Welcoming WWOOFers to Your Farm
We are feeling extra productive and on top of our chores these days and the reason is that we have HELP! For the last month we have had our first real experience with WWOOF, that is, Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (also known as Willing Workers on Organic Farms).
The WWOOF program is set up as an educational and cultural exchange between people interested in organic farming and existing farmers. The WWOOF network is active all over the world. In exchange for room and board, WWOOFers come to your property for anywhere from a few days to a few months and work for a set amount of hours. You explain your farming systems as you train them in daily tasks, and they get an immersion in organic farming.
Our first go at hosting WWOOFers has been stellar. Heidi and Taylor are a thoughtful and cheerful couple from Canada who care deeply about the earth, and wanted to break away from city life and learn how to clean up at least some of the mess we've made of it by learning to farm organically. They have helped us make compost, prepare beds, transplant cacao, harvest and clean sweet potatoes, trim banana leaves for mulch, put up fencing, weed-whack, make sauerkraut, harvest and press sugarcane, prepare for and staff the table at our neighborhood food share, and much more. Plus, they have become a part of the community, having "Wwoofed" for three farms in our area over the last four months.
Their zest for learning is infectious. As we shared a good-bye dinner with their farming friends the other night, Taylor talked about how much he had learned. "It was exciting to see how everything is used, nothing is wasted. We don't just cut the grass and throw it aside, it is an important part of growing the microbes that feed the soil that feed the plants."
Heidi added, "From a WWOOFer's point of view, the teaching/learning aspect is as important as the accommodation/food; and understanding the reasoning behind the work can make a potentially mundane task interesting. It's also what makes us work hard!"
How It Works
WWOOFers and their hosts generally link up via the web. Farmers post profiles of what they have to offer and what they are looking for, and potential WWOOFers scan through them and contact the farms they are interested in. There's an international website that serves as a portal to 60 countries that have their own WWOOF websites. In Hawai'i we can choose from a WWOOF USA site and a separately run WWOOF Hawaii site.
So, what is expected in terms of accommodations and work exchange? It's up to the judgment of the host to offer a reasonable balance. The websites say the typical arrangement is 4-6 hours a day, 5 days a week, i.e., 20-30 hours/week, with accommodations and all food included. In checking around over the last few years, this range of hours seems pretty standard, but the range of accommodations varies tremendously! We have seen everything from WWOOFers living in a tent with no kitchen, no water, and just the fruits they could forage from the land (they came to us to find work so they could buy food), to cozy cabins with well-stocked kitchens and as much fresh milk, cheese, and farm grown foods as they could eat.
Both the WWOOF USA and WWOOF Hawaii websites show snippets of the host farms to any casual observer, but to see the full information including farm names and contact specifics, you must sign up and pay a small fee.
To become a host on the WWOOF USA site, you pay a one-year membership of $5-$50 (sliding scale). You fill out a profile of your farm and expectations. Once you have joined they email you a "Host Welcome Packet" including tips on health insurance, visas, etc.
The fee to join the WWOOF Hawai'i site is a one-time $25 fee for hosts or single WWOOFers. This website has icons for smoking/nonsmoking and vegetarian/vegan, guidelines and descriptions of the "ideal" host and WWOOFer, and ratings that show even if you have not paid the membership. Unlike WWOOF USA, the WWOOF Hawai'i website has a screening process for hosts; before you can be listed on their website, you must answer a short questionnaire and wait for your confirmation.
Advice from Hosts and WWOOFers
Drean, a Ninole farmer who grows microgreens, poha, and vegetables, has had 90 WWOOFers in the last five years. His main advice to hosts is to be as clear as possible stating what you expect, even overemphasizing your main conditions and expectations.If you have zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol, say this loud and clear. If it is usually very rainy or hot or you have very rustic living conditions, be up-front and brutally honest stating those conditions.
Leanna, a WWOOFer from Colorado, agreed that it is critical to get a detailed understanding of what you are getting into before committing to a farm. I spoke with her and her WWOOFing partner Subeckah, who are traveling around the world for 7 months working on farms.
SuBecka said, "I didn't expect to learn so much about about food and culture; you forget about the social aspects when learning about permaculture." So far they have been to Greece, tending almond trees, and here on the Hamakua coast, working with coffee, cacao, and cows. SuBecka actually plans to be a school psychologist, not a farmer, and wants to integrate what she learns about farming and cultures into her work with children.
If you have the accommodations for it, hosting several WWOOFers at a time is an efficient use of time for training and purchasing and/or preparing food. Plus, several WWOOFers at a time can cook and socialize with each other. In our situation, we cooked most dinners for Heidi and Taylor, and purchased food for them to prepare their own breakfasts and lunches.
We found it worked well to have WWOOFers this time of year for intensive help with fall harvesting, bed preparation, and planting. The knowledge that we had people "needing" to work made us finally accomplish several larger projects. But the rewards for hosts go way beyond getting chores done. It's just so darn satisfying to share what you have learned about growing food. Getting help doing it while making new friends is about as good as it gets!
Also good information to be found by googling "youtube wwoofing hawaii"
Rachel Laderman moved to Hawai'i Island three years ago to farm and live off-grid in a small community of friends and family. Before this she worked for 20 years as an Environmental Health Educator in Olympia, Washington. She feels extremely lucky to be able to spend her days planting, foraging, and preparing foods. Read her blog at http://marketlessmondays.wordpress.com/ .