Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I'm a WWOOFer Too

Back in June I wrote about my incredibly generous farming friend who has this knack for calling me up and asking if I want things.  Free things.  At the time I only posted about the second offer she made, which was our fosterling, blind-in-one-eye turkey poult, who's doing very well, by the way.  The other thing she offered was a WWOOFer.

WWOOF stands for World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.  This is a non-profit organization that connects people who want to volunteer on farms with farmers who are willing to give room and board in exchange for labor.  No money changes hands, and it's up to volunteers and hosts to find a good match and make all arrangements between themselves.  WWOOF merely allows the volunteers to browse the host farm listings and initiate contact.  Farming friend is not a certified organic grower, but she follows organic practices and keeps all her livestock on pasture.  The WWOOF organization is not a stickler for certification.  Turns out, it's not even a stickler for commercial farming status.  Backyard homesteaders can register as host "farms" so long as they produce food in an organic manner and are willing to host.  So yes, when farming friend offered me a WWOOFer, she was offering free human labor.

Now of course, she was wasn't engaging in human trafficking, but merely sounding me for some interest because she had a WWOOFer with her at the time who was interested in very, very small scale food production - which is exactly what we're doing if you compare us to even a small commercial farm.  I was taken aback, because it sounded so wonderful to have willing help around the garden.  But lodging was going to be an issue, since what should have been a spare bedroom had pretty much been designated the "wreck room" (sic).  It would have to be cleaned out before we could honorably expect anyone to sleep there, and that would be no small feat.  I chose to see the proffered free labor as motivation for something that should have been done a long time since.  A bunch of old junk got sorted, a couple pieces of furniture were moved, the futon couch underwent minor repairs, and a lot of vacuuming and dusting got done.  In the end, it turned into a pretty nice guest room.

Our experience with our first WWOOFer was great.  She was a young college student who was an enthusiastic learner, and already a seasoned traveler and "couch surfer."  She helped me battle weeds in the garden, and helped with the watering needed to keep our plants alive during the early heat waves of the summer.  We all pitched in together to get the poultry schooner built in one day.  I made my first batch of elderflower cordial with her help, and, at her suggestion, a batch of wineberry fruit leather.  She also was happy to cook a few meals, and showed off her Japanese-American roots with some marvelous vegetable dishes, including our first taste of the domesticated burdock we're growing this year.  I certainly learned a few things about Japan and Japanese cooking, and I think our volunteer learned a few things during her week-long stay as well.  A lot of good work got done.  Altogether, we were very pleased with our experiment as informal, off-the-books WWOOF hosts.

That first positive experience, plus our newly fit-for-guests bedroom encouraged me to make it official and register with WWOOF as a host "farm."  So that's what I did, and we've had a few nibbles from potential volunteers since then.  It looks like we're going to play host again in a few weeks to a schoolteacher from New York City.  She's had experience on larger commercial farms, but like our first volunteer, she's interested in very small scale production.  Homesteads are rarities in the WWOOF host listings.  While I suspect most volunteers are looking for proper farms, it seems that some at least are also interested in serious but non-commercial food production.

The prospect of hosting a series of worker-volunteers is something I really look forward to.  It's not just for the labor, though that is undeniably appealing.  Having someone around specifically to help me with  homesteading projects takes a lot of pressure off my husband, who after all already has a full-time job and travels a significant amount for work.  His downtime is valuable.  The other draw though is that a volunteer who comes because they want to learn and experience what we do here is a great outlet for all my pedagogical (not to say pedantic) tendencies.  Instead of boring random people with my gardening techniques or experiments, and livestock tales, I can be reasonably assured that WWOOFer volunteers are actually interested in these topics.  It's so satisfying to teach what I know, and talk about what I'm experimenting with.  This is why I blog.  In meatspace I try to be sensitive to social cues that other people have had enough, but the urge to share things that excite me is hard to contain sometimes.  Hosting WWOOFer volunteers seems like a win-win-win solution to me.

I'll post more on this from time to time as our WWOOF hosting experiment proceeds.


swiggett said...

Wow - sounds awesome! Can't wait to hear more. (and looking into the WWOOF program, myself!)

Wendy said...

Wow! What an awesome program!

I was (re)watching some of the episodes of the 1970s British program The Good Life in which the main characters, Tom and Barbara Good, embark on suburban subsistence farming in and an upscale London Suburb. In one program, Tom and Barbara host a couple of college students for a week, who help them on their farm. Your post reminded me of that episode :).

Sounds like it was a great experience for you ... and perhaps, a very good way to garner interest in and knowledge about suburban homesteading.

Anonymous said...

Funny, Kate: we've considered the same thing, sharing a volunteer with another farm. My main aim is I want to go on vacation for a week in 2012, so...need someone experienced in the ways of this particular place! I am glad to hear it's been fun for you.

For us, I figure they can learn a lot in exchange for the real work they do, like cheese making, fermentation, winemaking, etc. And general animal and garden care. We've put a few feelers out in the local community first before we go all global in our request.

Jennifer Montero said...

I've worked on a couple of small but commercial organic farms alongside WWOOFers. They were always hard-working, commited, pleasant people. It's a great way to gain experience of new techniques, how others battle and conquer problems like P&D or lack of space.

I think it's great that you're giving them the opportunity on your patch. I'll look forward to the posts.

Miyuki Baker said...

What an honor to be written about, and on such good terms too! I had the most rewarding and learning-packed week at your homestead. Thanks again Kate for opening your home to me! Good luck with the next WWOOFer :)

It was a win-win-win situation for me too!

Kate said...

swiggett, I'd bet you'd have a grand old time if you became a volunteer. Or were you thinking about hosting? I'm sure it can be very hard work at times, but there's so much to learn on different farms!

Wendy, I'm very much looking at it as an opportunity to teach people in some depth about suburban homesteading. Homesteading is such an integration of life and "work." It's not a job, but how we live. One of these days I must get my hands on some copies of The Good Life and watch them.

El, my farming friend has used volunteers to cover for her on vacation. WWOOF hosts can specify that they're looking to host for long or short stints, so it could work for you. I'm sure any volunteer would learn a ton at your place. I'd think that was a fair trade any day.

Jennifer, yes, my farming friend has had uniformly positive experiences with WWOOFer volunteers. Some of them she raves about. I'm almost tempted to volunteer myself, because I really think they can learn so much by seeing the solutions and strategies that various farms use for common problems.

Miyuki, the door's always open, you know. Come back and see us sometime! We'd love to have you visit just to say hello. Though I will say that baking season will start up again in a month or so...

Miyuki Baker said...

Yeah, thanks! I would love to join in on one of your baking days! Maybe on a weekend in the fall/winter :) Can't wait!

Mia said...

Sounds awesome. I really want to spend some quality time WWOOFing in a few years time. I want to learn from others before we finally settle down to our own homestead. Then I hope we can be hosts!