I remember mentioning this to some folks and I got a big bucket of crazy in response. Stuff about how they tried to travel this path and it was a disaster. The volunteers couldn't do anything - an experienced farm hand might cost, but is worth it.
To me, I think it has a lot more to do with the farm/farmer. I think it is easy to have disaster in this space, but in the hands of the right person, this could work out exceptionally well for everybody.
paul wheaton wrote: The volunteers couldn't do anything - an experienced farm hand might cost, but is worth it.
To me, I think it has a lot more to do with the farm/farmer.
I agree, Paul. Has to do with knowing how to manage and motivate people. Maybe get the Complete Idiot's Guide? Screen for work ethic of course. At least have them do 1 day of probationary mulching, planting etc and see how they do. Explain up front that their first day is key.
My understanding was that WWOOFers expect to be instructed over the course of their stay. Maybe the farmer in question didn't expect to teach?
"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men. They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
When I was young, I worked the harvests. The farms would hire more than they need and be really quick to fire people. The people skills were generally awful. You instructions were mumbled to you, so you had to:
1) decipher mumble 2) be expected to know all sorts of weird stuff: this was labeled as "common sense" 3) accept verbal abuse without responding in kind
I guess I was good enough at these three that I could keep my job. And I'm sure it still goes on. And I can also see most folks not putting up with that for even 20 minutes.
So I can imagine a paid farm hand putting up with that and evenutally earning the respect of the farmer so that the farmer drops #3 and a long term situation can be arranged. And so the farmer is, therefore, convinced that this works. And when a wwoofer comes along and can't seem to meet this expectation, then blame the wwoofer.
Advertise"visitor days" when the public is invited to spend 3 days and 2 nights with you. (Weekend recommended). Charge $75-150, in exchange for room and board and the experience of living and working among you. Have some sort of social event/performance in the evening one night. Possible recruitment tool as well.
I suspect that you have to find an intersect. If a wwoofer or intern is trying to complete a requirement at school, it might not work so well. For many, they feel the internship is not needed, so aren't happy to be doing it, and spend a lot of their time criticizing instead of doing.
Probably the best situation would be a person who wishes to do the same but wants the experience first. Especially ones who wish to be in permaculture understanding it is going to be hard work.
Not sure I would ever want a worker who is doing it as a vacation or learning experience. I am sure some will be acceptable, but there will be plenty who won't be.
Honestly, we tried once with Interns and don't have the time nor patience for it. My feel is I would pay someone as a hired hand and they can learn. If they aren't going to work as much as a hired hand, I don't want them around - bad influence on those who do work for a living.
Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
People I've worked with have experimented with all kinds of different systems.
At first, they welcomed any volunteers, and then when it became apparent it was just as (if not more) work to teach them what to do, they developed a for-pay education program. I got here at this point, and paid for the program which was awesome.
When we switched sites and had a ton more work to do and not as much time to educate on the finer points, we started experimenting with a different program where people come volunteer and we work them hard, then pay for educational experiences like workshops and field trips.
People vary quite a bit on how much work they'll be able to do when compared to the amount of direction they receive. Some people will always need more babysitting than others. We're learning how to respond to these differing needs and abilities, and it's an ongoing ... struggle I guess you'd say. Love to hear how others have moved through this situation and come up with their answers.
I think the most important part of this is: there are farms that are having excellent success with volunteers/wwoofers/interns.
This path is a bit like a tool at our disposal. A tool that clearly takes some mastery to receive benefit. Much like a knife: some folks can whittle something amazing, and some folks tend to cut themselves a lot.
I suppose a book could be written on this topic. How to entice these folks to your farm; how many is a good number; how to be productive every day; problems that can come up and how to resolve them; models that are currently working well.
We signed up for the program this year but so far have not brought anyone in. Lots of teenagers interested, as young as 16, wanting to come with a boyfriend. Not going to happen. I have experience as an instructor and an employer, but am a little hesitant to jump in. I guess I'm worried about the time I will have to devote to the program rather than just doing it myself.
We signed up a few months ago and had very few responses, mostly totally unsuitable, until a week or so ago when everyone seemed to decide it was time to organise their summer holidays! We have found ourselves a young couple who want to life, work and learn with us for a few months to prepare themselves for living off grid somewhere, build their own place and live without money as much as possible. They arrive later this week - I think I'm more nervous than they are. I'm not sure if they'll end up pruning the olive trees or re-roofing the house, but I'm sure they'll learn plenty!
