Shadowcliff has a long tradition of hiring Summer staffers from all over the globe. And every one has a different story for how they ended up at Shadowcliff. From time to time, we will be featuring a different staff member on the blog so you can learn a little bit about them in their own words.

Erin Wooden

This is Erin’s first summer at Shadowcliff. She has a degree in Psychology and a minor in Visual Arts, and is currently on a journey across the country, predominately working for farms through an organization called WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms). Her goal is to learn as much as she can about agriculture, our food system, and sustainable practices, as well as have some really amazing experiences and meet new friends. She is very excited to become part of the Shadowcliff staff and explore all the beautiful surroundings!

If I’m To Get Growing, It Might As Well Be Organically

By Erin Wooden

One year ago today, I was sitting in a windowless office, working on tasks that were mind-numbingly tedious. I was stuck in a position that totally underutilized my potential. I had graduated from college with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, four years earlier. While this position helped me pay off my student loans, it did absolutely nothing for me in other aspects of my life. There was nothing challenging, inspiring, or anything that increased my self-worth. In other words, I was stagnant despite being in the prime of my life.

I needed a wakeup call. Luckily it came in the form of a video circling the internet at the time. A TED Talk by clinical psychologist Meg Jay titled, “Why 30 is Not the New 20.” (watch it here.) As silly as it sounds, it felt like she had made this presentation specifically for me. It planted a seed in my mind that grew over the next few weeks, and culminated in my decision to quit my job, leave an unhealthy relationship, pack up all my things and set out on a year-long trip across the country.

My search for a “way out” of my dismal circumstances, led me to something called WWOOFing. WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The more I read, the more I realized there couldn’t be a more perfect thing for me. I loved working in my small vegetable garden and craved a job that let me be outdoors. More than anything I wanted to do something that would challenge me and yank me out of my comfort zone. WWOOFing provided me with all of these things, as well as an opportunity to see the country while traveling on a budget.

In the last six months, I have worked and stayed at five different farms, including a goat cheese farm outside of Pie Town, NM (it’s even more remote than it sounds); a bee/honey and chicken farm in Tucson, AZ; an aquaponics operation in Watsonville, CA, a vineyard in Murphys, CA, and a hops farm in Ashland, OR.

On the goat farm

Me with a chicken

My life has expanded in so many ways. I’ve learned about our agricultural and food systems and not to take the hard work of farmers for granted. I have learned countless things about myself and what I want out of life, plus I’ve gained self-confidence through solo travel. I have been exposed to many opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise thought to pursue.

Like Shadowcliff.

Shadowcliff was introduced to me by Kelly, a friend I went to high school with many years ago. I knew I would be in Colorado at the time their season started, and needing to make a little extra cash to supplement my travels, it seemed like a good idea. I learned later about their commitment to sustainable practices, which reinforced my feelings that it was an appropriate destination for me. During my time here, I have had the chance to plant a small vegetable/herb garden and volunteer with the local recycling program. Shadowcliff has also been a wonderful place to get off the road for a bit and restore my mind/body connection, as well as a chance to reflect on where I’ve been this year. It really is as their motto states, a place to “learn, reflect, renew, share, and reconnect.”

One of the most important things I have learned both in my time WWOOFing and at Shadowcliff, is if you have a passion for, or curiosity about something, you should pursue it. I had a very loose set of interests that were important to me when I started traveling. They have blossomed into a passion for sustainable agriculture, and at the end of this year, I am planning to apply to several graduate programs in the area.

So what’s the moral of my story? Well, I guess it’s : Don’t be afraid to try something different. Put yourself out there and follow what makes you happy. Even if it seems a little scary or off the beaten path. You never know where it will lead you. Maybe this is what the remarkable Dr. Seuss meant when he said, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

Looking towards the Rockies