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(en) US, anarchist journal, Nor'easter #8 page 10 - Make Total WWOOF By BRYN ROSHONG

Date Fri, 16 Apr 2010 07:41:25 +0300


Spring is coming â for some itâs the beginning of another growing season, and for others itâs time to pack a bag and hit the road for a couple months. For many, itâs time to combine the two. ---- Willing Workers on Organic Farms, or Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), is an international network of organic or ecologically sound farms that offer room and board in exchange for volunteer farm labor. WWOOF, more than any other work- or volunteer-while-you-travel tourism program, is closely in line with common anarchist principles of autonomy, decentralization and mutual aid. The decentralized nature of the WWOOF network allows for direct WWOOFer-to-host contact without a cumbersome or profit-seeking bureaucracy built up around it. The fees to participate are relatively low and maintain the WWOOF communication infrastructure.

The character of each farm runs the gamut,
with something to excite (or repulse) every
practical skill seeker and lifestyle explorer.
The WWOOF network is a boon to many
of the farms that use it, too, because they are
frequently small and low-budget, and only
with low-cost helping hands can they be viable
and productive.
WWOOF got its start in England in 1971
as âWorking Weekends on Organic Farmsâ
and became more established as the founders
realized that other farms were running
similar programs all across Europe. Now,
48 countries are officially affiliated with the
WWOOF network, while dozens of others
are loosely connected through the WWOOF
Independents list.
All WWOOF information can be found on
its Web site (W WOOF.org) as well as in the
manuals that are mailed to members. While
lack of centralization keeps the network simple
and bare bones, it also means that prospective
WWOOFers need to pay to join each national
WWOOF network that they are interested in
(though some offer combined rates, such as
Mexico/Belize/Costa Rica). Moreover, some
of the countriesâ sites are not in English, but
they can usually be sorted out with the help of
an online translator.
The sheer volume of possibilities available
through WWOOF is overwhelming. Finca
Agrovia Farm in Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico,
is a Rain Forest Alliance, long-time organic
coffee plantation with an environmentally
friendly wet and dry mill. The mill works in
conjunction with a water treatment plant that
enriches vermin-compost used for nutrition,
according to the farmâs Web site.
Anathoth Community Farm near
Luck, Wis., is an ever-evolving homestead
community that produces organic vegetables
in their two-acre garden and year-round
greenhouses, for self-sufficiency as well as for
a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
program. Anathoth is also the home of the
volunteer-based, anti-nuclear organization
NukeWatch and welcomes progressive
trainings on its land, such as 2008âs pre-RNC
Wilderness First Responder and Action
Medical classes.
Cheese-making enthusiasts can browse
through Franceâs listings for one of several
collectively run sheep and goat farms in the
Alps that are unreachable by car. These farms
make it plain that WWOOFing can sometimes
go beyond farming and can offer a practice run
at a sought-after model of living.
In 2007, Lily Gershon, currently of Ithaca,
N.Y., WWOOFed on three different farms on
the Big Island in Hawaii, including two orchid
and anthurium farms, and a biodynamic farm
connected to a Waldorf school.
âI didnât expect so much variety,â Gershon
said. âMost of [my hosts] had experience with
the program and had a place for us to stay and
basic tips that organized the experience for us.
The labor was mostly reasonable. There was one
farm where the owner didnât really understand
our food needs (vegetarian) and we had to talk
to him about buying us vegetables.â
Quality of both hosts and WWOOFers
varies, and sometimes WWOOFing does not
become the fortifying experience hoped for.
According to Gershon, âSome places donât
take the time to teach you, and you feel just
like a work horse.â
Abha Gupta, a former farm manager
at Six Circles Farm in Lodi, N.Y., has heard
accounts of WWOOF interns showing up
unannounced, leaving earlier than agreed
upon and sleeping in late. âBut thatâs rare,â
Gupta said, âand the WWOOFers on our farm
were so great, so anxious to learn.â
At Six Circles Farm, a newly established
farm that became a WWOOF host in 2009,
interns âwere involved in practically all aspects
of the farmâs operation,â according to Gupta.
They planted, watered, transplanted, picked,
peeled and prepared vegetables and fruits for
the market, while still having space for more
cerebral activities, such as helping develop
sales strategies for value-added products made
on the farm. âWe were really open to let[ting]
WWOOFers do what they wanted, which is
probably unusual for WWOOF farms,â Gupta
recalled.
Allan Yoza manages Dharma Farms â
which harvests hundreds of varieties of fruit â
in the Puna District on the Big Island of Hawaii
and has hosted WWOOFers for 12 years. Yoza
has dealt with âmany lazy talkers, dreamers.
But there are also a lot of hard-working,
decent, down-to-earth people. Iâve met a lot of
remarkable, soulful people this way,â he said.
