Posted on Fri, April 27, 2012 by Slow Food USA
1 Comments | Categories: Farms and Farming, Wine/Beer/Spirits,
Written by Slow Food USA Intern Lizzy Ott
In this age of take out containers and fast food chains, the gap between food and consumer has become wider than ever. With hopes of establishing a more tangible connection to my food, I decided that I wanted to volunteer on an organic farm. But how? And where? I typed “volunteer on an organic farm” into Google and found my answer—World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (Wwoof for short). Wwoof serves as a platform for connecting organic farmers with volunteers just like me. For $30 members are given access to farms throughout the entire world, ranging from the far reaches of Asia to your next-door neighbor. With over 1,300 farms in the US alone, the possibilities seemed endless and I found the long farm lists insanely daunting. How to narrow down the choices?
With a limited budget, I knew I wanted to stick to the US and as a college student living in New York, I also knew I wanted to spend time somewhere more calm than the bustling city. Finally filtering through the seemingly infinite number of farms, I decided on Emtu Estate Vineyards. Emtu is a small organic vineyard in Sonoma County, California. Along with my best friend from school, I packed up and jetted across the country to the small town of Forestville.
The idea behind Wwoofing (as it’s now widely known) is farm work in exchange for room and board. The host and volunteer, ideally, forge a relationship and work together to enhance the quality of the farm. For me, the experience was invaluable. We spent our days under the sun with our hands in the dirt. As summer volunteers, we were responsible for preparing the vines for harvest season in the fall. The vines would eventually grow grapes that produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. To ensure proper growth in the vines, we weeded, plucked excess leaves, and straightened shoots. On the surface, the work could be seen as tedious or monotonous, but we learned to shift our perceptions. We came to view our work as calming and meditative, as a means of connecting with the environment. Chris and John Mason, the truly amazing couple who own and manage the vineyard, worked alongside us in the fields every day. They made sure that we weren’t just doing the “grunt work” and that we learned something new every day. John comes from a family of winemakers, and never hesitated to share his wealth of knowledge on viticulture and viniculture. And Chris, with her background as a clinical nutritionist, kept us fueled with fresh and nutritious meals throughout the day.
Although I had originally sought out farm work for a connection to my food, it was this personal connection that provided the real perspective to me. I learned that Emtu is not only concerned with organic food and wine locally, but is also dedicated to humanitarian efforts globally. Chris and John have been involved in international relief work for over ten years, traveling as far as Kosovo and India and the proceeds from Emtu Wines benefit their independently run Labyrinth Foundation for Disaster Relief. Chris and John’s passion for organic farming and for helping others in need inspired us. I urge anyone who has the chance to get involved in Wwoofing to do so. The fast-paced society that we live in too often alienates us from authenticity, quality, and true community. For me, Wwoofing was a return to something more genuine and simpler than what I’m used to. The act of trading manual labor for home cooked meals and basic housing made me nostalgic for a food system based not on profit and commodity, but rather on quality and community.
How can the wwoofing network or others like it make a positive impact in our food system?