V. A. P.

V.A.P     (Volunteerism Always Pays)

I can’t take credit for the title as, long ago, it was a program Wal*Mart offered.  If you were to put in 40 hours at a qualified 501(c)(3) corporation, Wal*Mart would present them a check for $200.   I had used it twice beginning in 2003 and 2004 for the Milwaukee County Historical Society when I staffed the reception desk and pay desk at the craft fair as well as once for the Milwaukee Public Museum when I was a docent in the Pioneer House (now closed due to lack of fire code renovations).

My desire to volunteer started in my childhood years.  I wasn’t the kind to sell lemonade or help out at garage sales.  Although we did organize a quick car wash one time so that we could get some money for the soda machine at the Laundromat.  Maybe I was in 4th or 5th grade at the time.  The Greenfield Library had a summer reading program for young children.  They were looking for kids to help run special events.  I rode my bike up to the library, so proud, because first I was going alone…. I knew the way (straight out my back patio and upForest Home Avenue), and I was going to be in the library when it was closed; before anyone else was coming in.  How exciting and special.  My job was to count the number of people that came in for the event.  I was given some type of clicker thing and then I had to hand out coloring book pages to the kids when they were all seated. 

When I interned at the White House we were to complete two voluteer outings.  I chose to help out at a food kitchen for the homeless.  I loved it becaue I had food service expeience as a prep cook so I was really useful to them.  It made me feel good to be a favorite temporary employee to the regular workers.  To get into the story of how I lost my watch in a pot of raw fish is too long to get into now.  The 2nd job I took was to help the local USO chapter stuff care packages for the soldiers.  We had huge assembly lines and each person had one item to put into a pouch.  Ours was bathroom items.  I want to do more with the USO, but in Milwaukee they don’t have extensive weekend hours except for special events. 

I love to volunteer and hopefully for all the right reasons.  I do like to help people, and that feels good.  However, I also approach volunteering from another perspective.  It’s a chance to try a job that you might not be very good at, but want to do, thus you couldn’t make a living at it.  I want to make a difference (a little recognition is nice) and see the results.

Now that I’m a college graduate, but not looking to change careers just yet, I figured the best way to put my degree to work would be to find some type of vocation in my chosen field.  History is a hard field to break into unless you also have the credentials to teach or run a museum.  The importance of networking was always compelled by college instructors, as without it, we were never going to get anywhere.  So I began to ask around City Hall if anyone knew of any place looking for help. I wasn’t getting a response…. Not even from the Office of Historic Preservation.  I really really wanted the position offered at the Milwaukee Public Library. They needed volunteers for archiving newspaper clippings.  I KNOW it was a job that I could do, but they wouldn’t let me help because “it would take years and years of working before you could work alone the weekends”.  Not even with the good word from the City Archivist could I get it.   I won’t give up hope though. 

I started searching online to find volunteer opportunities.  It is also a tiring process because sometimes the list is so large that it is almost impossible to figure out where you want to go and what you will do when you get there. WashingtonCountyhad a nice set up where you could select your interests.  It just happened that everything I wanted to do was an hour drive north west.  I picked out a few jobs: Sewer (storm drain) stenciling, Building the Ice Age Trail, farm work.  Anyone who has spent any length of time with me has at some time heard me go on and on about how I’ve always wanted to be a farmer and how much I love cows and animals so I really hoped that this would work out for me, but I didn’t want to limit myself. 

I have the gear to stencil the environmental messages on the storm drains, but haven’t yet begun that project.  I don’t think it is organized very well.  They didn’t really give me a set location to go to, and I’m afraid that I’ll get arrested for graffiti or hit by a car.  Besides that the weather is getting too cold for it.  I need a partner for this one.

I have one last opportunity this year to help construct a new vein of the Ice Age trail.  I didn’t help last time because I had a bridal shower to go to. Here we would do a lot of brush clearing, etc to carve out a path. 

Next I went to look around one farm called Blue Lotus.  To call it a farm is an abstract use of the term.  Unless because it had a barn it qualifies, but it didn’t provide a home to any animals nor did they grow anything.  It was more of a nature retreat place for the cognitively challenged, at risk youth, seniors, etc.  The volunteers provide a service similar to land custodian to be there in case any guest needed assistance to make sure everything was running smoothly.  It had a nice man made lake, a nature trail, an in ground pool, recreation center and of course the barn.  The barn was really neat, but then I’m a push over for any kind of barn.  It was actually partitioned off into 3 sections.  I decided that this just wasn’t the place for me to work.  I’m not always good with people, which is why I wanted to be with the animals and plants. 

