This week’s food column is written by Ruth Strange (based in Germany), who gathers advice on stretching after spending a day on an organic farm.

“I had booked a week off work and I hadn’t made enough new plans to fill my time”.

“I was moaning that it was hard to motivate myself and I wished I could be out working on a farm but I hadn’t planned it in advance. As I said it out loud, I realised I could actually look into this, even though it was a bit last minute. I’ve done WWOOFing in the past, and I went straight to the German website. In no time at all I found a project, Humuswerkstatt, really nearby. I contacted them straight away by email, and the next morning they had already replied, saying yes, I could join them that Friday!

On Friday morning Lukas and Marius picked me up from a train station, and drove out into Bergisch Land to the farm they were based on. They’d only started 2 years ago, and had had lots of help from friends and neighbours who were off Uni or work due to the pandemic, and that helped this project to get going.

I had a walk around the field, past vegetable beds, an Erdekeller underground cool room, the ducks, polytunnels (or hoop houses as they called them), a herb bed, and some fruit bushes. I’m sure there’s more to say than that but I was not feeling quite able yet to take it all in.

My first tasks were to prepare 4 beds, by raking out the soil, stood straight with a wide rake, that was also the measure for the width the bed should be. It was harder than it sounds! I found myself bending and dragging the soil and was shown again how to stand, how to hold the rake. I had to slow down, undo my conditioning of getting tasks done as quickly as possible, and try to do something well, in 3D.

I’m so used to working on a computer, doing admin, research, writing, meetings. I don’t use my body except to sit, type, smile into the screen for my Zoom buddies. It felt like the parts of my life where I move actual things in real life are quite distant, and that I will have to relearn how to move in the real world. And how to move other things, like soil, like tools, like popping green manure beans in and pushing them down, like picking out small kohl rabi plants and cutting them at the base, pulling off the ragged outer leaves, lining up the veg in one box and throwing the scraggy bits into another. Then pulling up and jiggling the root a bit to cut it again below the growing base.

I had a great day. My hosts were good teachers, and funny, and made a good lunch. I hope I can go back every week and maybe more in the summer, and I plan to keep a diary, including what tools I used, what work I did, what strains and pains I had afterwards, and hopefully work out what warm ups I need to do to avoid them, and write them down too. I remember this from before, how gardening is physical, but almost no one told me how to warm up, even though I’ve worked on over 20 projects.

What would your warming up advice be?

I’m sure some people must do it, but it doesn’t seem like common knowledge. I will try and find out from friends and organisations what info is already out there, and if there’s nothing much, maybe what I collate will come in handy for other people too. I think more of us need to learn to grow food, and don’t want people to get put off by pain, or even stopped by injury. It’s two days later now and I’m still feeling it in various parts of my legs, groin and ankles, and its painful to walk. I think this was all caused by the raking. I think I’m pretty out of practice after working at a desk for the last 8 years, but lots of people will have done more than that.

Tonight, I dug out a book I’d found in one of the free shelves that are all over the place in Cologne, all about stretching. It’s called, simply, ‘Stretching’. I just looked it up and found out it sold over 31 million copies over 40 years! The version I have was published in 1980 in America, and includes a lot for different sports, but also just for every day, or developing strength. It’s got friendly sensible instructions by Bob Anderson, great line drawings by Jean Anderson, and perfectly for me includes a page dedicated to ‘Indoor and Outdoor Work’, recommending 10 stretches to do before and after work such as cleaning, painting, gardening, digging, building or carrying heavy loads. I tried out the sequence and it felt good.

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