Here at Sheffield Organic Growers we get a helping hand in various ways from well wishing folk looking for a nice outdoor work experience this time of year and into the summer months.
Sometimes we have volunteers from the local community come help, as well as friends and family. This can be a regular weekly activity for some people and once a year for others, (my family included who come up to see me on my birthday in August as I am very much tied to the land harvesting summers bounty then!)
I personally have regular help from exchange volunteers who contact me via the organisation called WWOOOF. This used to stand for Working Weekends On Organic Farms and now stands for World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms. The organisation began when Sue Coppard arranged for three friends and herself to work on a farm in Essex in exchange for food and accomodation back in the 1970s. This idea became so successful that it now has sister organisations in 105 countries around the world.
You pay an annual subscription as either a host (which we are), or as a prospective WWOOFER. You can access the data base of all the hosts and contact them directly to find out if they have availability for the dates you wish to stay.
Having paid my fee back in 2011 as a young man (still not that old), keen to learn about organic growing I contacted all the hosts I could find who had a commercial operation as some hosts are very much self sufficientcy orientated or eco-building co-op housing projects that need people keen to get stuck in and learn about a low impact way of life. I found myself up in East Lothian WWOOFing at a farm called Phatassie with a lovely walled garden and four poly-tunnels and plenty of staff who dealt with the day to day running of their large box scheme going into Edinburgh.
I had a wonderful time there and met other WWOOFers from all around the world who were using the scheme as a way to learn English and experience a way of life whilst travelling on the cheap.
We host WWOOFers who stay with us at our house in the spare room from April till October, often French, Italian, Spanish, German and sometimes from further a field they come with varing degrees of experience but are all keen to learn and enjoy/endure the great outdoors.
I try to vary the work and do ask if they need a break or would like to do another activity as I am quite used to it all now and can sometimes forget how it can feel when your muscles aren’t adapted to that activity. I’ll always remeber the first time I did hoeing for an hour or two at my first horticultural work placement and how I could barely aply pressure after a while as my stomach muscles were way too exhausted!
The extra hands are a crucial part to the business and whilst it’s always said that WWOOFers are not a replacement for paid labour, as most farmers can attest the speed you have to work to make money in veg production means that it’s quite hard to find the right people to work for you part-time for what would be minimum to low wages. Theres more to this story which I might go into if I’ve got time to do another blog post on the EU and the Common Agricultral Policy in time for the referendum but back to the subject in hand.
Theres a whole raft of experience to be had when WWOOFing, from the remote island off Vancouver to the city market garden like us, to eco campsite up-keep. I’d recommend any interested to choose wisely and get a feel for the host before commiting to it, but in the end it’s a bit of an adventure and a great way to immerse yourself in the culture of that country for a week or even a couple of months. Our WWOOFer Felix from last year came to us from his last host in Italy with glowing reviews of the food they cooked for him. Not all hosts offer to cook for you and sometimes you’re given the ingredients and left to it.
I stayed in an old caravan during my time WWOOFing in Scotland which was a bit nippy towards the end of my stay, on the plus side there were up to 4 other young WWOOF volunteers in other caravans on site with a communal cooking area it was great to be able to share and get to know one another in, plus wonky old bikes to use on your days off, not a bad deal but a bit rough and ready.
I am glad to say that our accomodation is first class with fully heated rooms and meals prepared for you each evening! Just need to get a moment fix my bike for our guests…. If you are interested in WWOOFing visit the website at this address: http://www.wwoof.org.uk/
Other organsations that are not strictly eco-minded, but offer the same type of deal are workaway and helpx, both international and great for back packers.