That’s pretty much how most of my conversations start of late. Eventually they get around to asking: “How did you find these farms?”
“Not What, WWOOF.”
I enjoy the moment while the exchange reminds me of an Abbott and Costello routine and then I explain – The Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) matches people who supply volunteer labor to farms that provide training, food and accommodations in return. It’s a win-win. Plus, there is the opportunity to experience the joys one stumbles upon while traveling, working hard and meeting new friends.
WWOOFing is hugely popular worldwide, and the organization provides farming opportunities on just about every corner of the planet. Madagascar, Fiji, Iceland, Ghana? WWOOF has it covered. The farms are broken out into large geographic areas, each with their own website and registration process (which is a tiny bit cumbersome, but understandable). For farms in the USA, visit www.wwoofusa.org where you can search 1,588 available host farms.
Visiting the WWOOF website and forums, you start to get the feel for the community lingo: WWOOFer (volunteer), hosts (farms), farmstay (a visit). And, like most communities, there is a friendliness and cooperative attitude that is so often missing in our mega-community nation-state.
While I was researching farms, a somewhat vague and foreign word kept creeping in: TRUST. This entire system is built on trust. Farmers trust their homes and livelihood to unknown and untested volunteers. And WWOOFers trust the goodwill of their hosts and fellow travelers. And it all works!
Like most Americans (certainly everyone living in or near a major urban center), I’ve learned there are definite risks in trusting strangers, so it is not something I do too often. And certainly not after one brief email exchange. But I have to tell you something – it felt freakin’ great to get confirmation of our farmstays from a community of host farm strangers!
“What you’re doing is what I teach; sustainable family-farm practices for a brighter future! I welcome your visit, so you too can get the information out to the folks who need it!”
“We’d be glad to host you all, let us know as your plans firm up.”
“Wow- if you two visited our farm the per capita cultural capital of south central KY would go up a few points for the weeks you are here…All joking aside, we would love to host you for a while.”
“That sounds like a great project and learning adventure. We would be excited to have you here…”
“We’ve got some fun stuff planned for this season — adding yaks, bees, mushrooms, finish building a rammed earth root cellar/cheese cave, rocket stove mass heaters and more! Sounds like you’re beginning a great adventure this Spring, I look forward to hearing more about it… Blessings…”
I guess it’s safe to say I am gratefully and happily shocked. I mean, I can’t even change lanes in Los Angeles without encroaching on someone else’s space but here…here I have a dozen strangers on the other side of the country grateful that we are coming to visit. That’s a good feeling.
So far, we have confirmed over 20 weeks of farmstays throughout the Southeast, Northeast and Midwest. I know we keep teasing you with the promise of posting info about the people and places we will be visiting…well, I guess that time has come:
Jonas and Julie Hurley and their two boys own River Run Farm and Pottery in Kentucky. Jonas is a fine potter with a new wood-fired kiln built onsite and a farm brimming with chickens, turkeys, goats, pigs, rabbits, dogs and a llama. We’ll be staying with the Hurleys for a couple weeks in June and are really looking forward to it.
Sean Zigmund runs Root ‘n Roost Farm in New York state. His farm-fresh products are grown by hand, using permaculture techniques, no machinery, and only hand tools. Rotational grazing of ducks, chickens, and pigs help work the land. He has been a kind soul through emails and seems to be a wealth of information and teaches a host of classes and seminars on his farm.
I confess: When I started this project, I really didn’t know what or who I thought farmers would be. Apparently, many of them are kind and generous people. And it turns out quite a few of them are artists, sculptors, photographers, craftspeople, cooks and musicians – not so unlike my friends and family in Los Angeles.
Until next time…