With sheep, chickens, pigs and turkeys to tend, Jeanne Telderer doesn’t have time to travel the world. Instead the world comes to her.
The “world” comes to Telderer’s Rainbow Ends Farm near Neosho in the form of visitors from Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. They’re known as “WWOOFers.” The organization connects visitors – often college-age youth – with farmers. One of its missions is to promote cultural and educational exchange. The organization states it aims at building “a global community conscious of ecological farming and sustainability practices.”
Telderer began hosting WWOOFers in 2018. Some visitors stay only a few days while others have stayed for several weeks, she said. Since 2018 she has hosted about 100 WWOOFers from the United States and abroad.
“My husband travels a lot for work and my kids are in the (U.S.) Air Force so I decided to host WWOOFers,” she said.
Another reason she hosts them is that she’s passionate about farming and wants to share that passion with others, she said.
“When I started I needed to know a lot about farming,” she said. “I visited a lot of farms and pasture walks. And a lot of people mentored me. Without help from WWOOFers I don’t think I could keep going.”
WWOOFers from Austria and France recently spent time at her farm. Alexander Karrer, 18, hails from Upper Austria. He’ll graduate in June 2024 from HBLA Ursprung, an agricultural school in Elixhausen, Austria. Agricultural schools there are similar to high schools in the United States but have more of a trade-school-type focus; students attend for five years.
“I’ve learned about animal husbandry, crop cultivation and soil science,” Karrer said.
He served two internships on a farm in Austria before learning about Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
“I wanted to see the United States after watching ‘Cars,’” said Karrer, who watched the films as a young boy.
Cars is an animated film series whose protagonist is Lightning McQueen, a fictional anthropomorphic stock car that travels along “Route 66.” Karrer said he was intrigued by the road that spans the United States. When he checked the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms website for host farms, he first looked at sites in California.
“I wanted to go to the beach,” he said with a smile.
But California host farms weren’t located near the beach nor did they have good internet access. He wanted to communicate with his family in Austria so he looked for host farms in other states, he said.
“I saw the description of Jeanne’s farm, and pictures of her sheep and mobile chicken coop,” he said.
The day after he had sent an inquiry she responded. He liked that, he said, and made arrangements to stay at her farm for six weeks from the end of June to mid-August.
“Jeanne shared a lot of her knowledge about sheep and health checks,” he said.
The two worked together on a daily basis. One of their jobs was checking the sheep’s eyelids for signs of anemia, which can be an indicator of a worm infection. If the sheep’s eyelids are light pink it’s possible they have a parasite infection. Telderer taught him how to use certain herbs and plants for deworming, he said.
After working with her pigs on pasture, he said he’d like to do the same thing after he returns to Austria. Most pigs there are raised in confinement operations, he said.
Karrer’s family raises feeder cattle and farms 100 acres. He said he plans to raise livestock on pasture and grow wheat.
“I’d (eventually) like to have an organic farm and a butcher shop,” he said.
When Karrer arrived at Telderer’s farm, another WWOOFer was already there. Angelique Bettan, 25, from near Paris had arrived in May. She stayed at the Telderer farm until the end of July before returning to France. There she works as an accountant for a small beverage company.
“I loved being part of the morning chores,” she said.
She learned about sheep fleeces, gardening, fence repair, rotational grazing, poultry processing, farmhouse renovation and more, she said. She and Karrer helped paint a room for Telderer, who also has a small farm-stay business.
Another highlight was showing animals and talking to visitors about them during a farm tour Telderer hosted in May, Bettan said. That gave her the opportunity to talk to visitors about how Telderer’s farm works.
Bettan said she enjoyed the pigs the most.
“I like them because they have personalities,” she said. “(Eventually) I’d like to have my own farm in France or the United States. I’d like to have a small-scale farm – about 20 acres.”
In their free time Telderer and the WWOOFers prepared and shared meals together. Bettan shared how to make sourdough starter while Karrer demonstrated how to make spaetzle and schnitzel.
Farming is a lot of work, Telderer said, but she loves it. And while that work doesn’t allow her much time to travel away from her Neosho farm, the world – through WWOOFers – comes to her.
This is an original article written for Agri-View, a Lee Enterprises agricultural publication based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit AgriView.com for more information.
By Lynn Grooms