The Taurus Mountains dominate the landscape of south-west Turkey. Pine trees drape its hills of stone, streams wind down its contours and bees and butterflies pollinate its rich diversity of flowers. It provides an exceptional environment in which to cultivate crops, ranging from corn to olives to figs, as well as providing for various farm animals. Amidst the villages that speck the terrain lays Tangala Farms, a true epicentre of biodiversity and sustainable living. Created by Cem, a world traveller and DIY extraordinaire, along with his partner Buket, a yoga instructor and cheese connoisseur, Tangala Farms aspire to grow and flourish with the joint vocation of WWOOF volunteers. It was in the autumn of 2014 that I called this place home.
While the days were long and the work demanding, it was certainly rewarding. Each day brought new challenges and with it, the opportunity to learn new lessons. Due to the complexity and intricacies of farm life, tasks were almost never predetermined, and I revelled in the uncertainty of what the next day might bring. In saying that however, I did develop a reasonably rigid morning routine, which involved collecting figs, feeding the goats and donkey, cleaning the milking parlour, and finally preparing breakfast. My favourite task was undeniably giving food to Dolunay the donkey. It always turned into a race for my life as he chased me up the steep and rocky hill, licking my heels but never quite able to catch me. Proving himself as the devious rascal, he would regularly escape so to harass other donkeys in the village. Evidently lonely, I made sure to keep him company and give him frequent hugs, even if he did enjoy biting me.
Like Dolunay, the goats were also fascinatingly hilarious animals. Numbering in at twenty-one put them as the dominant species on the farm, and boy did they know it. Herding them for the first time was frustrating to say the least. It was as if they shared a single consciousness, meticulously coordinating diversion manoeuvres to feed on the unguarded and recently gathered figs or the forbidden fruit that were the neighbour’s crops. Over time they came to accept me as their shepherd, following my commands with little hesitation. While some of them appeared unbothered by me, others were visibly intimidated. This was especially the case with one particular goat, which I had chased through the dense and unforgiving forest for an hour so to lead it by the horns back to the farm.
The well-being of the goats (along with all the animals) was of utmost importance. Milking them was a daily chore that was undertaken during feeding times in the morning and at dusk. Being the ravenous creatures they were, they also grazed in the fields or the forest for 5-6 hours each day. After collecting the milk in the traditional sense, i.e. squatting in goat faeces and squirting the milk into a metal pail, it was processed into delicious cheese. Through the manipulation of a plethora of variables such as temperature, curdling time, addition of bacteria, moulds and aging, each cheese emerged unique.
Besides the obvious consumption of cheese, vegetables and home-made bread were the food of choice. Accompanied by volunteers originating from all corners of the globe, along with the local villagers, the variety of dishes was truly something to celebrate. Some of my favourites include: pepper jam – much like sweet chilli but with a stronger kick; preserved figs – dried figs boiled in a mixture of native herbs and coated in flour; and burek – a meat filled pastry and local specialty. Without gas, all meals had to be cooked on an open fire, giving a more authentic taste. A cool trick I learned for starting a fire involves slotting two open pine cones together and lighting them in the middle. The natural oil keeps them burning for an extended period of time and they eliminate the need for kindling.
I also had the opportunity to get my hands dirty and tackle some more physically demanding challenges. The first of these was the construction of a duck house. I used hay bales for the sides as they provide good insulation, and then created a wooden frame lined with mesh and covered in hay to act as the roof. Though the ducks never used it, preferring to sleep anywhere but the warm and comfortable space, I was still proud of my effort. With Cem, I mixed concrete to stabilise the new posts of the goat shelter, using rocks to create a flat surface and letting the natural soil eventually cover it. The most enjoyable project was the reparations of one of the houses. I produced a cob mixture (straw, mud and water) and applied it to all the cracks and crevices, smoothing it out with water and a sponge. After letting this dry and harden over a few days, the entire house was repainted and sealed with a blend of soil, lime and water. The transformation was remarkable.
Living on a farm may be difficult at times, having to juggle responsibilities of animal care, food preparation and construction. However, as we accept and even welcome these, as we continue to learn and to grow, we come to look forward to the challenges that each day brings. To Cem and Buket, to my fellow WWOOFers, to the villagers and the animals, I thank you for the amazing memories and lessons, and for giving me a home away from home.
To find out how you can WWOOF in Turkey, visit http://www.tatuta.org/.