Update - the desire to 'live, learn and work' seems to mean, 'live somewhere off grid but with full air con, a washing machine, built in shower, fridge, and 24 hour internet access', while work seems to mean 'just in this bit of the veggie garden' and learn seems to mean 'how do we buy a really good bit of land really cheap.' I had my suspicions when one of them turned up wearing a white outfit but then she turned her nose up at an apricot that had just fallen and eggs picked up of the floor of the guinea fowl run.
We live on our friends' farm and have only done little things here and there so far, but that's our temporary arrangement as we are expecting baby #5 any day now. We are not wwoofing, to be clear.
Our friends here have had wwoofers and they have hilarious stories about language barriers, bear terrors and other things that went on when they had them. Some storeis of not-so-humorous surprises too... They are also brimming with patience and enthusiasm and are hoping for some wwoofers again next year. They expect to teach, and they expect the work to be done. They are also very direct, which is a quality I love in them.
Anyway, I wondered how descriptive you are when you make a request for wwoofers because I have successfully deterred friends and family from even visiting our rustic, no toilet, hauled water- none of it hot until it's boiled, no plumbing of any sort, grizzly corridor, midst of renovations, mountain-side home. Not intentionally, of course...
Is there a lack of experience in the case of city-folk that seems to be the problem with communicating about what's expected? I'm just surprised that someone would be expecting city conveniences that were never on offer. Here, wwoofers will stay in the pump house and have an outhouse (cringe... not ours- we like a sawdust to compost toilet system). There really isn't much room for expecting air conditioning and full service laundry facilities.
Where is the disconnect happening and is it possible to bridge the gap with some very direct and visceral descriptions of what the trade really is?
We had considered wwoofing a few years ago, but didn't end up doing it. I didn't feel confident that I could offer a fair trade for the effort and accommodations of a host because I was ill and we didn't want my partner burdened with doing my share. I'm healthy now, but next year we'll be doing our own farming. Yay!
A probationary first day would drastically reduce the potential for finding someone, wouldn't it? Or do wwoofers to some places here come from close by? Here, wwoofers are mostly traveling from different countries and sending them back the next day woud be a disaster for everyone. It's all commitment on the side of the host here; the wwoofer is of course free to disengage at will, and some do; it's a way to get into Canada for some people, and that's a risk that hosts here presume to take.
It wasn't too much of a nightmare - they only stayed an hour! We had described the place fairly accurately to them, and gave them access to loads of photos of the place, including this one of the toilet and the tank which the well water is pumped to for supplying the garden and the shower.
Seriously, if you are shown a toilet like that and are told that the place is off grid, what do you expect? I think the communication problem was down to not only total lack of experience in life outside the city, but also because they had an ulterior motive (ie to find and buy land) and just didn't really absorb any information apart from what they wanted, and I really have no idea how to overcome that
I was rather expecting people keen to learn how to do everything and that we would be teaching them to connect solar panels, handle a strimmer, plant trees, do mulching, prune the olive trees, make compost, handle the donkey, maybe even learn a few building skills as they said they wanted to build a house, but they seemed disappointed that we hadn't already moved the solar panels and set them up on the caravan for them. It would only have taken half an hour and they could have learned so much.
Lol, I love your toilet and shower set-up! We have a sawdust commode and a little galvanised tub, water in blue cannisters with spigots and lots of washcloths. The galvanised tub works double-duty as a step up to our trampoline too.
Okay, so not really a lack of communication... And wow- only an hour?
I've had friends say 'oh, that'll be fine' when we tell them that we don't have plumbing and it takes explaining what that means to them for them to really get it. So you mean there's no flush toilet? No shower? No running water in sinks and the drain water has to be carried outside in buckets??? Yup, that's what it means. Just saying "no plumbing" doesn't seem to compute.
Anyway, you did explain; I was just wondering if it was a lack of visceral details that might explain the difficulties, but that photo should have been quite adequate, I think.
We've had very good results in Pine Ridge and Haiti with volunteers. There is just so much to do in those places, there is always work of some kind or other. Some amazing people came to Haiti, and the people at Pine Ridge now are gems.
We are now a WWOOF site at Pine Ridge - you can find it under OLCERI.
We need volunteers in August to help with a number of projects.
Unfrortunatly not always so willing!! We woofed in New Zealand and had very mixed experiences, one thing we learnt was that you have to clear from day one as to what you expect your woofers to do.
