Front Porch News: What Is WWOOFing?

Aug 16, 2023

What is WWOOFing? Learn about sustainable farming during your next vacation.

So you’ve heard of those who take themselves on trips for their birthday. Well this year, I decided to volunteer on a farm to celebrate another loop around the sun. I thought I’d share how it went. 

Those of you who’ve considered traveling solo on a budget like myself, this is also for you.

For the past several years I’ve known about this program called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). In a nutshell, it’s an organization that allows people from around the world to volunteer their time on a farm in exchange for free room and board. Most of the time, meals are also included! 

This allows the volunteer to save money on their trip, get to know locals in the area and learn more about the important practices of sustainable food production. 

Those goals were EXACTLY what I was going for – emphasis on saving money of course. (Need to put away all the funds I can in order to afford that 750 sq foot house when I’m 45. I digress.)

Of all the farms on the website, I had to pick ONE with a criteria in mind. 

  1. The drive there would need to be less than 5 hours 
  2. The host would allow me to stay for less than 2 weeks (example: there’s a few in places like Hawaii that require a month minimum)
  3. The farm would ideally have a focus on education, as I was new to this and wanted to do a good job. Some farms prefer you to have experience as they can be too busy and teaching a newbie might slow them down… especially if you’re only there temporarily. 
  4. The farm would be close to explorable towns and scenic hiking trails.

This brought me to St. Joseph Center Urban Farm in Little Rock, AR. Their non-profit is held on the outside of town that preserves a Catholic orphanage building that was built in 1910. SUPER cool. Also a little spooky in the halls at night…

Ranging on 63 acres of property, St. Joseph’s Center managed many facets of a farming operation. 

Starting with the array of livestock, from cattle and goats to bees, rabbits, and one really fluffy dog.

Their farmers market stand, aptly named “The Farm Stand,” showcased a vibrant assortment of fresh produce grown about 50 feet away from the stand itself. They also included homemade honeys and jams, pickles, pasta, pastries – the works! 

Complementing their efforts, skilled farmers at St. Joseph’s also offered preservation classes, herbal apothecary, and you could even come out for “Yoga With The Goats”!? (Unfortunately these were not scheduled during my time at the farm.) Check out their other programs here.

The community spirit extended further, with locals being offered dedicated garden plots for a nominal monthly fee, giving them the chance to learn from the professionals and foster a sense of togetherness.

WWOOFers enjoy the added perk of complimentary access to produce from The Farm Stand to cook their meals with, alongside a private dorm room for reprieve. 

Safe to say, I was sold. I reached out to the farm on the WWOOF website, set up a meeting, and was approved to volunteer

My stay lasted 5 short days. I was the only WWOOFer on site during that time so I took advantage of the one-on-one instruction from the farmers. I tell you, I learned SO MUCH. Everyone there was very welcoming and accommodating. They only required four hours of work every day and during those hours, I probably asked a thousand or two questions.  🤓

Among the things I learned, here’s some highlights:

  1. Rotate vegetables in different plots season-to-season to prevent pests from attacking the crops, and diseases from taking over. 
  2. How and why to sort compost and mix with soil.
  3. Micro greens are probably the easiest green thing to grow besides grass. 
  4. Tomato plants + sunscreen = yellow skin

That shortlist just scratches the surface of what I gathered in my time at St. Joseph’s. And I know in the Hopkins County demographic, these things seem elementary. But listen, I work in marketing and spend a lot of time in the city, okay I’m learning. 

Some of my favorite activities while there were definitely harvesting (blackberries especially) and sorting crops into containers for The Farm Stand – something about making precise measurements of cilantro was satisfying. OH and that’s ANOTHER thing! The beautiful aroma of fresh herbs granted me DAYS worth of serotonin. It was lovely. 

Knowing I’d be out in the sun, during a time of year when the weather was absolutely perfect made everyday a dream. I was excited to learn, to connect with the outdoors, and really to just help out in some way. Four hours went by in a flash every day and I was left with the rest of the day to explore on my own. 

While my base was in Little Rock, I had plans to see Fayetteville, AR. As well as hike around nearby trails, get some solid reading time in and just enjoy being unplugged. 

Gratitude in the form of apple cinnamon muffins came when I stayed up one night and baked the crew some breakfast for the next morning. My way to say thank you for their time and expertise I was benefiting from. They were surprised and delighted by the gesture. I came back to an empty pan of crumbs. No mean to brag. 

Once my time at St. Joseph’s came to a close I had cleaning tasks to complete and the dreadful goodbyes to tackle on my way out. I soaked up the last moments of my trip, taking pictures and writing down everything I could remember. 

As we exchanged farewells, they surprised me with a very sweet card. Thanking me for my help, my company and my pastries. A very thoughtful finishing touch to an amazing week.

It was a wonderful experience. Just how I wanted to celebrate becoming one year older. I recommend anyone who’s looking for an opportunity like this to check out the WWOOF website and make your travels meaningful. 

You wont regret the valuable lessons, the wonderful connections and the opportunity to be of service to an undervalued industry that is local farming. 

By Christian Dicus

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