WWOOFers and Farming

Hladini
By Hladini on Sat, Mar 23, 2013 - 7:36am

As part of my resiliencey plan, I started gardening on a large scale - part time at the beginning of 2012.  My farming partner and I are in our early 50's and we both have full time jobs apart from the farm.  In our first year, we sold our extra produce at a local farmer's market and enrolled 11 CSA Members.  FYI, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  Most of our members are half members who pay an annual fee of $75 and then pay $20 per week for a pretty big bag of clean, chemical-free food (we are not certified organic so are barred from using that word).

But, we had trouble meeting our members' grocery share because it's only us two old ladies out working the farm and only part time.

Enter the WWOOFer!  Many transient people, young people, and others offer their farm labor for a place to live (usually outside), meals/food, a little transportation, and a small stipend.  My daughter found us such a WWOOFer and boy is he paying off!  We were lucky because we got a responsible person the very first time.  He is out working at 8 am each morning and works five hours on the farm, 5 days a week; he also does some chores (his terms which I accepted).  We provide food, transportation, and a weekly stipend of $20 per week, which has room to grow as we expand with his help.

There are many homeless people out there who are craving for a sense of community and family and who are willing to work for the basic securities of a place to sleep, food, and minimal personal needs.  Of course, do a background check, check ID, and if possible get references.  Our WWOOFer has worked on several different farms, so we did have references.

So, for those of you who need help developing a farming project, you may want to check out "hiring" a WWOOFer or two.  If you get the right one, it's a win-win situation.

As far as progress goes, we now have 2 olive trees, 4 fig trees, 2 loquat trees, 4 arctic kiwi vines, and 16 blueberry bushes.  We are farming annual vegetables and fruits (melons, ground cherries) in about 1/2-1 acre.  This year, because we had such a great harvest of black-eyed peas last year (planted (2) 90 foot rows and got back about 10 pounds of peas), we will plant at least 2 acres of dried beans over the summer.  Beans and hard peas have no problems during the hot, Florida summers, and very few other things grow (peppers, eggplant).  Dried beans are also a great addition to our CSA grocery bag and can be stored for months or years.  If you think home grown tomatos taste great, try some home grown black eyed peas! 

And finally, we had great fun harvesting the peas.  Friends, family and neighbors all stopped by with pot luck preps and we sat around the table and talked and laughed and shelled peas by hand, and yes, even the kids helped out. 

Note: If you're reading this and are not yet a member of Peak Prosperity's Agriculture & Permaculture Group, please consider joining it now. It's where our active community of gardening enthusiasts share information, insights and knowledgable daily discussion to help you succeed in growing your own food. Simply go here and click the "Join Today" button.

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8 Comments

Poet's picture
Poet
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 21 2009
Posts: 1891
He Is A WWOOFer

He Is A WWOOFer. Someone who joins the network: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

http://www.wwoof.org/

This is supposed to be an opportunity for young people to learn farming and animal husbandry skills at below minimum wage - so I hope you are also teaching them how to grow crops, weed, harvest, sell, etc. so he can one day start his own farm.

Poet

jasonw's picture
jasonw
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 17 2011
Posts: 1018
Using the word Organic!

Just a little info on using the word Organic.  I came across the following exemption in the USDA organic certification rules and regs that may be of some help to small producers and startup farms.  As I interpret it - you can use the word Organic when selling your produce as long as you are under the $5000 gross organic sales.  I would have loved to have known this 5 years ago when I use to sell at our local farmers market and have to always use the terms "sustainably grown".   Hope this is helpful.

http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/NOPExemptOperations

Who does not need to be certified?
  • Small organic farms and businesses (gross agricultural income from organic sales less than $5,000 per year)
  • Brokers, distributors, and traders
  • Retail food establishments
  • Exempt handling operations (see below)
 
Although certification is not required for these “exempt” or “excluded” operations, they may pursue voluntary organic certification. Exempt and excluded operations still need to comply with specific sections of the USDA organic regulations as described below.
 
Small Organic Farms and Businesses
If your farm or business’ gross agricultural income from organic sales does not exceed $5,000 per year, it is considered to be an “exempt” operation. This means you don’t need to be certified in order to sell, label, or represent your products as organic. You also do not need to develop a written organic system plan. However, you must follow all other requirements in the USDA organic regulations. Specifically:
 
  • You must maintain records for at least three years.
  • You may not use the USDA organic seal on your products or refer to them as certified organic. If you would like to use the USDA organic seal, you must obtain organic certification.
  • You may not sell your products as ingredients for use in someone else’s certified organic product.
Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Offline)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 2934
Connecting talent with land through PP.com

At the Rowe conference last week, I noticed that several people had purchased farmland but were coming to realize they're not very enthused about doing the time-consuming, physically-intensive farm work themselves. 