We are hoping to have a Woofer in a couple of weeks and we quite clear about our ground rules also we know its important for it to be a positive experience for the woofer, there may be small adjustments that we need to make during the time he is here but thats ok. Eating meals together is a perfect time to iron out any problems, and you really do need to be direct, not rude but direct as it is so easy for a misunderstanding to occur especially if english is not their first language!
With my wwoof experience I had something similar to a probationary first day/ first week. It was not that I would have to leave if right away things didn't work out, but was be informed that I from the start if things didn't work out and have a week to figure my stuff out and depart. This time frame can be the difference between a craiglists ride-share and sleeping on the side of I-5. I have also seen farms advertise a two week period for everyone and a possible longer stay if there is meshing and hard work, especially considering the traveling nature of some wwoofers, this is similar but even more upfront.
The probationary tasks is also a great idea just make sure it's not something that will cost you money or huge labor expenditure to correct. I drove test holes for fence posts, win win. As the workers become more competent add to their responsibility slowly, reading a management book prior is a great idea, because just cause you know how to do things does not mean you're any good at explaining them to others.
About the quality of labor, after a few weeks some wwoofers can take a potentially take huge load off those hosting them, this is also coincidently when I have heard most wwoofers leave. To remedy this problem consider advertising a wwoof gig with the possibility of pay after x duration. Think about it as these wwoofers become more familiar with the tasks at hand, the layout of the farm, and how things run they become more efficient for you and hence more valuable to you. You'll keep people valuable people around longer if you pay. It doesn't have to be much but to me there could be nothing more frustrating then working hard five hours a day and not being able to buy a pack of smokes or whatever simple comfort items people desire or save a bit of money to make it to their next destination.
That's my view as having been in the position of a woofer.
I've both been a volunteer and a host of volunteers. It can be a good thing and a bad experience from both sides - but lots of learning is always the result. Communication is key.
I'm glad I started out on the volunteer side, it gave me a lot of insight for what to say and how to treat people who were coming to work at my own place. I tried to mimic what I liked about the best experiences I had. The main thing I took away from being a wwoofer is that it's nice if the work schedule is formally organized. You know what part of the day you'll have to yourself and what part of the day you'll be working.
Sometimes farms can over or understate their conditions or expectations. As a wwoofer (I'm going to use this term for all volunteer positions) you arrive thinking you'll be doing one thing and then find that most of your time is spent doing another. In our ad, I try to be VERY clear about the living conditions, working arrangements, the kind of food we eat, how we shit and shower, and anything else I can think of.
I asked everyone who stayed with us if my description of the place matched the reality of things here, and everyone said that it did, even if they didn't end up liking it as much as they thought they might. I consider that a victory even if the relationship didn't work out between us.
I also state on the first day that anytime something is unclear, PLEASE come ask me about it.
I continuously ask people for feed back, and after a week we sit down and have a formal "how is this going" session.
I had some experiences wwoofing where people acted like you should know what they meant or what they wanted and couldn't be bothered with questions. That was frustrating, because I'm good at following directions -- if they are given. So I tried to give good instructions and be happy to answer any questions and demonstrate/re-demonstrate what I wanted.
It is a lot of work to get other people to do your work.
Sometimes in their enthusiasm to come to your farm, wwoofers can overstate their experience. I had two people here this last summer who told me they had "lots of gardening experience," but they didn't know the difference between a bean plant, a squash plant, and a carrot top. I felt like I had been lied to, plus they didn't really catch on all that fast, and that was a big part of the reason I asked them to leave after two weeks (I gave them a week to figure out something else, they left in two days). If you're inexperienced, please be honest about it.
We live far enough away from anywhere that most people are traveling a significant distance. I encouraged everyone who wanted to come here to bring a bike with gears, especially if they didn't have a car. No one did.
I also had some people who wanted me to drive them around a lot - "can I come for five days and then go to this festival and then come back?" Uhm, no, not if you expect me to drive you two and from the nearest bus station (only 100+ miles round trip) twice in one week.
At one point we had four interns at once, and it was too many. Having more people here drastically changed how I spent my time. We use a woodstove to cook, and this means that we all eat the same thing at the same time - there is no separate wwoofer kitchen and I don't cater to special diets. That eliminated a lot of people right away, I'm sure.
