Learning about growing food used to be the simple extension of life. From a very young age, people would progressively be more and more exposed to aspects of homesteading, how the land works, how the seasons work, what grows where and how to grow it. Mentorship and transmission from previous generations were a natural part of people’s relationships until more and more people stopped growing their own food and interacting with the outdoors.
It was not so much because we didn’t value transmission and growing our own food, but more so because we no longer NEEDED it. Stores were plenty and so were our options. The end of our connection to the seasonality and locality of our food was the peak of modernity, what differentiates a life of labor with a life of comforts. But this new era also meant dramatic consequences for the land, the people, and food itself in the way we produce it.
If I look at my own story, I was privileged to have a grandfather who was and still is connected to the land, growing almost 100% of his food because that’s just the way folks used to do back in his day, but I never took advantage of that privilege. Transmission doesn’t happen overnight, and as I became so self-conscious of my lack of knowledge in terms of growing food and interacting with the land, I realized it was maybe due to the fact that I was just not exposed to it because I simply didn’t NEED it.
Growing up, we would cherish local and good foods, but our middle-class society didn’t value manual labor therefore, why grow the food yourself, when your school years and employment can buy the food from someone whose education left with manual labor as the only options to make a living (I sincerely don’t believe that, but this is the way most societies view the problem). In other words, the “Taker” culture teaches “why should you need to do something tedious yourself, when you can just use other people to do it for you”. And this applies to so many things, from cooking food to building a house, to fixing your car (very few people nowadays (want to) know much about their cars, and the minute something’s wrong, go to a mechanic instead of wanting to learn what’s wrong with it and how to repair it).
Paradoxically today, societies have never been that interconnected, but our current generations are among the least skilled for life. Not to sound like a Debbie-Downer, because things are changing, but we have yet to use our interconnectivity in a (almost literal) fruitful way.
This is where WWOOFing comes in.
I lived away from my family and my grandfather who, with his knowledge and his land, could have been what I needed to learn about farming(although pedagogy is not necessarily his forte, sorry Papy), I had no idea how to start this whole new orientation in my life of learning about how to grow food, among other things. I felt helpless in my attempts to find a mentor, and simply did not know where to begin in order to expose myself to a world I wanted to join. A world that is such a big part of my identity today.
I had vaguely heard about WWOOFing as a way people used to travel and live on the cheap, but never bothered to check it for myself. I imagined WWOOFing as a modified version of these “au-pair” programs where you clean the house, do the dishes and take care of the kids for people who use you.
But in my quest trying to find a way to be exposed to farming life and growing food, I realized WWOOFing might be the solution. I also realized, I had never made the effort to research what WWOOFing meant: Word Wide Opportunity on Organic Farms.
At first, I was a little bothered by the fact that you had to pay for a yearly membership; having to pay for having access to thousands of farms is actually what prevents many other people from joining.
Let me just pause here one moment and share with you the following:
I went to university in Canada, so our tuition fees are nothing compared to our Neighbor’s to the South, but still, one should expect to spend, at least, a couple of thousand dollars per semester. According to McGill University’s website, students should expect to spend from $5,000 to $10,000 on education costs, this does not include housing, food, and other expenses. All of this to have the privilege of being exposed to professors that have studied their field for many years and supposedly know about what they’re teaching, meeting other students from around the globe, choosing classes and topics that (barely) interest you, witness the progression of your ‘hard’ work and education week after week… Ok. I’ll stop here.
Now. As I accumulated experiences on various farms, I realized what WWOOFing had brought me (and still does).
I had the privilege of being exposed to the most amazing and knowledgeable teachers of the land, who shared their skills and transmitted their passion and learnings to me, I had the privilege of choosing fields and areas I was interested to know and learn about, met other WWOOFers from around the globe with whom I shared moments and some of them became life-changing friends, and I could witness the progression of the seasons and the result of my labor, finally being able to cook with the food I connected with from the start: after having seeded, transplanted, planted, weeded, harvested, nourished, kidded, milked, and loved.
WWOOFing has become my school with no exam, with no other diploma than the simple feeling of being grounded and connected to the land that feeds me.
Oh. And it costs $40.
[TO READ PART 1 OF THIS STORY, CLICK HERE]