WWOOF and HelpX: Seeing the World One Farm at a Time

The light filters through the branches of the plum tree, each leaf outlined in a brilliant yellow from the just risen sun. We are reaching up, stretching to pluck the abundant purple plums above us.

In about an hour, we’ll all join together for our first meal of the day; muesli, homemade yogurt, and fresh fruit salad, made with fruit we picked earlier in the week.

I’m on an organic stone fruit orchard in Australia, volunteering with five other travelers from around the world. After breakfast, we gather in a shed for our next job. We laugh and tell stories around a table as we carefully slice fruit for the solar drier. Once our four hours of volunteering are over, we convene with the farmers and share a big communal lunch.

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The rest of the day we have free to explorewe can borrow bikes, go for a walk around the neighboring orchards, relax and read books, or talk and play games with our new friends. At dinnertime we reconvene for a group meal, which we take turns each night cooking. Tonight, the Japanese travelers are trying their hand at a quiche, and I overhear them asking the older couple from Switzerland for advice about how to make the perfect crust.

DSC_1300Every day, I am learning new, practical skills for free. More importantly, though, I’m meeting like-minded travelers intent on learning from each other and giving back to the world. We are WWOOFers – Willing Workers on Organic Farms.

The minimum day requirement varies depending on the hosts. Most ask for at least one or two weeks, although its possible to arrange a shorter or longer stay. Some hosts will allow language learners or people interested in starting their own farm to stay for a long time, from 3 months to a year to forever! As a WWOOFer, though, if I really disliked or felt uncomfortable at a farm for any reason, I would be free to leave the next day.

Related Article: The Effect of Agriculture on the Planet

WWOOFing for the past two years in Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia has changed my whole outlook on life. Before, I assumed that my life would be linear; I would go to graduate school, get a job, buy a house, and raise a family, like most people I have known. After WWOOFing, I have experienced first-hand the many alternatives there are to that path.

WWOOF was the first organized program of its kind, created in 1971 by a London secretary named Sue Coppard. Her aim was to bring busy city folk back to nature with weekend trips to farms in the country. More than 40 years later, there are now thousands of places to WWDSC_3157OOF in 99 countries all over the world. In Australia alone, there were 2287 host farmers looking for volunteers in 2010.

Since its creation, WWOOFing has evolved to keep up with the growing demand from both travelers and farmers. Other voluntourism programs have also sprung up to embrace this new form of travel, such as HelpX. This websiteexpands far beyond organic farms to hundreds of other volunteer opportunities. Through the HelpX program, I’ve painted the outside of a bed and breakfast in New Zealand and taught English to kids in Bali. Volunteer projects are rarely boring.

Related Article: Volunteering is Good for Your Health

Case in point, one of my projects involved building teepees and adobe houses in Australia. Don and Sue live in a straw bale house they made with their own hands on their 10 acre property outside of a small town in South Australia. Even though they are Australian, the couple is fascinated with Native American spirituality and lifestyle.

Inspired by the Lakota tribe, they lovingly create custom-built teepees of all sizes. One overwhelmed mother wanted a private retreat to escape from her boisterous children, while another man wanted a space where he could safely barbecuDSC_0853e in the backyard of his high-fire risk neighborhood. Sue and Don also have teepees with beds and firepits set up on their property for “glamping,” or glamorous camping.

When I first accompanied Don to the forest, he knelt on the ground and thanked the trees for their contribution to his art. Then we sawed down trees and stacked them on top of his old Honda, taking them back to his property to strip off the bark, and sand smooth. A few days later, after he had measured and sewn the canvas cover, we drove to a customer’s house and set up the 25-foot-wide teepee in the moonlight. It was a magical experience.

On that same trip, I spent my mornings chopping down thistles, feeling like a warrior from Lord of the Rings. With other WWOOFers from Canada and Finland I built a spiral herb garden. We also spread a sandy clay on the walls of a new straw-bale structure they were building. Sue and Don don’t count hours, they just told us what projects they needed help with on their expansive property nestled in a eucalyptus forest, where platypus swim in the stream and kangaroos gather in the pasture at sunset. I stayed in a straw-bale cabin there for two weeks.

Related Article: Permaculture Connection

Not all voluntourism experiences have been as ideal, though. I remember working for a commercial organic vegetable farmer who needed 3-8 WWOOFers to weed for 5 hours a day just to keep his business running. I only stayed there for a few days because I was unhappy with the way he treated us. He had been hosting WWOOFers for more than 10 years and was disillusioned by the whole scheme, not bothering to learn anyone’s names.DSC_0810

Paul Kretchner’s biodynamic stone fruit orchard has a completely different take. Thanks to a roster updated daily, I knew exactly what my duties were to be, hour for hour, every day I was there. I found this comforting, since I knew that I was giving exactly what they expected.

Over the past 13 years, Paul has happily hosted 315 volunteers on his orchard.

WWOOFers add a diversity and interest to our lives, which we would otherwise not have,

he says. After traveling for 3 years in the USA, Canada, and South America, Paul also knows the importance of having a safe respite from travel for a week or more.

WWOOFing gives volunteers a place to stay for a while in a family setting, and to have some ‘home life‘. It’s an opportunity to experience this part of Australia, and to learn new skills working on a fruit property. For non-English speakers, it’s a great opportunity to improve their English.

Related Article: Edible Landscapes

There are no age limits or requirements to volunteering. Many farms, including Paul’s, accept families with small children, and enjoy having older WWOOFers.

