Today: Mar 01, 2024

Worldwide organic farm movement unites farmers with common goals

Photo Courtesy Reece Alvarez
Mark Filanowski, owner of M. Filanowski & Sons farm in Milford.

REECE ALVAREZStaff Writer

The U.S. is home to one of the most successful and wealthiest cultures in modern history.
The nation stands at the peak of a mountain of material
wealth, global influence and technological advancement; perhaps never in the history of mankind have so many people had access to such luxury and services. Yet within this nation of unprecedented
achievements and wealth, some find something
lacking.
In strong juxtaposition to the world of concrete jungles, snail’s pace commutes and careers devoid of natural connections, the Worldwide Opportunities on
Organic Farms (WWOOF) network has been spearheading an effort since 1971 to relieve people who feel trapped in the modern routine by connecting them to organic farms.
“The WWOOF movement is growing like crazy,”
said Tori Degan, program manager of WWOOF U.S.A. The program in the U.S. has been gaining near 1,000 new members per month in the last year and now boasts over 13,000 active U.S. members
and 1,583 farms throughout the U.S.
Degan attributes the increase to “an awakening of people wanting to know where their food is from.”
Far away from the mass production food lines pumping out processed animals like sprockets, organic farms are at the root of an increasing national desire to be more in tune with the environment
through sustainable practices.

“The life of a farmer is the best life there is,” said Mark Filanowski, owner of M. Filanowski & Sons farm, a family farm in Milford that has been operating for over 100 years and specializing in flowers.

Though not a member of the WWOOF organization, Filanowski said there is no reward like farming and that a person can still make a living farming even in these hard economic times. The trick, he said, is to want to make a living, not a killing.

WWOOF is a “worldwide network of organizations” that was first born in the U.K., according to its website wwoof.org. Each branch of the network covers a region or country and performs a middleman function between hosts and volunteers. In exchange for help on the farm, which can include an array of duties and can range anywhere from a few hours or a full day’s worth of work, host farms provide food, lodging and education about organic farming.

There are a wide range of duties from harvesting and planting to the more routine and less glamorous digging of trenches and cleaning and tending to livestock. Accommodations have been reported to range from outdoor tents to complete guest bedrooms and virtual apartments.

The program is well known amongst backpackers and shoestring budget travelers; it is often cited as an excellent way to travel the rural and culturally rich areas of a country virtually for free. Membership in the U.S. WWOOF organization costs $30 and gives the member access to either online profiles with contact and host information or a print booklet.

Other than providing background and contact information, the WWOOF organizations are responsible for little else. Once a “woofer” (as they are known) finds a potential host, they then contact the host to make arrangements for as long as both parties are willing. Stays can range from weekends to months or even longer.

The organization is worldwide, enabling a person to learn about organic and sustainable living in their own state or 3,000 miles away in more than 30 countries spanning nearly every continent.

The loose format of the system emphasizes personal responsibility but also leaves room for miscommunication. Tales of woofers arriving expecting to pick fruit by the ocean in the cool summer breeze only to find hard physical labor and cold showers in tough environmental conditions are not unheard of.

Equally disappointed, farmers sometimes find their woofers expecting a bed and breakfast vacation when a central pillar of the WWOOF exchange is providing work for accommodations.

Degan emphasizes the need for communication between volunteers and hosts. She said details like meals, work schedules, work requirements and living arrangements should all be discussed thoroughly before any woofer sets out on an organic adventure.

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