Farming may seem a far cry from office life but with a growing number of city farms springing up, you can now swap the boardroom for the pig pen. With a never-ending cycle of feeding, grooming, exercising, cleaning and cuddling, volunteers from all walks of life are in high demand. Being a country girl at heart, I ditched the stilettos for wellies and got down and dirty with the pigs, goats, hens and rabbits at Stepney City Farm.
Arriving at 10.00am, I meet Daniel, my mentor for the day and Nadine and xxx, my two other brave volunteers. After a quick tour of the site, we’re thrown straight into morning feeding. Grabbing unappetising buckets of pigswill, we head with trepidation to the pig pen. Greeted with a frenzied squealing, we nudge our way into the enclosure.
A barricade of squirming flesh swarms against my legs as snouts grasp for the bucket. Desperately trying to keep balance, I race to the feeding trays just in time for the swill to splatter out over me the pigs and the trays. Oblivious to the mess, eager snouts bury into the trough. If only my own cooking was treated with such appreciation, I wonder wistfully.
Moving on from the greedy pigs, we greet the small furries who consist of ferrets, guinea pigs and rabbits. Topping up the feeding trays and drinks bottles of their five-star hutches, the celebrity furries deign to give us a quick cuddle and a photo before retreating back from the limelight.
Once everyone’s fed, our next task is to exercise the donkeys – George and Dustan. Daniel, confesses that this is the part of the day he’s been dreading. A law onto themselves, the phrase stubborn as a mule springs to mind as we cajole, plead and pull them into action. Showing them who is boss is key. We’re taught to walk in front of them (and never behind) as they can kick.
Keeping the reins loose, the trick is to give a sharp assertive tug when their attention wanders to more appealing grassy verges – more easily said than done. A battle of wills quickly ensues with George and Dustan taking their own sweet time to graze, chew and contemplate life before the long plod back to their enclosure.
After a hectic morning, it’s time for a lunch stop. Today, the Stepney City Farm café is offering a tempting of eggs, black pudding specials and bacon sarnies. Unable to bear the guilt of chomping into a bacon sarnie, I opt instead for the eggs. (Fresh farm eggs are also available to buy.) Re-fuelled, I take a few minutes to wander round the weekly farmers’ market which offers everything from cakes to local crafts.
After a quick browse, it’s back to work as the afternoon tasks get under way. First up, is a spot of goat grooming. Armed with a fresh bucket of feed, we brace ourselves for another feeding frenzy.
On a par with the pigs, the goats squirm, scramble, swerve and sway in a desperate bid to get to the bounty while avoiding being groomed. Haring around the goat pen with brushes at the ready, we make futile swipes only to be left behind in a cloud of hair.We quickly discover that the trick is to feed with one hand while brushing with the other. Who knew that multi-tasking would come in so handy here?
Next it’s off to the chicken coop and possibly the most unpleasant job of the day – cleaning the dreaded poop shelf. An acrid smells assails our nostrils as I get to work scraping and brushing. A gentle cooing sound soothes me as matronly hens cluck approvingly around my feet.
The City farm also cares for ex-battery hens who are immediately recognisable by their pitifully sparse feathers and red, scaly skin. Heart-breaking to witness, we’re informed that the hens do make a full recovery within a matter of a few short months. Leaving with a bucket full of eggs for our trouble, we depart the coop behind with some relief.
The most bizarre job of the day is undoubtedly stroking the pigs’ bellies – which they love and is surprisingly calming for both of us. Such is their love of sunbathing, the pigs have sun cream rubbed on their stomachs on hot summer days.
Our day ends with possibly the toughest job of all – rounding up the chickens for bedtime. Possessing amazing agility, the wily roosters give us the run around, ducking and diving in Houdini-like manner. Exasperated and amused in equal measure, our antics soon draw a crowd of passers-by from the streets beyond the City Farm. Once scooped up, the chickens quickly admit defeat and nestle maternally into our chests.
Tucking them up for the night, safe from visiting foxes, I reflect on a challenging yet rewarding day which has been as big a contrast from office life as you could ever imagine.
A range of corporate volunteering opportunities is available at the farm.
For more information on weekend volunteering opportunities, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.