By Stacy Santini
This is the first in a four-part series.
I started WWOOFing this past spring, and no, I do not mean I acquired a new pastime of barking like a dog. I joined a movement that is gaining worldwide momentum and, in some way, is a reminder of the days when joining the Peace Corps was all the rage. I walked through my fear; left my home, family and friends, and entered the world of farming in rural New England. Along with my little dog, Charles Crawford, I boarded the Port Jefferson ferry, kissed suburbia goodbye for several months and embraced a self-imposed challenge that would change me, my value system and perceptions about the world forever.
WWOOF-USA is an entity that gives people the opportunity to work and live on farms throughout the United States and is rapidly injecting awareness into our culture about sustainable living and helping our nation rid itself of an extremely self-entitled and wasteful mindset. One of their key goals is to integrate farming, food, culture and environment.
The WWOOF program began in the United Kingdom in 1971, by Sue Coppard ,under the name “Working Weekends on Organic Farms,” as an opportunity for London city dwellers to experience the growing organic farming evolution in the countryside. Her idea blew wind onto a smoldering brush fire, and today, WWOOF programs, currently known as “Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms,” has expanded to more than 100 countries, each acting independently.
Becoming a WWOOFer is rather simple. One registers online and then arranges their stay with a host family. The website is extremely user friendly and feedback from other WWOOFer’s is inclusive. A prospective WWOOFer’s key task is to identify exactly what type of experience they wish to have, whether it is comprehensive organic farming, working with animals or beekeeping, and of course what part of the world they wish to have this experience in.
The riptide that was my final motivation to embark on this journey was sudden, but the ebb and flow of the currents encouraging me to have this experience were occurring for years.
As a music lover and journalist, I have the privilege of witnessing some of the most creative music being produced. As a result of being a part of the Grateful Dead community for as far back as I can remember, I have had the opportunity to be exposed to bluegrass and roots genres. In recent years, I can, without reservation, say that I have become a dedicated fan of bands like The Infamous Stringdusters, Greensky Bluegrass, Carolina Chocolate Drops and my ultimate favorite, Railroad Earth.
This affinity has lend itself to meeting some of the most down-to-earth, creative and impassioned people in the country. Coming from all walks in life, I found that there was a common denominator, a thread that linked them all together — their love for the earth and their desire to experience nature in the here-and-now.
One such couple’s adventures, Melanie and Matt, whom I now count among my closest friends, became the template for my expedition.
I started to pay close attention to their travels, observed them via social media, living and WWOOFing off the grid in Kodiak, Alaska. I admired their tenacity as they boated amongst whales, built greenhouses and preserved fruit. They were standing in the middle of their dreams and living with freedom and purpose. Their return to New England to run Tracie’s Community Farm, a small, organic farm in Fitzwilliams, New Hampshire, provoked a visit, and it was here I witnessed firsthand the meaning of “the good life” and how it had been hubristic of me to keep walking down a road to “someday.” I quickly noted that my “someday” had arrived and it was time to step out of my comfort zone and follow in their footsteps.
And so my Thoreau-like journey commenced. I started to hike with the Adirondack Mountain Club in the Catskills and began my planning to become a WWOOFer.
Like what you see? Read part two here.
Stacy Santini is a freelance reporter for Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Look for her adventures at Owen Farm in Hopkinton, N.H., and Patch Farm in Denmark, Maine, in the next three issues of Arts & Lifestyles.