Sharing the Whole Earth Perspective
Organic farmers in the WWOOF program pass down the values of the local food movement
Written onMay 25 , 2016
Singing River Farm in Rockingham belongs to a global network of organic farmers who welcome strangers into their lives for an educational and cultural exchange. The network, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is better known as WWOOF, and the people who visit farms are known as WWOOF’ers. In the United States there are more than 2,000 hosts—more than 50 alone in Vermont—and they offer hands-on lessons about organic farming to newcomers who might one day farm themselves.
My first experience WWOOFing was at Singing River Farm last September. I had little knowledge about gardening when I started at Singing River, but I wanted to immerse myself in a sustainable environment and learn how to grow food in non-harmful ways. Being a farmer wasn’t exactly a career goal of mine, although I had developed a faint dream of being a farmer florist and growing some food on a very small-scale, some faraway day, maybe.
Laurel Green and Steve Crofter established Singing River Farm in 2012 and have 8 acres of open land on which they’ve established large gardens, a flock of chickens, and beehives. They also grow an impressive variety of produce, mainly for their own use. The farm’s tagline is “Cultivating Harmony,” which refers to both land and people. Of the 37 WWOOF’ers who have visited the farm, Laurel says it’s her goal to “develop a perennial crop of new growers—people who get excited to grow food for themselves and others for the rest of their lives.”
In addition to participating in the WWOOF program, Laurel and Steve are involved with aiding refugees near the Mexican border, host workshops at their church about white privilege, and are consistently working against racism, homophobia, and sexism in their community. Steve says, “The most exciting aspect is combining our goals of raising food and running a farm with our larger goals of making the world a better place. I view Singing River Farm as a platform from which to work for environmental restoration and social justice.”
During my time there, two other WWOOFers were staying on the farm: James and Jovin. Between the five of us, we harvested honey, arranged bouquets, dehydrated tomatoes, canned applesauce, installed irrigation, rebuilt garden beds, and more. I also learned about transplanting, handling eggs, building the soil, sheet mulching, and many other specifics of responsible crop production. Our days were full and sweaty, but a dip in the river and a good garden meal restored us every night. Jovin, who was visiting from Germany, often talked with Steve about language, and James would share his knowledge about cooking and community living.
“I like people,” Steve says. “And it’s exciting to meet so many new folks without having to leave home.”
Steve taught me how to drive a tractor, clean a chimney, roof a shed, use a chainsaw, and split wood. As a young woman taking these lessons from a white male much older than me, I was surprised each time by his gentle encouragement and eagerness. I never felt that I wasn’t strong enough, that he didn’t have faith in me, or that either of the guys would be better suited for the task. Learning at Singing River proved to me that striving toward self-sufficiency was doable and rewarding.
There was definitely a period of adjustment when I first arrived. I wasn’t used to waking up so early or being in the sun for hours on end. My body was exhausted for the first couple of days, too. Steve and Laurel were in better shape than I was, which says a lot about their healthy lifestyle.
Another challenging aspect of the WWOOFing was managing alone time. I slept in a camper tucked in the woods, but meals, the internet, bathroom use, and showers all took place in their home. For me, being with people—even people I really enjoy and get along with—for too long can take a toll on my energy levels. I passed up a couple of events that sounded rather interesting just to get a little quiet time. Just as when you visit friends and family, there’s always more to do than there is time in the day.
I left Singing River with what felt like a new extension of family, but also with a wealth of new knowledge. Since then, my WWOOFing adventures have led me from Minneapolis to New England, down south to Georgia and then over to California, where I now have a job as an organic farmer florist for the whole season. About a dozen WWOOF farms have served as role models to me, and now, growing my own food, honoring and healing land, being an environmentally conscious consumer, and even living off the grid are tangible goals instead of distant, foggy ideals.
The seeds that Laurel and Steve have lovingly planted in the hearts of their 37 WWOOFers (and countless friends in the community) are indeed contributing to a worldwide crop of more thoughtful human beings.
Photo by Laurel Green
A sampling of Vermont WWOOF farms…
In Danville, Stark Hollow Farm is a grass-fed meat operation led by partners Vanessa Riva and Laura Smith. On their 78 acres, they raise heritage breed sheep, pigs, cattle, and hens using organic methods and strategic rotational grazing. Stark Hollow began hosting WWOOFers last fall, giving people the opportunity to handle livestock and learn how to be ethically and ecologically responsible omnivores. “I think people have a glamorized view of farming … sheep grazing on rolling pastures … when the actual work is very different than that,” Laura says. “But we had a good first experience.”
In Charlotte, Gia and Ben Pualwan tenderly care for 10 acres of land comprised of garden plots, open fields, and woodlands. Their farmstead, called Applepath, produces berries, grapes, tree fruits, and vegetables for the household, as well as for friends and family. This will be their sixth year hosting WWOOFers. Ben says, “WWOOF contributes to sustainability … by energizing and expanding the community of values, knowledge, and friendships.”
And Melissa Masters, owner of Tanglebloom Flower Farm in Brookline, began as a WWOOFer herself. She is starting her second season and is now welcoming WWOOFers to come learn about sustainable, small-scale floriculture under her wing. Melissa recalls her own WWOOF adventures and is excited to offer a similar experience on her farm. “The cultural exchange is invaluable, offering folks experiences they will remember for the rest of their lives; possibly inspiring life-changing decisions.”