For a while now, Chris and I have been observing the need for a better solution to match up those interested in practicing small-scale farming (increasingly young folks in the 20s-30s, with little experience & capital) and those with tillable land (typically folks 50+, with capital and less desire to actively manage farm operations).

As it seems WWOOF is trying to to, we think there's good sense in matching this new generation of eager-to-work sustainable farmers with landowners. The farmers get an affordable entry into the farming life, and the landowner's investment is made productive. Best of all, the land itself is being nutured and put to its best use.

This seed of an idea is still germinating in our minds. But it would be useful to know if there's strong interest (either among those with land or those interested in farming it) among PP.com readers for us to make exploring the opportunity a higher priority. If so, let us know here in the Comments or email me directly.

a1911guy's picture
a1911guy
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 24 2009
Posts: 7
The growing underground community of WWOOFers

Poet is right about WWOOFing being an opportunity for young people to learn farm skills.  But my experience in the last two years suggests something else is taking place in United States WWOOFing.  When we started our farm (43 acres) six year back, my wife and I struggled to keep up with the work just as Hladini describes, as we are in our late 50s.  Four years back we discovered WWOOF-USA (http://www.wwoofusa.org/) and have had Wwoofers every summer since.  Initially, we would get one or two enquiries per month over the winter.  This year we have been getting up to four requests per week, often for a group of multiple young people.  My immediate thought is that as the economy slowly crashes into the debt iceberg more young people want some place to live and eat, even if they are not planning on a future in farming.  We had one pair that fit that description to a tee: they did not want to work every day and after a week left to our relief.  The others have been great, contributing to our productivity and adding their own insights and projects to improve the farm.

catherder's picture
catherder
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 17 2010
Posts: 26
Farmland matching services

Everyone who is thinking they may need help with tilling the land should look into the following resources: Land for Good, a Keene NH based nonprofit that covers all of NE and some of NY and does a lot of farmland matching work as well as farm succession planning; New Entry Sustainable Farming Project north of Boston - www.nesfp.org. A website that you can list your land on (or yourself, if you are a land seeker) is www.newenglandfarmlandfinder.org.

westcoastjan's picture
westcoastjan
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 4 2012
Posts: 561
thoughts from an experienced wwoofer

In the early part of this decade I spent a bit less than a year wwoofing. It was a great, inexpensive way to take a look around at different areas while trying to identify where I wanted to settle down. I started out on Vancouver Island, and after meeting other wwoofers who were from Europe, ended up doing wwoofing in France and Italy the next year.

Woofing is not for everyone. It is also a two-sided coin. Just as farm owners can be leary or mistrustful of people coming to their farm, there are also issues for wwoofers going to strange places and feeling vulnerable, or being mistreated. I had the gamut of experiences. By and large it is great and I have some warm, enduring friendships as a result. There were some farmers who were generous in the extreme, going so far as to ask if their wwoofers had any special dietary requirements; there were farms where the sanitation was deplorable and the food sparse; there were farmers who were fair in what they expected, and others who were slave drivers, taking advantage of wwoofers who did not have the assertiveness to stand up for themeselves; there were fabulous, hard working wwoofers, and those who were looking for cheap vacations abroad, or for a place to learn English as a second language.

It is a great program when people treat it for what it is meant to be: a fair exchange of labour for food and accomodation, in addition to being a potentially great cultural exchange. The key I guess is the perception around what is "fair". Here on the Island most farms only expected work 5 days per week. In Europe they expected 6 days a week.

I highy recommend it for young people - I was going to mention it to FALLey. I learned so much on those adventures, and the trip to Europe remains a highlight of my life. It was an exceptional confidence builder, which went a long way to re-establishing myself after I returned to Canada.

If anyone wants to know more send me a PM and I will be glad to tell you more

Cheers,

Jan

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1982
thank you Hladini

This looks fantastic. There are 8 WWOOF farms in my state, but none in my immediate area. I have wonderful farmer friends in their 50s who might love to use this program. I will recommend it to them.

MichaelBranch's picture
MichaelBranch
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 2 2013
Posts: 1
My father has a farm which

My father has a farm which halted development when we moved to New York. Now that we have enough money to "revive" it, I think WWOOFers would be of great help.

I've been reading a lot about organic farming and once we come up with an excellent plan, we are good to go :)

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