Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Getting Good Help - WWOOF

Many of you know that in addition to our family, we have volunteers who stay at the farm over the summer. We call them wwoofers. But what is WWOOF?

WWOOF is a country specific, international program that matches farmers and gardeners with volunteers who are willing to exchange work for room & board. It stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. A typical stay is 2 weeks and they typically get 3 meals per day, 5 hours per day of work 5 days per week. But we’ve recently heard of much longer days and little or no time off. But at our place it’s 5 days per week with Monday and Tuesday off and 9-1 for a workday. But it’s a farm, so we’re flexible depending on weather and necessity. Sometimes you need to take the day off if it’s pouring with rain or stormy and if livestock have escaped it’s all hands on deck!

 We have been really lucky over the past decade or so that we have been involved in WWOOF, to have met and stayed friends with many amazing young people from  all around the world. They have come from a variety of backgrounds including nurses, teachers, computer programmers, financiers, social workers, students, authors, and just people in general who want to learn more about farming. I think there is a mistaken idea that the woofers we have at the farm are all young people or students with nothing better to do than travel around Canada trading labour for room and board. But that could not be further from the truth. In my experience  these are people of different ages and life experiences who have a genuine desire to learn something either about farming, about themselves, or about their place in the world. And being on a small family farm is certainly good place to learn some of those things.

Why do we have WWOOFERS?

 We primarily have Wwoofers to help Elizabeth with the farm tasks that require many hands or some of the bending and stooping she’s not easily able to do anymore. And it’s always easier and more fun to do tasks with a friend. While there is a certain amount of learning and breaking-in of new people, we have still found it to be really worthwhile for many reasons other than the free labor, which isn’t really free because you still have to provide them with some entertainment, a cozy place to live, and good food. It doesn't take people long to settle into the daily routine.

 Having young people around the farm from different places in Canada and the world also brings new cultural and personal perspectives that make for amazing dinner conversation! I would have to say that personally my favourite part of wwoof is learning about other cultures and exploring new social ideas. When you live rurally  there’s a certain tendency to get stuck in your ways and as we don’t have television we miss out on some of the popular culture that naturally evolves in the cities. Not that that’s a bad thing, I love the fact that I have no idea who most of the people are in the tabloids. But it does mean that you could miss out on new and interesting ideas.  Talking to Wwoofrs about their life experiences and their culture is almost like a way of traveling without leaving home. And I credit this for one of the reasons that my children are very tolerant of other people and interested in different cultures, simply from their exposure to such a variety.

So what are the drawbacks having woofers . Let's not kid ourselves, we're all human and therefore flawed. Most Wwoofers are great. But every now and again you get someone whose personality just does not mesh with yours. And that’s ok. Some people just don't show up (the #1 complaint hosts have) leaving you with a fridge full of expensive groceries and no help. Sometimes you meet people you find irritating or who are very bossy and controlling. And it’s not that these people aren’t good at other things they’re just not good team players, and that is what a small farm it’s all about; a balance of self determination and teamwork. I think the most important thing is that prospective wwoofers and hosts need to know is that the following things can help you to be successful:
1.  Good food
2.  Safe and warm accommodation (internet does help)
3.  Good communication. Clear expectations are very helpful.
                Explaining work clearly and demonstrating your method
                Be honest about the work. If it’s hard or long days, say so.
                Talk over and resolve problems or needs right away
4. Be open to new cultures, foods and ideas.
5. Ask for feedback and keep an open dialogue.
6. Respect peoples limitations. If people have never done manual labour then
                blisters will ensue and if you don't understand that some young   
                people really need internet it can build resentment.
7. Read Read Read. Learn about wwoofing and hosting from people who have
               done it and are doing it. 

Wwoofers will still come if the work is hard or the days are long, they will still come if you don’t have 5-star accommodation, they will still come if you live miles from town. Everyone is looking for something new and different and your farm might be just what they’re looking for. Be clear about what you offer, this isn’t a personal ad you should gloss over. The emails and messages sent before the stay begins are a great way to get a feel for each other.

WWOOF is primarily an exchange of labour for skills and knowledge. But it’s so much more than that. It’s personal, it’s cultural, it can be the beginning of a lifelong friendship. And we love it!