"Earn your keep" isn't a new saying, but working on an organic farm in exchange for food, travel and lodging is a modern way to do it--and gain experience in the bargain.
World-Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming invites volunteers to work for one-half day in return for fresh produce and accommodations. More than 1,000 organic farms and gardens throughout the U.S employ volunteers without exchanging money. In the process, participants can learn about sustainability by managing gardens, keeping bees, working with animals and even making wine.Loyola University Chicago graduate Joey Mooney worked on SheerLark Farm in Flat Rock, Ala. after he graduated from college.
"I have had a pipe dream for a while about farming and living off the land and whatnot, so I decided to try it," Mooney said. "WWOOF provided a context for me to do that."
Mooney's days began with feeding hay and water to livestock such as goats, sheep and lambs. After breakfast, he continued feeding, weeding and other farmwork. Mooney finished his day by 5 p.m. with one last livestock feeding, a daily experience he enjoyed.
"I encourage people to join if they have no personal ties to a farm and want to get involved," Mooney said. "If you know someone with a farm, just do something informal."
Another benefit working on an organic farm is that it can the experience can help launch volunteers into new industry, said Ryan "Leo" Goldsmith, program manager at WWOOF USA.
"I think that generally the organic trend is so popular, and certainly not going to reverse on itself," Goldsmith said. "I think that it's something that from a moneymaking standpoint makes a lot of sense."
Most people who join the WWOOF program do not do so because of the money they can save on food and lodging, Goldsmith said, but because of the experience and education it provides.
"I think it goes way beyond money," he said. "I think that people are interested in learning about where food comes from.... It's something that our society used to be a part of, and people are coming back to it now."
Many participants are entering WWOOF before or after college, although there aren't strict statistics kept by the organization, Goldsmith said.
"I do think that many people take it as an apprenticeship," he said. "And they do go on and start their own farms ... and go on into the food industry.
"I really do think that people are able to apply what they learned on a WWOOF farm and make their own income in the future."
Find Room, Board and Career Path on an Organic Farm