Three years ago Lorna Singleton – then 25 – turned into working in a Manchester organic farms office as an coverage enterprise claims clerk whilst she decided there needed to be greater to existence: “I’m a rustic bumpkin at heart, and some of my buddies had been travelling around Scotland operating on farms as a part of a volunteering scheme,” she explains. She decided to do the equal and stuck the malicious program, in the end giving up her activity.
As a volunteer helping Edward Acland, who runs a 15-acre smallholding simply outside Kendal in Cumbria, she found out the professional craft of coppicing – the conventional approach of forest control – and inexperienced woodworking, without using oil or diesel-powered chainsaws and different such tools. Those skills won her a sought-after place on a 3-year apprenticeship via the Bill Hogarth Memorial Apprenticeship Trust.
“I can’t accept as true with how lucky I’ve been,” says Singleton, one of the heaps of folks that now frequently volunteer in this way – thru a globally acknowledged scheme referred to as World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Wwoof. “I observed a person capable of train me what I certainly desired to learn. It’s one element to study approximately coppicing however any other to get a person to reveal you first-hand a way to do it.”
The wwoofing movement sprang from very humble origins forty years ago. As a child, Sue Coppard looked ahead to staying on her uncle’s farm all through the faculty vacations: “My brother and I, and cousin Charles who lived there, ran wild via the fields and woods and commonly got up to mischief. I continually hankered to get back.”
But later, residing and running as a secretary in London, she have become more and more frustrated that it was hard to fulfil her “desperate need” to sometimes get away to the countryside. After hitting the telephones, she managed to find a farm (Caplehurst Farm, now Emerson College) in East Sussex, which might receive “unskilled but willing townie labour” who had been happy to work for board and accommodations.
That become again in 1971 – and Coppard admits she had no concept she became starting some thing that might come to be goodbye-lasting and influential. It turned into set up as Wwoof (Working Weekends on Organic Farms) and nonetheless has the same (and, arguably, irritatingly clumsy) acronym. It is administered in keeping with the equal concepts wherein volunteers paintings on “host” farms and smallholdings in trade for meals, accommodation and an possibility to learn about organic agriculture and gather realistic abilties.
The promise of a no-strings “Good Life” manner of existence is attracting a brand new wave of enthusiastic volunteers, of every age, who have been organic farms unable to get jobs because of the recession or are disappointed with a society driven by way of consumerism. Some, like Singleton, wwoof for the occasional day or weekends, at the same time as some do it as a cheap excursion and an possibility to satisfy new humans. Volunteers from distant places use it as a manner to go to the United Kingdom and study English. And there are even some long-time period wwoofers who, content with a frugal lifestyles and minimum personal possessions, undertake it as a permanent life-style. Some wwoof on their own, others in pairs and even groups.
Today within the UK there are 480 registered “hosts”, and 5,534 energetic wwoofers, the volunteers who do the hard graft. Worldwide, there are an expected 6,000 hosts in one hundred international locations. As the motion has grown, it has proved appealing to all ages.
“It’s an adventure, you could visit other regions or international locations relatively inexpensively and ‘pass local’ and discover about the existence of the people residing there,” Coppard organic farms says. “Perhaps a few are useless keen, as I was, to get into the nation-state. And I’m certain some – specially when they learn extra – are converts to natural strategies of farming and growing. Some even want to examine these techniques to pursue this as a profession.
“And I guess it’s a outstanding way of getting bodily workout. You can strive a distinctive way of life, which include living in a commune or network as some wwoof places are. I recognise of wwoofers who have shaped friendships with their wwoof hosts who have helped them thru a difficult spell in their life.”
For younger people, perhaps the ones taking an opening 12 months and suffering to discover a task, operating stints contain a supervised and “looked after” scenario, are cheap (no money really adjustments arms) and amount to an amazing operating vacation. Friendships are fashioned and there have even been marriages, in line with Wwoof spokeswoman Scarlett Penn, who has worked on both aspects of the fence. She explains: “I wager it is continually been a slow movement, word-of-mouth and, well, organic form of agency. In the beyond it changed into in all likelihood considered quirky, hippy and fringe, however with the burgeoning hobby in the surroundings, nearby community, meals and growing, suddenly we don’t seem pretty as bonkers as we did.”
As the motion has advanced, wwoofers have grown at a faster charge and now outnumber their hosts by way of about 10 to one. As a easy “alternate” device, it relies on goodwill – on both facets – to make it a hit. And the internet has transformed conversation between volunteers and potential hosts – especially while they’re in special nations or maybe continents – and facilitates to keep administrative prices low.
So how does it paintings? Wwoof UK holds a listing of natural farms, gardens and smallholdings, all supplying meals and lodging in change for sensible assist on their land. Official “organic” certification via a body together with the Soil Association is not required – the idea is to have a commitment to the standards of sustainability and organic farming.
Some may warn of the possibility of hosts exploiting volunteers as “slave labour”, although there are fundamental guidelines in region. Wwoofers can assume to paintings approximately 5 to six hours in line with day for five days a week, or a mixture of hours/days to healthy the events concerned – but not more than 30 hours according to week. And, importantly, the set-up aims to treat the parties as equals instead of an business enterprise/employee situation.
To volunteer on host farms within the UK you need to turn out to be a member of Wwoof UK. The annual charge online is £20 for individuals, £30 for 2 applicants, and £30 for hosts. For insurance reasons contributors need to be 18, however in case you are younger than this and observed by means of a parent/dad or mum who is a member, you could volunteer alongside them as their based.
Acland, sixty eight, and his spouse, have run their smallholding as a part of a small community of neighbours and prefer-minded people for 35 years. “I think officially I am a lowland crofter, and we revel in the pride of being self-enough,” he says. The couple have been Wwoof hosts seeing that 2000 and reckon they have had 120-plus wwoofers on this time – generally visiting each month of the yr except December and January. “But we’re more and more locating we’ve got to turn humans away,” he says.
Trudi Warner, 56, has been wwoofing for 10 years and says her lifestyles has been converted. “I become doing weekend conservation work with the National Trust and I started to impeach what it was all approximately,” she explains. “I might force a long manner in my vehicle to clear some rhododendrons. And it didn’t tick the animal or the food manufacturing boxes for me.”
Warner commenced by way of wwoofing at weekends in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, and went part-time in her job as a intellectual health clinician before ultimately giving that up and wwoofing her way up the west coast to the Scottish islands. She rattles off an excellent listing of abilities acquired: “I can construct dry-stone walls, I can forage, I can look after and milk animals, I can grow veggies and I can bake my very own bread. I sense more healthy and healthier than I actually have executed earlier than due to the bodily work and spending lots of time exterior. But I actually have a mind and I felt prepared to have some duty again.” This month she everyday a suggestion of a brand new, component-time process, despite the fact that she plans to hold on wwoofing in her spare time.
There are benefits – often unexpected – for the hosts too. Joy Attwood-Harris, fifty six, moved along with her late husband George to a five-acre smallholding in Staffordshire in 1981, armed with a copy of The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency with the aid of John Seymour. She recalls: “We in no way did control to surrender the day jobs, or not for lengthy. We’ve gardened organically given that then, and had a variable population of goats, geese, geese, chickens, horses and cats plus numerous vegetable garden, fruit timber/trees, and an acre of timber coppiced for firewood.”
They first heard approximately Wwoof within the Nineteen Eighties from a nearby smallholder institution, but it changed into handiest after George died in 2007 that Joy became a host, “to assist maintain the area going, and, if I’m sincere, to fill the house with people and to keep me too busy to think”.