I tried letting the wwoofer's cook a few times, but using a woodstove takes a long time to get used to. They took a long time and burned too much wood to make not enough food. And there was soot all over the kitchen at the end - that I had to clean off. So, I do all the cooking and a whole lot of the cleaning. It ended up being how I spent most of my day. I like taking on those tasks, but with fewer mouths to feed I didn't have to spend SO much energy and time preparing food and could have more time for gardening. Fewer interns ended up being better for us.
The number one frustrating thing is the attempt to line up wwoofer's visits. One person tells you they're coming, so the next four people that write you say "sorry, that week is taken" and then the original person cancels and you're left with no help at all. That's how I ended up with four people here at once - I started overbooking so that SOMEONE would be here and presumably the rest would flake at the last minute - and then they all showed up. Sigh.
Also, everyone seems to want to come in June. I had a million and two offers for June, and like, four for the rest of the summer.
After the roller coaster of the "first timer" summer, I think that I prefer long term helpers who get paid a little to be here. We had one person who was here from the beginning of June til the end of November, we paid him $200 a month, and he's coming back next summer. He's not perfect, but we aren't either, and luckily perfection isn't required to make this kind of thing work out. The relationship benefited both parties enough to continue it in the future.
Paul wheaton i have a lot of eperience on baring rough treatment and hoping to get respect in the end and i don't advise it. People who don't give you any respect aren't people who want to respect others, it is not part of their aim, though they may be soft every so often so you imagine their nature is other than what it is. You would have to change their whole veiw of their role in life to get respect out of them. They want to rule the tough way and ruling is fulfilling, what they see as their role in life and their idea of ruling is manipulative not gaining mutual respect. if you work hard for a too tough boss then not only will they never be nice to you but you have found yoursel fsomeone who will try not to get rid of you so you will find it hard to leave them. how do you know if their tough ness is a necessary anger that turns yoiu into a more usefull person or not , if htey are tough but seem to look for your advantage it is different than if they are cross and castrate you seem to do what they can to reduce your abilities except the most basic ones like how you dig the ground. or cook.
I went olive picking in Israel at nineteen, unfortunately they found out that i was good in the kitchen that was the end to sunny days picking olives. I am a steady fruit picker but normally the slowest around, so maybe it was my lack of ability at fruit picking. i am better at digging. It was nice because a kiibutz takes on a lot of people, you have lots of young to chat too when the morning working hours are over, that makes it a good holiday. I remember everyone working hard during work hours six in the morning to twelve or one in the morning. rose macaskie.
I took great pains to explain what 'off grid' really meant and gave the guy access to plenty of photos, including the one of the toilet. He recognised the toilet and emailed right back saying 'You must be the Burra Maluca from Permies who had trouble with the wwoofers last year!'. He seems to be having a wonderful time pruning the olive trees for us and works all day long so that he can have a few days off later to go exploring. He even does his own laundry! In return he wants to learn our experiences about planting trees and using draft animals. And also to borrow any permaculture dvds and books I have so he can learn as much as possible while he's here.
After the previous experience I'm still having great difficulty believing he's real, but he is and everything seems to be working out wonderfully.
I'm so glad I didn't let the first experience put us off completely!
When i saw the toilet i decided that one thing was sure i was not going to be a woofer on your farm, i like pruning though. It is an opus dei toilet do all your washing of dirty linen in public an dthey mash people about their dirty linen after wards and keep a record handy of it to use against there workers if they slack a bit i have studied them. I had decided not to be a woofer at your place, doubtfull that you should want such an old woofer anyway but this last letter of yours has made it sound attractive olive tree prunning out doors up treees all day and learning about using draft animals, plus, before you mentioned, learning how to put up a solar panel, it is beging to sound attractive if only there was a shower curtain that was not transperent as a lavatory door. or if only the lavatory had a door. agri rose macaskie.
These stories are unbelievable! I am having a bit of trouble finding places for cob, permaculture or forest gardening courses that will let me come with my children (how is it perma anything if it doesn't involve kids ) or even WWOOFing but I don't know a lot of lazy or unskilled moms. I'd think we would make amazing additions to any group of people. I know I am no slouch. I'm used to just doing whatever needs to be done, no energy left over for complaining.
I don't have a problem with rustic, we travel with a tent and all co-sleep and don't much mind if bathing means a dip in the lake but I would have to say that I'd rather a less transparent door covering on that toilet. Even animals hesitate to do their business where they can be seen, you are vulnerable at that moment and it's instinct to want privacy.