What in the World is WWOOFing?

This post is from one of the 16 interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Summer Internship Program (our Fall 2011 Food Warriors have started and will be blogging  soon!). These interns are collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, collecting food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from!

Occasionally I open my home to strangers. Not in creepy way, but through the website couchsurfing.com, a site where weary travelers can find a place to crash for free, and hopefully meet some new people along the way. The site is mutually beneficial as it allows me to host some interesting people from across the world. While my guests almost always make for good conversation, rarely do they turn me onto new ideas about organic farming, until recently that is.

What my guest, Sheila, turned me onto was WWOOFing, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Despite the comical acronym, WWOOFing provides some very unique opportunities that allow people of all ages a chance to get their hands dirty on a farm. WWOOFing works by having participants express their interest on a variety of semi-related websites and hopefully, a willing farmer will allow the participant a chance to come work on their organic farm. The system works both ways as the participant gains an opportunity to work on a farm and receive food and lodging as payment, while the farmer gets a free labor and chance to instill knowledge on their guest.  The system originated in England during the early 1970’s, and has seen continual expansion ever since, so clearly something is working.

WWOOFing also has benefits for the organic farming industry as it allows many farmers a chance to remain economically viable in tough times. Peter from Oxford Gardens, acknowledged that WWOOFing allowed him to supplement some of his paid help while business was down this past year. He said while he was disappointed that he could not compensate his workers with cash, he found great satisfaction in teaching a new generation organic farming, especially in an industry he feels is being overrun by big industry. It seems often WWOOFers find the same appreciation of teaching, or as my house guest put it, “How could I even bother to ask for money, when a farmer is willing to spend so much time with a city person like myself, and open my eyes to a whole new kind of living, it seems hard to place a value on that kind of experience.”

As is usually the case, my generosity has proven to be a positive learning experiencing. During the course of a single evening I went from knowing nothing about WWOOFing, to being excited to try it out for myself. As our society condenses into ever-growing cities, and often times is disconnected from our food sources, WWOOFing seems to fill a certain void felt by many. It provides a distinct adventure for those looking for a different sort of life where they can learn a new skill, eat great food, and do so at a reasonable cost. My only hope now is that an organic farmer will return the favor and open their home to me sometime in the near future.

Alec Davitt

Summer 2011 Boulder Food Warrior

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