I milked goats for free food and rent, and that was a life changer

  • Simi Decker took a semester off college to volunteer at a goat farm in Washington State.
  • She spent months milking goats, washing eggs, and shoveling stalls in exchange for food and accommodations.
  • This is her story as told by Elle Hardy.

This forwarded article is based on a conversation with Simi Decker, 21 years oldAnd the Research assistant in health policy in Boston. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I was a freshman at Brandeis University in Boston in March of 2020, and when the pandemic hit, we were all sent home. There has been a lot of public uncertainty about what the fall school year will look like.

My friend and I got a Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) membership, which costs $40 per person or $65 for two. WWOOF aims to grow the sustainable agriculture movement by connecting volunteers with organic farmers.

We’ve reached out to farmers in Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest. Hawaii is closed, but Left Foot Farm, about 55 miles south of Seattle, accepted us. We stayed there from August to November 2020.

One of the main jobs was milking about 70 goats twice a day

On the farm milking goats

milking goats

Simi Decker

It’s a five-acre farm with about 100 goats, about 70 of which need milking (others were teens or males). There were also two alpacas, lots of chickens and ducks.

About 14 volunteers were usually working on the farm. The first milking shift began at 7 am, and another at 5 pm, and three feeding shifts were performed each day, egg washing and handling, garden watering, and housework. On a typical day, you would do a combination of all of these things.

We got two days off a week and free food

Simmy Decker can is used to transport milk from the milking room

I carry one of the cans we use to transport milk from the milking room to the processing room

Simi Decker

The farm offers cabin accommodation and ingredients for daily meals.

In general, we worked about six hours a day, five days a week. We stayed in cabins around the farm, which is not always the case with WWOOFing. I later volunteered on a farm in Hawaii that required us to camp in tents.

All of our meals were covered, but not prepared. As a college student, it was really cool to learn how to cook for myself. There were pasta and other ingredients, as well as a garden we could use with vegetables like squash and zucchini. I remember making raspberry cobbler and picking fresh berries.

Sometimes there were landscaping projects, such as trimming berry bushes. The worst job was cleaning the stalls every three months or so, which involved removing the faeces and putting in new hay. After that, we all took long showers.

When we weren’t working, we could hang out in the farmer’s garage. He’s turned it into a lounge with a TV where volunteers can socialize. I also loved reading with the goats in the garden.

On our days off, we drove about 40 minutes to Mount Rainier National Park to hike, swim, and walk.

The experience changed my life

A Nubian goat called Pomona

Nubian doe, Pomona eating a hearty alfalfa breakfast

Simi Decker

My favorite part of my stay was the interaction with the goats. They are really sweet creatures. They would often approach me when I was reading and rub against me. At a time when we were lacking in physical contact due to the pandemic, animals have become a huge source of that.

It was also great to live in rural America, having spent my childhood on the East Coast outside of Philadelphia.

After my goat farm, I worked on two farms in Puerto Rico, and one each in Hawaii and Massachusetts. Those with experience have inspired me to write my Dissertation with High Honors on Food Sovereignty and Apartheid in Puerto Rico.

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