Happy birthday, WWOOF!

Posted by on Jan 12, 2012 | 0 comments

Travel with WWOOF and pick watermelons on an organic farm in Taiwan

Photo: Fred Hsu

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably dreamed at some point of traveling to a remote location to learn about local food and agriculture first-hand. If you really want to get your hands dirty, you might take a look at WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary of connecting volunteers to organic farms around the world.

It had its origin in a weekend event at Tablehurst Farms in Sussex, England; Sue Coppard, a London office worker, wanted to support the organic movement and create an opportunity for people like herself to learn about agriculture while taking a short break from the city. That first working weekend hosted just four people, but the response from the organic farming community was so positive that she soon built a network of smallholders who were willing to adopt amateur weekend farmers–and a near-endless supply of cityfolk who wanted to get out into the country and roll up their sleeves.

Forty years later, WWOOF is a group of autonomous organizations in nearly 100 countries that share a common mission and broad guidelines, and the farm visits they foster are now rarely for just a weekend. The past decade has seen a huge expansion of their programs onto farms in developing countries, and the focus is very much one of cultural exchange. The hosts provide food, living accommodations, and farming knowledge during each volunteer’s duration, and the guests bring their own expertise, stories, and open minds.

In part, this open focus on cultural exchange has been a necessary response to issues with countries’ immigration requirements and the ambiguous status of what some countries still consider short-term agricultural workers; in these countries WWOOF is considered a clandestine migrant worker organization. To the volunteers, the program is an opportunity to travel on the cheap while learning hands-on skills and making friends in the organic farming community.

If you’re interested, www.wwoof.org has general information and a list of participating countries. There are over 1,500 farms in the U.S. alone, and I see there are even quite a few close to me here in New York. It looks like a good time to plan a weekend in the country.

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