Starting a small farm, or even a smaller-sized garden, may seem daunting to some – especially those who didn’t grow up in the farming world.
Meanwhile, others are ready to dive headfirst into everything agriculture-related.
This is where Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms comes in, an organization connecting individuals to organic farmers in exchange for room and board. The educational experience allows people to venture far across the world or in their communities, gaining hands-on experience anywhere from a day to months or years.
Becky Young, now the executive director of WWOOF Canada, began getting her hands dirty in the 1980s while travelling – or “wwoofing,” as she calls it – around Australia.
Upon returning home, she dreamt of becoming as self-sustainable as possible on her own plot of land.
In 1993, she and her husband, Gary Eichenauer, purchased a two-acre plot in Procter, B.C., a small village along Kootenay Lake. It’s here where she realized she was surrounded by WWOOF hosts, many of whom became friends.
At the time, Young was working as an information technology consultant before being hired by John Vanden Heuvel, Canada’s WWOOF coordinator, to help modernize his systems, she said. Once Vanden Heuvel retired, Young took over as the coordinator in 2010 and has been with the organization ever since.
As Young spoke with HARVEST on the phone, planes and birds hummed in the background. The couple recently sold their property of 30 years and has been living on the road for almost two years in a 23-foot 1999 international Thomas school bus the couple purchased and converted.
Young will retire later this year, although she will continue wwoofing with her husband across Canada. They plan to arrive in Quebec in September.
Before this, they hosted many visitors, dubbed “wwoofers,” in a separate cabin on their property, with individuals helping with their vegetable and flower gardens. Young described these experiences as wonderful.
“It’s exciting to have people coming from all over the world to your small place in your hometown and having them immersed with your family, learning each other’s culture, getting to know different people, the world and, of course, their help and them leaving their mark on your land.”
One wwoofer helped her husband build garden beds out of driftwood, both Young and Eichenauer being impressed with their creativity.
A fair exchange is expected between wwoofers and wwoof hosts, with those helping anywhere from 20-30 hours a week in exchange for room and board. Wwoofers can then enjoy the area, learning what it has to offer while also learning farming techniques.
Families with children can also join the movement.
“A lot of the young wwoof hosts who have children are excited to have visitors who also have children because it provides all kinds of opportunities for the children to have friends and do activities,” Young said.
“So the parents are figuring out how they’re going to do their work schedule in the garden or on the farm while someone else is keeping the children active … I see a lot of host farms who home-school their children, and it’s really important for them to have this interaction.”
Whether wwoofers decide to become farmers themselves or not, Young said that the organization is important because they bring the techniques they’ve learned from different farms back to their home countries. At the very least, she hopes they gain a newfound understanding and appreciation of supporting organic farming.
“To me, what’s so important is that people understand where their food comes from and the hard work it takes to make that food, especially quality, eco-friendly food.”
The organization has been around for 52 years and is in approximately 130 countries. There are around 100,000 wwoofers annually and about 12,000 hosts.
“It seems like once you’ve tried it, for some, it’s in your blood.”
To learn more about WWOOF Canada, visit wwoof.ca, where you can sign up to become a visitor on someone else’s farm or host visitors yourself.