With over 40,000 hosts in 180 countries there are endless possibilities of places to marvel at and people to inspire you. The ‘Workaway Host of the Month’ blog gives the reader a chance to meet some of our favourite hosts and find out what it is about their personality and project which has created such an appeal amongst fellow Workawayers.
This month we have selected an outstanding host with a big heart and a lot of wisdom to share. His place offers the best experiences for a taste of the simple yet fulfilling farm life. From opportunities to befriend rescued animals, have philosophical conversations over home-cooked meals, and even relaxing hot-tub breaks after a day’s work on the farm. With the wonderful feedback we’ve gotten, we wanted to meet the man behind the scenes of this idyllic hobby farm near Ottawa, Canada. Today we have the pleasure of introducing you to Hans:
What a pleasure to speak to you, Hans! It seems that your wonderful home has enriched the lives of many. What is your secret to being a good host?
I think one of the secrets is to create a true “win-win” situation. It’s important for me to outline my expectations as well as learn about the expectations of the helpers. Some might just like to get up early in the morning, muck the cow stable for 4 hours, and then leave for excursions. Some really want to learn something, or experience a good time together. Cooking our favourite dishes together and swapping recipes makes everyone happy.
I am willing to share (nearly) everything, so people don’t have to ask when they want to use something. For me the secret is for Workawayers to feel welcomed and fully integrated into the life here. Most of the time it works very well, and helpers start making their own decisions and taking responsibility straight away. Also I encourage those who commit to staying longer (more than 3 weeks), to develop their own projects according their dreams and skills.
You use the term “hobby farm” in your profile. Can you explain what a hobby farm is?
Well, as I interpret it, a hobby farm is the opposite of a commercial farm. Wheareas with a commercial farm your goal is to make a living, our farm is like a multi-faceted hobby. Your money is a means of setting up your own slice of paradise, fulfilling dreams, and creating a meaningful environment for both the owner and guests.
How wonderful to be able to invest time and money in what means most to you! Your love of animals is evident. Do you have a specific approach to rearing them?
I try to provide the horses with the best environment possible, meaning that they have access to a shelter, especially at night-time or when it’s raining. They can roam freely, which is good for their digestion, and their wellbeing too. The dogs can roam around the house – mostly freely – and I train them too. Actually right now I have a Workawayer who’s helping to teach the dogs good manners as well as agility training which involves going through tunnels and climbing over obstacles. This is fun for everybody, and when the dog actually learns something, everybody is overjoyed.
What considerations are important for you when selecting a volunteer?
First and foremost they must be nature lovers. They should also be dedicated animal lovers and ideally had pets in the past. Also I make it very clear, that this is the countryside (although Ottawa is only 25 mins away). So I only take on people who are happy and willing to adapt to countryside lifestlye, not people who are just looking for a cheap accommodation to go out and party. I also love to invite people with different skill sets, so one might be savvy in horsemanship, another might have experience in gardening or landscaping, and another who is a great cook. That way we can all learn from each other. The countryside may be peaceful, but it’s also important to have people around you to keep you interested and entertained.
As Workaway locations go, I expect the climate dictates your lifestyle for much of the time. What does each season have to offer and how does the landscape change?
Of course here we have very beautiful Canadian winters haha, and there are practically only two seasons. In Winter the land is covered with snow – some Workawayers from more tropical countries get really excited about it, and love it. In their free time they can go snow shoeing and cross-country skiing just right outside of the property. The cold season is more meditative – in fact I just hosted a Swedish girl band here, who were writing and practicing their songs in preparation for a tour of North America. They fitted in really well here, as they were used to cold weather, and enjoyed having time for themselves and their guitars.
In contrary, Springtime is short and sweet, and within a few weeks everything turns green, and it is very warm. Summer is beautiful here, with lots of blue skies. The fall is also extremely beautiful, with the colours of the leaves changing, and wonderful bright days, although the nights do get chilly.
Also almost early every year we have a big ice storm, when we might lose a tree or two… so time for the chain saw! With these extreme climatic conditions the internet might be interrupted or slow during these times, but it normally lasts less than a day. So you can sometimes get that out-in-the-wilderness “Yukon feeling”, without living in a remote area, or taking any risks.
The best of both worlds then! Are there any special excursion spots that volunteers particularly like to visit?
The Rideau Canal system is very close by- about half an hour away. Then you have the Rideau River and many other beautiful lakes that are all within an hour’s drive away. There is actually a small river bordering my property, where people can train. It’s not really an excursion as such, but it’s also a habitat for protected turtles that are up to 2 feet in diameter!
You mention in your profile that you prepare all meals, including bread, from scratch. Do you also grow any of your own veggies?
Normally my Workawayers would make a tour with me to my friend’s and bio-farmers’ to get the seasonal fruits and veggies. I did not plan to grow my own, as I wanted to support local farmers. But now a workawayer “insisted” on making a nice veggie garden, so this year we’ll have our own tomatoes.
Sounds like your Workawayers have integrated well so far! If I were a fly on the wall of your home for an evening what would the favourite topics of conversation be?
Apart from all other interactions, we always have dinner together every day. Over dinner we will share stories and discuss what should be done next. We often BBQ outside, and sometimes we have a camp fire going. Often we watch movies together, and for those who want to learn English I can help them with English terms and phrases.
Favourite topics are animal care, rescuing animals, how to protect the environment – one of my priorities is to create a bee-friendly garden. We also talk about the difference between North-American and European/Asian cultures, Canadian politics, the meaning of life, how to find a satisfying vocation etc.
Interesting! So have you reached any conclusions about humanity from sharing your life with people from all around the globe?
I think we have to acknowledge that we cannot change the world in one day. That said, everybody can create a “bubble” full of respect, where we protect the environment and treat animals the best we can. These bubbles could serve as “role models”, encouraging other people to join and create a peaceful and sustainable world together.
What I often hear from travellers and workawayers is: “When I am older, or have more money, I’d also like to create my own slice of paradise like yours”. By having a sharing approach – just as what Workaway promotes – we can all make the world more humane and respectful. I myself travelled a lot – in the style of couchsurfing, before the word was even invented! – and learnt a lot in the process and enjoyed people’s hospitality. Exchange programs like Workaway are my way to give a little back to the worldwide community. Wouldn’t it be great if we could each in our own small way encourage people to see all the opportunities the world offers us, and embrace and appreciate the differences beween cultures?
Well done. And thank you very much for talking to us, Hanns!
Your hospitality and philosophy of life has provided such a loving home for rescue animals, and a very special environment for Workawayers to do what they enjoy most; to learn more about life on a Canadian farm.
Workawayer Eleanora sums it up perfectly:
I just left after a whole month spent at Hans’ place and I’m so grateful and fulfilled ! 🙂 Hans is very open to new discoveries, discussions about interesting topics, music and movies, sharing experiences and culture, enjoying new food, showing the surroundings and introducing us to Canadian lifestyle and his wonderful farm life…
I’ve loved being part of it: taking daily care of the animals and cuddling them, spending time just admiring nature and scenery. When you are accompanied by the horses at night under a sky full of shining stars– it’s simply magical! Or when you go for a walk by the fields with a wonderful sunset, or just go with Hans on his trucks for a trip in town to listen to some good live music, preparing new recipes, watching nice movies, listening to music and singing, taking care of the house, bringing my own skills and stories to Han’s “paradise”… If you love animals, calm, peaceful environment, nature, craft and woodwork, trucks, then this place is meant for you!