Trade in cubicle life—For a few weeks—To live on an organic farm
By Kristan Schiller
Have you ever fantasized about escaping in your Tahoe from your humdrum routine and getting back to the land? Trading in your cubicle, perhaps, for a gardener’s hoe? Well, you can do just that through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (also known as WWOOF). Founded in 1971 when London secretary Sue Coppard decided she wanted to support the organic movement and provide urban dwellers with access to the countryside, WWOOF began with just a handful of working weekends at a biodynamic farm in Sussex, England. Today WWOOF operates globally with host farms in 99 countries, including the United States.
From harvesting apples in Vermont to picking grapes in California wine country, WWOOF offers a full range of “farm experiences” across America for able-bodied, interested participants. In exchange for your labor, you’ll receive food, accommodations and a priceless opportunity to learn about organic and ecologically sound growing methods. What’s more, you’ll have the opportunity to breathe in the countryside’s fresh air. Though WWOOF’s U.S. website offers descriptions of all of WWOOF’s host farms across the country, here’s a small selection to rouse your rural reverie. (At WWOOF’s request, farm names and exact locations have been withheld to protect the farmers’ privacy. Should you decide to volunteer, WWOOF will disclose all the details.)
Northern California Vineyard
This 13-acre farm in the Sierra foothills of northern California consists of a 2-acre vineyard, an acre of olive trees and a cluster of apricot, fig, pear, walnut and jujube trees alongside a wooded oak forest. Organic vegetables are also grown year-round. The owners describe the setting as “Tuscan-like,” with southwest-facing sunny slopes situated above the valley fog but below the cold mountain snows. The main products of the farm, which runs on solar power, are wine and olive oil; however, the owners also contribute to a local organization that sells organic fruits and vegetables to urban consumers.
Montana Lavender Farm
This 20-acre farm in Paradise, Montana, about an hour from Missoula, grows mainly lavender. The height of the lavender harvest runs from late June to late July and the prime tasks on the farm consist of planting, harvesting and drying the lavender crop as well as making lavender bouquets for the local farmers’ market. The household is vegetarian but meat eaters are welcome and have use of an outdoor grill for cooking. The farm is close to a host of outdoor splendors including the National Bison Range in Charlo, Montana, and scenic Flathead Lake.
Vermont Apple Orchard
This low-input farm, working toward perennial-based agriculture, consists of a 5-acre orchard of mostly apples, though berries and other fruits are also grown. The farm raises Icelandic sheep and honeybees, too. “Wwoofers” here help out during the month of June with all aspects of farming and homesteading, including haying, wood stacking, sheep shearing, gardening, apple tree mulching and beekeeping. A favorite pastime is singing while you work, so in addition to agricultural skills, expect to learn a handful of traditional European folk songs from Georgia, Russia and Great Britain.
Georgia Blueberry Farm
Not far from the bustling college town of Athens, Georgia, this farm, surrounded by birds and trees, harvests mainly blueberries. (Recently, the farm has started growing vegetables, muscadine grapes and pumpkins.) There’s also a beehive on the property that the owners hope to expand in the coming years. The farm houses “Wwoofers” in a rustic cabin beside a nearby creek, close to the farm. Thus far, farm owners have given a warm Southern welcome to Wwoof volunteers from as far away as France, England, Canada, China and the Czech Republic.
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Kristan Schiller is a New York-based travel writer and blogger whose articles have appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure and Fodor’s, as well as on Forbestraveler.com and Salon.com.