Farming as an industry is struggling, along with the rest of our economy, and organic farming can be an extra challenge. The World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program gives organic farms a helping hand. In the WWOOF program volunteers exchange work for room and board at organic farms in the U.S. and abroad.
Organic farmers and members interested in organic farming can post a description of their farm, what they do, and what type of help they need. Usually the exchange rate is one-half day of work for one day of room and board. Length of stay is dependent on what kind of help the farm needs and both parties agree on terms before the work begins. It could be several days or several weeks. Individuals can pick an opportunity based on specialty, location, type of work, and what they will learn about different types of farming.
WWOOF started in England in 1971 by Sue Coppard, after she put an ad in an English newspaper asking farms if she could volunteer to work on a farm for a weekend to get out into the country and take a break from her job in London. The weekend was such a success that WWOOF was born. However, WWOOF isn’t the only organization promoting volunteering opportunities on organic farms, a Google search turned up opportunities to volunteer on farms in every region of the U.S. and many other countries.
WWOOFers, as the volunteers are called, need to be willing to get their hands dirty, do manual labor, and have a genuine interest in organic farming techniques. The program gives volunteers a hands on education in organic farming, gives a tough business niche much-needed, free labor on a seasonal basis, supports a local business, and builds relationships between farmers and workers.
Gary Porter, a Wisconsin journalist, visited two Wisconsin farms that were participating in the WWOOF program and reported about his diverse experiences. His first stop, Bike Farm, needed mostly help in the gardens, since the owners sell their produce in farmer’s markets in the Twin Cities.
His next visit was to Lovetree Farmstead which is an organic dairy sheep farm operated on 200 acres, 100 of which is dedicated to a wildlife refuge. In the summer, the owners began a weekly pizza party inviting the public to sample their homemade, organic sheep’s cheese pizzas, cooked in a wood-fired oven.
Two widely different farms, but one similar element – mutual respect and camaraderie. The farmers get much-needed help, and the volunteers get a chance to be an organic farmer for a while.