Farms become WWOOF host farms at no
official cost aside from a requested donation,
and they must agree to follow basic guidelines
in order to be part of the network. Farms must
provide clean and dry shelter as well as food;
they must not require more than six hours of
work a day, six days a week; and they cannot
charge WWOOFers for room and board.
The guidelines emphasize that this
program forbids monetary exchange and
is meant to transcend a typical employer-
employee relationship. Itâs unclear what role
WWOOF plays in enforcing these guidelines.
Online, those who manage the WWOOF
infrastructure do show concern where
necessary. An administrator on the WWOOF
Mexico Web site participates in forums on the
site and asks for details from members who
complain about farms being unresponsive to
work offers, and the administrator appears
to follow up with slacking farms on behalf of
members. But in terms of dealing with farms
that provide extremely negative experiences
for WWOOFers, there appears to be no clear
process.
Being a host has been an effective way for
Gupta and Yoza to keep their farms in order
during busy seasons. Six Circles Farm has a
very small budget and would not be able to
pay for labor. While it would be possible to
find local volunteers, it would take a lot of time
and possibly still not be enough. At Dharma
Farms, WWOOFers make up 20 percent of the
workforce; the rest are hired workers.
Gershon and Gupta agree that one of
the most important pieces of advice for
prospective WWOOFers is to communicate
with the farms that they intend to visit.
According to Gershon, WWOOFers âshould
ask [hosts] specific questions before arriving
in order to understand the kind of thing that
will be expected. Every place is different. Ask
about what accommodations [and] food they
offer and how many hours youâll be expected
to work. Ask about transportation and what
kind of labor youâll be doing.â
Gupta agrees.
âFor logistics and safety,â she said, âitâs
good to do a background check on the farm.
Definitely have a conversation with the
farm manager. And if youâre going overseas,
definitely bring a buddy with you, because you
might be really isolated.â
Yoza advises that WWOOFers prepare
physically for the experience. âPlay sports
to gain endurance and coordination.â On
the spiritual side of things, he believes that
WWOOFers should âlearn to be vegetarians,
give up all intoxication, gambling and illicit
activitiesâ because farming is about âthe
cultivation of the soul and becoming purified
in the heart and mind.â
Clearly, farms participating in WWOOF
vary in their character and labor, which will
affect a WWOOFerâs experience and the
things they learn.
âI would suggest always having some sort
of back-up plan,â Gershon said. âSometimes
you quickly realize that you arenât exactly
fitted to your host or the weather or the type
of work. Be sure to have another plan in the
back of your head about where you might go
or what you might do if it doesnât work out. I
prefer going from one place to another initially,
for maybe a week each. Then, if you like one
place a lot, you can probably come back to it
for longer.â
Additionally, when traveling to an out-of-
country farm, WWOOFers need to acquire
the right visas and insurance, depending on
the length of time spent working. WWOOF
itself does not offer any insurance, and some
farms do require WWOOFers to be insured.
For those interested in travel and non-farm
work experiences, there are other networks
that provide similar frameworks to that of
WWOOF. Workaway.info, another low-cost
membership program, has page after page of
jaw-dropping opportunities: a sustainable
agricultural development program in Nepal; a
bed-and-breakfast on the beach in Andalucia;
a center for Polar and Arctic exploration in the
Laplands of Finland owned by a South-Pole
trekker who needs help training huskies and
turning their feces into a form of fuel.
Similarly, Help Exchange (Helpx.net) lists a
smorgasbord of international offerings, though
fewer than WWOOF or Workaway.info. Both
of these networks cost less than $20 a year to
join and each grants access to all international
listings, as opposed to WWOOFâs country-by-
country system.

âI personally chose to go WWOOF
because it seemed a fair trade â I work for the
person and in exchange I have a place to stay,
some food and the opportunity to see a place
Iâve never been. Also, it gave me a chance to
interact with people who were actually living in
the area instead of being in a hotel with tourists.
I could avoid a lot of the whole commercial/
capitalist thing that often accompanies travel.
To me, it seemed that I [got] a real view of
what it was to live in the place I was going: I
was interacting with farmers and farm workers,
living in the same space and in much the same
style as they were,â reflected Gershon.
On the idea of volunteering for the sake
of charity she said, âI think the main thing is
the mood of any of these things â if you go into
the experience thinking that you are there to
âdo good,â expecting all this gratitude for your
temporary saintliness, then that can be really
condescending. If you go into it seeing it as a
trade where you are getting as much as you are
putting in, then itâs a different experience.â
_________________________________________
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