Can we really retire and is it possible to live on just your social security check, at least for the first five years? Six months ago, I would have said “Absolutely no way – at least not in any way I’d call living!” You hear all the sad stories of seniors who have to share kibble with fido at the end of the month or cut their meds in half to make them last. Scares. The. Living. Hell. Out. Of. Me. So, I said No!, No Way! I’ll work till they kick me out or I drop over – whichever comes first. Well, I’m starting to see the light and a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll call time on my own terms. Wouldn’t that be lovely?
I’m a compulsive planner so, of course, I’m exploring all the options. No stone unturned. Over the next few posts I’ll share my findings and a few stories of the brave ones who are blazing the retirement trail for us and showing us how to make the most of our own Second Acts.
FIRST UP ~ WWOOFing (Worldwide Opportunities for Organic Farming)
I had heard of WWOOFers from my son and other young organic farmer folks we’ve met, but I never thought that OLD people could do it too. So, when I stumbled on a story about Patricia, a 60 year old California woman who went WWOOFing in Italy, I was definitely intrigued. What might that look like for two aging city slickers like us? We’d buff up and blister up for sure – but what an adventure. We’d have amazing stories to tell. Patricia’s initial concerns mirrored mine. Her main worry was that WWOOFing was only for the young. She envisioned an army of bronzed young backpackers working in the fields (a lovely vision actually) and sleeping under the stars (oh, no, these tired bones would need a bed in a quiet comfortable spot). A quick email to Bridget Matthews who runs the WWOOF Italia organization, and here’s her answer: “Age is no problem, our oldest WWOOFer is 86 and we have just had two delightful 58-year-olds at our own farm.” I’m thinking… we’ve got a few years until we hit 86… so, Why Not?
Here’s the deal. You register with WWOOF in the country of your choice, look through their listings of registered farms and then connect directly with farms you find interesting to see what they have to offer and match it with what fits your own needs. There will be hard work, lots of work. Outside. In the dirt. BUT, sometimes its 4 or 5 hours a day and sometimes its 8 hours 6 days a week. You choose. You can stay a week or two, a month or longer. The program has been around since the early 70’s and was established as a cultural exchange and not intended to be just free labor. There are WWOOF farms in 50 countries from Africa to Japan to Italy. Accommodation varies from tents (no thanks) to camper vans to rooms in the owner’s house. This is where having our own VW bus camper would be perfect. You can harvest grapes or olives, herd goats, make cheese, feed chickens, build fences, tend organic gardens and so on. One WOOF opportunity was at an organic farm B&B and part of the “work” was helping in the kitchen. With my hubby’s cooking talents, he perked right up at that one. Meals are communal, organic and in places like Italy, I’m told they often include wine!
I see adventure here, the opportunity to test your mettle as they say, try something way out of your comfort zone and meet interesting people (mostly young) from all over the world. And since the gym membership went out the window with the corporate paycheck, where would you get a better workout.
Here’s a tiny taste of the thousand opportunities I found all over the world:
Beekeeping in Piedmont, Italy
If you want to uncover the secrets of beekeeping, the Apicoltura Leida Barbara produces organic honey, queen bees and pollen as well as cultivating a small vegetable garden. WWOOFers stay in a private room with a bathroom. Food is mainly organic and vegetarians can be catered for. From April to August, volunteers are based in the mountains but spend autumn and winter back at the farm. English is spoken and the minimum stay is a week.
Sedlescombe organic wines, East Sussex, UK
Britain’s oldest organic vineyard now stretches across 23 acres in East Sussex, but began with just 2,000 plants in 1979. One of only four organic vineyards in the country, it has been developed by Roy Cooke and his family, who produce approximately 15,000 bottles of organic wine each year and have hosted WWOOFers for 25 years. Volunteers are generally independent, with use of internet, TV and sometimes a car. The minimum stay is a week and accommodation is in caravans with a communal meal with hosts Roy and Irma once a week. The busiest period is from Easter to November.
So many interesting opportunities – so little time. Well let’s hope there is a LOT of time now that I’m discovering all of these fun and unique ways to spend it. Maybe we’ll help lead the charge on retirees re-inventing themselves in a whole new way. We’ll be SWOOFERs (aka Senior WOOFERs). I like it!