the joys of weekend WWOOFing

Jun 1, 2015

In the last couple of years WWOOF UK has been encouraging and supporting the practice of local WWOOFing and we’ve regularly reported on the results of those ventures. Sue Coppard, founder of WWOOF, while in agreement with our intentions, thinks we should also be focusing on the value of Weekend WWOOFing and has kindly written the following to encourage more of it:

WWOOF originally stood for Working Weekends on Organic Farms – that’s what it was. As I was in a regular job in London and knew nothing about farming, weekends were a brilliant way of escaping to the country in small, manageable doses that didn’t use up precious holiday allowance. 

In the beginning all weekends were ‘scheduled’ for generally three or four WWOOFers; one about every three weeks as there weren’t many WWOOF hosts. The good thing about this was that you knew you would have fellow WWOOFers for company. We would travel down from London on Friday evening, and return home late Sunday afternoon, tired but happy. 

Two days may not seem long but we packed a lot in, were very useful, learned lots, saw loads of different places, made new friends and enjoyed ourselves enormously. And went back to our weekday jobs invigorated and refreshed. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to finally have a way of getting into the countryside and taking part in rural life; we were ecstatic. And as we were helping less mechanised organic farms, there was plenty of scope for our unskilled manual labour. 

I have so many treasured memories of the lovely places we visited: the beauty of foxgloves and flowering elders in the hedgerows as we rode on the tractor through the narrow lanes. Glow-worms shining in the gloom; or the sound of an owl hooting as the full moon shone through the cottage window of my little herb filled bedroom. A luscious strawberries and cream tea in the barn was eaten to a background of cows lowing, pigeons cooing aloft and sweet smelling hay. Home made wine enjoyed round a roaring log fire, or exquisite pale gold elderflower champagne. Haymaking in the sweltering sun at Emerson College and riding on top of the wagon plunged us back into Constable’s Haywain, followed by a dip in their cool woodland pool. Or throwing turnips and swedes into the cart, killing ourselves with laughter (I can’t remember what was so funny now), followed by a trip to the local pub. 

That’s where I first met Don and Maureen Pynches who later ran WWOOF Main Office for so long. It was at Emerson too that I learned the stable cart loading pattern for bales of hay – which I was then able to teach to a (not so ‘alternative’) farm manager and his son when I worked with them, also in deepest Sussex, followed by thirst-quenching cider at the nearby pub, naturally. On another occasion I actually helped make cider, in Somerset, chucking the apples into the grinder and spreading it on to the straw mat for pressing. We also worked at a Steiner school for children with special needs, stirring bio-dynamic homoeopathic preparations with a broom in a barrel of rainwater (the moment you achieve a nice deep vortex you change direction, ad infinitum, so it’s fairly strenuous work). 

We met donkeys, bullocks, goats, ducks, had a go at milking by hand, herded sheep on the Romney Marshes (a sheepdog’s life is a strenuous one!), sowed, dug, transplanted herbs, collected eggs, piled wood, saved a hay crop, picked fruit, learned how to make bread; and dismantled an old fence on the Isle of Wight, all the while serenaded by exuberant spring birdsong, where we also went collecting seaweed to bring back for composting – and chocolate eggs on an Easter egg hunt around the garden! That was also where I first learned about leylines. 

Hugh Coates, then Chairman of the Soil Association, spent an entire Saturday evening explaining to us What and Why Organic, and from then on we became keen enthusiasts for the Organic Way, so desperately needed for our survival. 

WWOOF has undergone a couple of name changes since those early days. The second name was Willing Workers on Organic Farms in line with Australia and other countries too large to accommodate weekending; plus scheduled weekends were expensive and time consuming to organise. 

Eventually, we became World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms as WWOOF UK had an extensive list of overseas hosts you could contact direct by then. We had indeed become worldwide. Like the erstwhile British Empire, the sun never sets on WWOOF. The world is your oyster and you can ‘go native’ in around a hundred different countries. 

And as for weekend WWOOFing, I think it has an important part to play. These days people assume WWOOF is mainly for young(ish) people not in conventional employment who can afford larger chunks of time. But we must not forget those urban prisoners of all ages for whom a brief spell in the countryside is a shot of vitamin C. They too will become converts to the Organic Cause and add their influence to the way this country, and the planet, are governed. 

We just need to get the WWeekend message out to them.
Sue Coppard,
The First Weekend WWOOFer

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