The second farm is where I ended up and the reason why now I call myself a weekend farmer.  This is an organic farm called Wellspring and is run solely by 2 women- one in her late 50s and the other my age- and any volunteers they can get.  I was really really nervous because of my lack of experience. I stressed that I grew up in an apartment and had never even mowed grass before, but they didn’t care.   Libby, the lady my age was super nice and made me feel comfortable.  It’s my nature not to be very open or to simply shrink and shy away from participating in many things.  Maybe I’m growing up or something, but I just kept talking almost non stop.  I wonder if that was the secret that I was missing all these years.  Besides talking I did do a lot of working.


My very first day on the farm I was to start clearing the growth of brush and weeds from under the apple trees.  I had a quick introduction to how to use the grim reaper type scythe  and then I was left alone to do it.  It was really hot that first day.  The leaves on the trees didn’t do much to shade me from the noon sun.  I’m not a celestial worshiper and hate being outside in the heat, but I didn’t let it deter me.  I tried to turn it into a positive and told myself it was healthy for me to get Vitamin D from the sun and to be sweating was to lose weight.  I stopped a few times to cool down when I was feeling queasy (and to take these pictures).  In about an hour’s time I had one side of the orchard cleared out.  They weren’t expecting me to do so much.  What is nice is that they do provide a variety of things to do.  Next I helped Libby pick up apples that had fallen from the trees on a different side of the farm.  It was shadier and slow paced, offering more time for conversation as we sorted the rotten apples into a separate bucket from the good ones. 

I decided to ask Libby the one thing that I had always wondered- does she find people like me crazy who want to do this kind of work for free?  I don’t recall getting a concrete yes or no answer from her, but she did indicate that she thought everyone should have the opportunity to spend time, if not on a farm, then in nature because it was good for the soul.  Some people preferred to help the beauty of nature (that’s me) while others simply use it for pleasure.  Then we talked about how she had told her family that she wanted to become a career volunteer.  I got the feeling she wasn’t making more than minimum wage on the farm from the owner. So halfway though this story I can tell you that I’m not crazy for wanting to volunteer my time.

We took the over ripe apples to the chicken coop, and that’s where I got acquainted with Floppy.  Floppy is a chicken who is lucky enough to have the only name in the flock and whose crown no longer stands up.  I held Floppy for a while before going back to work, and thankfully she didn’t squirm away nor peck my face as she kept getting closer and closer.  The reflection in my sunglasses must have intrigued her.

Next we took some pruning sheers and loppers to the back end of the farm.  A natural path needed to be cut back and cleared some so that it could be used this fall for a Hayride during the harvest fest.  It wasn’t too strenuous as we were just cutting branches to make sure they wouldn’t whack any guest in the face that was riding on the wagon.


My first 4 hours went by really fast.  As a reward for my work I was sent along my way with an arm load of produce.  I had enough apples for me to make an apple coffee cake and multi colored tomatoes which I used in a seasonal pasta salad.

The next week Libby was gone for the day, but Mary Ann had several things lined up.  I worked 6 hours and didn’t get much of a break.  The one reprieve I had was from the sun.  There was a steady rain that morning so I sat on the porch with a crate of grapes.  I pulled them off the stems and then helped make grape juice.

The hard work for the day would be clearing out around their 4 compost piles.  They were becoming too overgrown to access.  Beyond, not having done this kind of work before, I’m also not familiar with the physical appearance of the vegetables so I’m always afraid to chop anything down for fear that it is the wrong thing.  Libby seemed to be nonchalant about it because it’ll just grow back next year.  I also didn’t know the etiquette of food sprouting from a compost pile such as the gourds and beans I came upon.  After, that was done; Mary Ann helped me to grab some hay to build new walls around the piles.  It reminded me of Big Bird’s nest on Sesame Street. 


Then it was back to the orchard for more apple picking before my day would end.  This time I was sent home with a container full of cream of bean soup. 

I haven’t been back a 3rd time yet because my calendar has been busy, but I told them as long as they wanted me to come back I would.  I still have that feeling inside that I’m not doing a good job and that they are just saying it to be nice.  I’m really good when someone points and says do this and that, and I try to take the initiative to do it competently with a minuscule amount of questions, but I’m still afraid that I’m doing it wrong.







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