWOOFing. The third week we often worked on larger projects with all four of us. It was astounding how much work there was to be done on the farm even in winter—the projects and jobs were endless. With seven people now in the house it was crowded, in the best possible way. It was warm and lively and with so many cultures and countries represented we were constantly learning from another. (It was especially lucky for me to live with an Italian, a Spaniard, and a Brit—I had access to insider info and advice on all of the countries I was going to next!)
A typical day of life on the pig farm looked something like this:
8:15. Gather for breakfast in the kitchen. The Dutch sure know how to do breakfast, which includes lots of bread with toppings such as chocopasta (chocolate spread, like Nutella) or butter and hagelslaag (chocolate sprinkles!).
8:45. Begin work. The first part of every morning was dedicated to taking care of the pigs. This means feeding them and cleaning the pig pens. Picture it: overalls, rubber boots, pitchforks, and lots and lots of manure. I felt very much like a farmer. I loved it. Surprisingly, the pigs and the stables didn't smell that bad, and shoveling manure is actually quite satisfying—enjoyable, even.
11:00. Coffee break! My favorite part of the day—sipping on cappucinos after a good morning of hard work... and eating more hagelslaag (or occasionally stroopwafels, another Dutch delight).
11:30. Back to work. Every day included various types of work, including lots of chopping/sawing wood for heating the house, constructing wooden fences in the fields, and general cleaning and maintenance of the farm. One of my main—and favorite—projects involved sanding and refurnishing several pieces of furniture (using an electric sander and jamming out to Dessa is exquisitely relaxing). I also enjoyed helping Teresa with cooking or packaging meat from one of their first ever butchered Bonte Bentheimers!
13:00. Lunch time, which was usually soup made with vegetables from our own garden.
14:00. Afternoon break, which meant reading, relaxing, or a little Dutch siesta.
14:30. Back to work, until...
17:00. Happy hour! We finished working and relaxed or enjoyed a glass of wine in the kitchen while cooking supper.
18:00. Dinner time. The Dutch eat fairly early (by other Europeans' standards), usually around 6 or 7 pm, just like back home.
After dinner, I read and relaxed with the family in front of a fire in the living room. A few days a week, I joined Teresa and Bert in watching an English detective show (think CSI, but of a slightly lower caliber; always set in a quaint English hamlet, always basically the same plot, and always deliciously dramatic) or the most popular TV show in Holland, “Farmer finds a Wife” (think “The Bachelor”... set on a farm, and in Dutch).

With such a regular daily schedule, it was easy to feel comfortable and at home (which I was), and to forget the unique awesomeness of my living situation. I often had to remind myself, “I am in Holland. I am living in Europe,” whenever it started to feel too normal or I took any moment for granted.

On the weekends I went into the nearby cities of Eindhoven (which lacked the lovely Dutch architecture and atmosphere that I love, because it was completely destroyed by bombing in World War Two), and S'Hertogen Bosch (also called Den Bosch). Den Bosch is a very old walled city and because it is farther north (nearer the sea, where there is generally more water in the country) it has canals and the same wonderfully Dutch feel of Amsterdam. I biked to the nearby tiny towns of Heusden and Asten, visiting a castle that is only a few minutes from the farm, and following gorgeous scenic bike trails. (In addition to the friendly people and the delicious food, another reason why Holland is the best country in the world: everyone bikes.)

The worst aspect of the whole experience was that it had to end eventually. On my last night at Sengersbroek Teresa made a special meal of cheese fondue, and she even gave me an incredibly thoughtful gift, a book that we had discussed on one of my first days there. The next morning we had panakoeken, delicious Dutch pancakes, and I said my goodbyes to the Sengersbroek family. I was excited, of course, to go to Germany and meet up with my boyfriend Christopher and continue on with my travels and adventures. But it was so hard to leave, knowing I would likely never again see Sengersbroek, which had become my home, and the people that had come to feel like family.

My three weeks in Holland were among the happiest, most full, and most perfect of my life. It was the absolute best first WWOOF experience possible. It was simply the best experience possible. Though I had no reason to know what to expect, I has such great expectations. And somehow it was exactly what I expected, and exactly what I wanted, and different only in that it was better than I could have ever hoped for.

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