Some students organic farm for room, board worldwide
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 03:05
ile “WWOOFing” in Costa Rica and Nepal on winter breaks, junior Elizabeth Hetterly grew crops and learned to reduce her carbon footprint.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF, is a database of international organic farms from which volunteers can choose to work. Instead of payment, WWOOFers receive food and accommodations for volunteering their time.
Hetterly, along with graduate student Eva Wilson, spoke about their WWOOFING experiences on Wednesday in Willard Hall.
“When you’re WWOOFing, you learn how to cook without electricity and it’s an incredible skill that you can’t find everywhere,” Hetterly said.
Hetterly has worked on organic farms three times, the first time in Virginia, and she said her second WWOOFing trip in Nepal proved to be challenging but rewarding.
“I just felt like that stupid tourist and I was trying to pick asparagus and I would end up snapping off the top. I wanted to prove to them that I could do this,” she said. “I would be out there every day. After a couple of days I just had this connection and it was really cool because at a certain point I felt like I earned their respect.”
Though she eventually connected with the natives, she encountered cultural barriers while staying for five weeks in the summer of 2010.
Hetterly said she did not know any Nepali and communicated through her host family’s two English-speaking daughters. She said she also adopted some local customs.
“They would feed me a lot, like five times a day. It’s rude if you don’t finish everything on your plate,” Hetterly said. “I didn’t want to upset them so I force-fed myself.”
After her trip to Nepal, Hetterly continued her work on organic farms in Costa Rica, where she stayed with other WWOOFers at Cabanas Siempre Verde. There, volunteers worked together to build a greenhouse to shelter plants from excessive rain. She travelled on foot through the country on a pilgrimage honoring Costa Rica’s patron saint, an 80-mile trip that took 24 hours.
Wilson said she decided to stay in the United States and WWOOF in Washington state.
“Me and my boyfriend decided to do WWOOFing and we were like, ‘Where should we go? Let’s just pick a place and travel there’—because the world was our oyster,” Wilson said.
The first time Wilson participated, she spent six weeks in Washington state and worked approximately 40 hours each week. Wilson said she and her boyfriend performed various jobs at the farm, including cutting weeds from 30 acres of blueberry plants, caring for chickens and cows and discussed solar energy with the farm owners, who were installing solar panels at the time.
Wilson said it was challenging work to handle the heavy animals, but that she also found it rewarding to feed and care for them.
“We had to isolate calves and bring them around people and lasso them in because they were like, 300 pounds,” Wilson said. “There was this point where me and my boyfriend looked at each other and said, ‘I don’t know if I’m cut out to do this work.’”
Wilson said that she became fond of the family that provided her housing.
“We were really close to the family and we would sit with a cup of coffee and get into these huge pontificating conversations,” Wilson said. “We love to find out what’s going on with them and how the chickens are doing.”
Junior Kelly Saunders said she attended the talk because she wants to become involved with sustainable living.
“I just want to give back to others and I want to work on an organic farm and grow organically,” Saunders said.
Junior Sam Nestory traveled to Tennessee on a university alternative break trip this past spring break, where a fellow volunteer who had previously WWOOFed encouraged the group to participate.
“I am definitely going to go next winter session,” Nestory said. “I was thinking New Zealand for my first WWOOFing experience because I want to experience a different culture, but I want to learn the language before I go somewhere else. Since they speak English there, it would be a good first experience.”
Hetterly said she wanted to advise the audience about the amount of work expected of WWOOFING participants.
“It’s a great experience, but it is an adventure, and prepare to get your hands dirty,” she said.