The oldest volunteer we had was 70, from Switzerland, and he did a fantastic job,

said Paul. Likewise, the minimum stay varies from host to host. Most ask for at least one or two weeks, although its possible to arrange a shorter or longer stay. Some hosts will allow language learners

or people interested in starting their own farm to stay for a long time, from 3 months to a year to indefinitely. However, if WWOOFers felt uncomfortable a farm for any reason, they are free to leave the next day.

On the merits of voluntourism, James Nolting, a Californian who has volunteered on ten farms around Australia and New Zealand says:

Volunteering is the purest form of cultural exchange. There is no money changing hands, only the goodwill of travelers and hosts. I WWOOF because it’s a great way to get in touch with a new place. I get to meet the locals and dive into a different culture. It makes me feel more connected, less like a tourist and more like a member of the community.

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For me, WWOOFing has exposed me to new ways of life I never would have dreamed of. I am realizing that there are many other ways to live than those I have seen in my own country. These ongoing discoveries challenge me to redefine my life plan. Now, there are so many more options to choose from.

When I volunteer, my travel experience has a deeper meaning, transcending sightseeing and tourism. I feel fulfilled and powerful when I know that I’m helping someone.

Sources:

Whereisamber.com

Youngslug.blogspot.com

http://whereisamber.com/2013/02/22/taralee-orchard/

http://whereisamber.com/2013/02/26/gentle-earth-walking/

https://wondergressive.com/2012/11/14/skipping-breakfast-leads-to-unhealthy-food-consumption/

http://www.helpx.net/

http://www.wwoof.net/

http://wwoofinternational.org/history-of-wwoof/

www.wwoof.net/fileadmin/documents/Press_kit_stats.pdf

http://www.eslcafe.com/

https://wondergressive.com/2013/07/16/the-friends-of-the-indian-and-how-they-treated-their-friends/

http://www.amazon.com/Lord-Rings-J-R-R-Tolkien/dp/0544003411/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1379583667&sr=1-3&keywords=lord+of+the+rings

http://youngslug.blogspot.com/2012/02/on-farm.html

 

Google’s Self Driving Car Initiative

 

The self driving car is Google’s initiative, but what drives the giant to complete it?

Google has yet to NOT surprise me. From balloon wifi to free internet to Google glasses. I mean, Google finds ways to incorporate itself into everyone’s daily lives one way or another. If you have an android phone, the Play Store where you get all your apps? Google. How about your web browser Chrome? Google. (Mind you if you don’t have it, it is quite possibly the best browser out there, at least from what I have tested.) I mean who doesn’t use Google.com for their daily searches. How about YouTube; now I know for a FACT ya’ll use YouTube. And yes, Google owns that too. Here is a diagram of stuff Google owns and invests in, just for fun.

Related ArticleThe Road Rage is Strong With This One

 

 

It seems that Google is once again taking things further, this time in the form of a self driving car. As it is, Google has been working on self driving cars for a long time now, but most recently they decided to roll out their idea into the world around us. Google’s self driving car initiative is taking to the public streets for tests and trials as they move forward to a promised public release date of 2017. But of course, that consumer friendly release of a self driving car is all speculation, and critics such as Dan Flores, from General Motors’ advanced technology group, say very hurtful things:

 We do not think someone will have a fully autonomous production vehicle that soon, vehicles that can drive themselves are years — maybe decades — away. The technology will develop in steps to allow the vehicle to do more and act incrementally as sensors get more robust and costs come down.

Leave it to a big auto company like GM to put us down. And yet, Google perseveres. Already 3 states have legalized public testing of the self driving cars; Nevada, California, and Florida have made changes to laws to help Google’s plans for driver-less cars to move forward. Already we are seeing companies work on transport grids that would warn drivers of upcoming hazards and instant traffic details. With technology like this in the works, it wouldn’t be too unrealistic to expect driver-less cars sometime very soon.

Google’s future in car transportation seems to point to a Google taxi service, a Robo Taxi of sorts. With the newly introduced, and fairly popular Lyft driving services, it would only make sense for Google to move in the direction of replacing conventional taxis. As this idea is only speculative, it does somewhat make sense. A search engine giant that has a taxi service to inspire more search engine time goodness? Focusing on creating self driving cars to allow for more YouTubing and Google+ing? Why else is Google Maps so popular and updated so frequently?

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Who knows what is in store for driver-less cars from Google. With the way things are panning out I wouldn’t be surprised if Google’s driveless cars featured solar panels and some sort of wind turbine to gather energy throughout the daily drives. Then again, (deep breath) I wouldn’t be surprised if Google turned out to be run by a self aware computer that was looking to entwine itself into everything and anything living on Earth only to have the human race rise against it and fight nearly to extinction but through a last ditch effort survive and beat the main computer that the AI started from because of course the computer wouldn’t think to make a lot of central hubs that it can reside in. Boy wouldn’t that be a sci-fi movie cliche. Cheers to artificial intelligence!

 

Research:

Google Glass

Wikipedia: Google Play

Google Browser: Chrome

CNET: How Google’s robo-cars mean the end of driving as we know it

GM: Dan Flores

CNET: First Smart Cars, Next Smart Transport Grids

USA Today: States take the wheel on drive-less cars

Google’s Robo-Taxi Rumors

Be a Lyft Driver

Google Plus

Google Maps

Wondergressive: A Non-Loony Google Project Called Loon

Wondergressive: Free Internet, Help Yourself

Wondergressive: The Road Rage is Strong With This One

Wondergressive: Blimps are the Future!