WWOOFing down under
Adventures on international organic farms
By Leighton Blackwell
Recently I went WWOOFing in New Zealand. Along with my girlfriend Laura, I signed up for the three-month trip to have fun, learn about another land and trade work on farms.
We found out about WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) from friends and looked it up online. The company sent us books for roughly $40 that listed over 900 farms which either practice or are converting to organic, biodynamic, permaculture or sustainable farming. A brief description of the type of farm and other specifics are listed below the name, number and address in the book. It was too easy.
We jumped the jet in San Francisco, and 13 hours later we were in Auckland city (the north island). There, we caught a bus south to a little surf town called Raglan, and were picked up by our first hosts.
The setting was 40 minutes from town out a windy country road that became four-wheeling driving. They lived on 60-plus acres of protected native bush. The farm was labeled as small family farm with alternative energy resources and a three-meter outdoor trapeze. We couldn’t resist.
The circus family of four had a couple solar panels, a wind turbine on a 30 foot pole that was always spinning, and a generator they fired up every now and then to run energy efficient lights, a washer and stereo system.
Our accommodation was in a comfortable little camper. One of my favorite memories was being warm and dry at night in our sleeping bags, listening to the rain hit the tin roof.
We did a fair bit of weeding in the humble garden that was growing beets, squash, carrots, zucchini, beans and more. I helped fill potholes with gravel, Laura would bake and feed the chickens and pigs, and we shared the four hours a day (a WWOOF standard) with much delight.
We were finished around noon, and had the rest of the day to do anything we wanted. We explored the surrounding bush, did our laundry in the creek and practiced a variety of circus acts as well.
After two weeks, we were ready to get on. So we headed north and visited six other family farms and one vegan commune. While we were farming throughout the north island, we experienced a wonderful variety of work from a sub-tropical garden with accommodations, to a small family growing heaps of organic produce to sell at their country store and the Saturday market in town. We spent three weeks at a retreat center that was one of the most aesthetically beautiful places on the planet. While we were there, we cooked and cleaned for a number of groups that rented the facility. At the vegan commune we maintained paths, fought gorse, weeded and mulched fruit trees, and cooked community meals. At night we often discussed animal cruelty and the pros and cons of a vegan life.
Laura and I hitch hiked almost everywhere. We never waited more than 30 minutes for a ride and met really sweet people. One Maori deliveryman drove us a half hour out of his way into the heart of Auckland city, and gave us a snack as he dropped us off a block from our destination. We spent our last week on the Great Barrier island camping, hiking and hitching and enjoying nature at its loudest.
I found the people to be very enthusiastic and open minded for the most part. The ones who were hosts for WWOOF all aspired to live a more conscious life. They taught me about farming, diet, alternative energy, spirituality but most of all about community. All the people I worked for knew that the best way to a better world is through communication, and working together. With a program like this, good things are destined to happen.
Leighton Blackwell hails from Beaver Creek on the Central Oregon Coast, and has traveled the world over. See www.wwoof.org to start your own adventure.