"Still rubbing their eyes, the group trudged out into the fields, the sun still yet to inch its way above the horizon. Today had been set aside for cherry picking. As some chose to climb their trees, buckets in hands, to pluck from the abundance of fruit, others chose more secure methods, erecting sturdy old ladders to reach the higher climbs. An air of productivity, of participating in a centuries-old tradition, nestled over the scene as the sun advanced across the sky. Work continued until the point where the Argentine heat became unbearable, with a mountain of crates testament to the morning’s success."
This is a scene that has been replicated the world over. From Argentina to Spain, Taiwan to Nigeria, the WWOOFing movement has helped to develop cross-cultural bonds. WWOOF stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms, the premise behind its formation being that it allows volunteers the opportunity to experience life on a farm, in one of 99 different countries. In exchange for the labor, workers receive free food and accommodation, but are unpaid.
Evidently each WWOOFing experience is different but one farm that embodies the true spirit of the WWOOF project is Ruben Pagliafora’s farm in Mendoza province, Argentina.
Tired of a mundane existence in the city, Ruben, together with a group of thirty friends, moved south to the fertile planes in the foothills of the Andes in order to set up a farming community. At first work was unproductive and the project was abandoned by many of its members, leaving just Ruben himself and his young family with a huge plot of under-developed land.
There is indeed no substitute for hard work, to paraphrase Thomas Edison, and it was this, above all else that allowed the farm to eventually flourish. The crop list includes a plethora of fruit and vegetables, including potatoes, apples, plums, tomatoes, chard, onions and many more. All of these were grown in an organic fashion, without the use of chemical fertilizer or additives, ensuring that at every mealtime a sumptuous feast was served up, making use of the freshest of ingredients.
Then, with the advent of the internet, Ruben was allowed the opportunity to expand his vision, seeing the addition of volunteer laborers less as a means of increasing profits on a booming farm, but more as a chance to educate a generation of young foreigners on the processes behind food production. It is something that is much needed with the majority of the current generation of young Western children having been utterly alienated from such processes, merely seeing the end product on a supermarket shelf. It is this use of the internet that allows the WWOOF movement to remain modern and in touch, the application of the power of the Web to revive organic pastoral methods completes a perfect synergy of the traditional and the modern.
The beauty of WWOOF is that sense of equality that is developed in the workplace due to the removal of the monetary aspect and the mutual sense of education. WWOOFing allows people to experience all the difficulties farmers face to provide a service which many take for granted. It’s also a great way to learn a language. Ruben stated that, “I’m happy to accept anyone onto my farm as long as they make an effort to communicate in Spanish with the family in the fields and at the kitchen table. In the WWOOFer’s house they may speak whatever language they want.”
In exchange this openness has seen volunteers of all nationalities arrive at the farm, to which his huge music collection pays testament. In this spirit of cultural exchange Ruben “also asks that any volunteer who arrives here cooks a meal native to their country”.
It’s a truly beautiful story and a hugely enriching scheme that is highly recommended to everyone with an open mind.