Cultural Exchange and Teaching Intersect to Benefit Travelers and Farmers


Sara Thompson, KP News

U.S. visitor arrows at Gentle Giant Meadows Farm. Photo: Maureen Reilly, KP News

Two Key Peninsula families are building international connections and teaching young people about farming and life in our rural community. Maureen Reilly and husband Jim Reynolds, and neighbors Greg and Maureen Sikora have both participated with web-based organizations that connect volunteers with hosts. Volunteers from the United States and from all over the world learn as they work beside hosts for several hours a day and receive room and board for their efforts.

Reilly and Reynolds hosted for the first time this November. “I don’t have family in the area and it’s a great way to get to know people from other places and generations,” she said. She filled out a form on the website for HelpX, describing her home and location, meal and housing arrangements, when she had openings, and a bit about herself and her husband. Cormac, who is from Ireland, and Lara, who currently lives in Ireland but is originally from Spain, had some prior exposure to HelpX; one of Lara’s friends traveled to New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. using the program. She and Cormac wanted to visit the Seattle area and liked Reilly’s profile, with music and alpacas as a big draw. “Maureen’s Scottish background,” Cormac said, “made it sound like a bit of home.”

They arrived at an opportune time. Reilly was just a week post shoulder surgery and having young fit volunteers was a blessing. Over their weeklong stay, the two helped clear brush, fixed a fence, fed the alpacas, walked the dogs, shoveled alpaca compost to transport to a neighbor’s, and gathered and piled firewood. On their final day, they felted alpaca scarves.

The night before they told their hosts about Pizza Sunday Club, a non-profit Cormac founded in Dublin. It aims to break down the barriers between people experiencing homelessness and other members of the public by gathering at a set location every Sunday to provide free pizza and live music with the opportunity for everyone to hear each other’s stories. They also shared that for the rest of their trip, they planned to be kindness ambassadors, part of a program from the nonprofit Life Vest Inside.

Said Reilly, “It adds a whole other aspect to their character and mission in life. We will be keeping in touch with them. It’s lovely to make friends in that generation.”

Lara and Cormac shovel alpaca manure as part of theircontribution. Photo: Maureen Reilly, KP News

The Sikoras have been hosts through WWOOF at their Gentle Giant Meadows Ranch for seven years. The WWOOF website describes itself as a worldwide movement linking volunteers with farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange, helping to build a sustainable, global community.

“It’s an unbeatable equation, I think. You don’t spend any money, you help out, and you learn a lot. It’s really a win-win situation,” said Mike, a young Dutch traveler as he described his experience at Sikora’s farm.

The Sikoras moved to the Key Peninsula from England 13 years ago. Greg was in England for 10 years with Boeing and the couple met there. When they decided to move back to the States, they wanted a place for horses and found the 40-acre farm online. “It reminded me of England,” said Maureen.

Both Sikoras emphasized the teaching aspect of what they do, and the educational opportunities on the farm are many. They raise cattle and sheep, and grow hay. For their personal consumption, they have a Jersey cow for milk and butter, a vegetable garden, wine grapes and a small orchard. Greg has a sawmill on the premises. The average stay is one to three weeks, largely because after three weeks they feel they have optimized the learning experience.

“The young people who live here want to know how food gets from farm to table and to be assured that the animals are treated humanely,” said Maureen. She tends to the horse boarding business and cooks the meals, while Greg is the primary teacher for the “WWOOFers.” He noted his pre-Boeing background as a science teacher in Montana has stood him in good stead.

“We have had people visit from all over the world and with every religion. It has been fun to cook menus that represent the cultures of our visitors,” she said. “They call this ‘the happy place.’ We’ve had some return, and one couple got engaged here.”

Editor’s note: Maureen Reilly currently works on the KP News sales staff.


More about the organizations mentioned in this article:

These organizations offer cultural exchange and learning opportunities:




For more information about the Sunday Pizza Club visit

Life Vest Inside also has a website:[/box]