so many like-minded organisations

Aug 31, 2015

so little time … 

Scarlett PennA partnership has been set up between WWOOF UK and the Landworkers’ Alliance (LWA), where new or renewing host members of either organisation can benefit from one year’s free membership with the other organisation. So, as long as you fit into the criteria of both groups, you can get two memberships for the price of one. Scarlett Penn, WWOOF UK’s Co-ordinator and Chief Executive, explains what, when, how and – most importantly – why. 

There are so many of us working hard to improve and localise the way we produce our food, leading from the front, trying to make sure our earth is looked after in a responsible way. Our collectives span a broad spectrum: embryonic to established, social to scientific, prosperous to penniless, academic to activist. In fact, the only thing we all seem to have in common is passion for our cause. 

Widespread appetite for healthy food and soil is what we strive to cultivate, and the growing amount of groups is a sign the message is spreading. Yet our views and efforts are regularly overlooked by decision makers and industry, which seem to view the world through short-term specs and greedy goggles.

Surely, if we pulled together into a tighter network or gathered under a banner, we would join the dots and reach further, bringing louder voices and better results for key issues? Plus there could be other benefits such as decreasing duplication and dispersal of energy, and increasing knowledge-sharing and monetary savings (which would be popular with members, who are often relied upon for their fees). 

These were the sorts of thoughts running through my head one rainy holiday in 2012 as I swung off the Skye Road and delivered myself to the offices of the Scottish Crofting Federation. I pulled up with no clarity, but a strong conviction there had to be a way of WWOOF UK working more effectively with more groups, joining forces to start a ball rolling. 

Stimulating coffee and conversation with Chief Exec Patrick Krause soon led to cooperative ideas, and it wasn’t long before we’d jumped on the BOGOF (buy one, get one free) bandwagon with a pilot partnership scheme: one-year membership of one organisation giving free membership of the other, as long as key criteria were met. The beauty of this idea was it served both partner organisations, their members and the greater good. We learned lessons and at the end of the year, WWOOF UK Directors were ready to spread the BOGOF love and use the format again in future.  

Fast forward to November 2014 when I had my first experience of the Landworkers’ Alliance at their gathering and AGM in Manchester; it was immediately obvious how energised, ambitious, representative and, contrary to the farming trend, youthful(!) they were. 

So what are LWA all about? To quote their website’s home page ‘The Landworkers’ Alliance is a producer-led organisation of small-scale producers and family farmers who use sustainable methods to produce food, fuel, fibre and flowers. We raise awareness of the role that our members play in providing food security, environmental stewardship, livelihoods, strong communities, animal welfare and high-quality affordable food. We work to overcome the obstacles facing land-based workers by building alliances, encouraging solidarity and campaigning for better policy for agro-ecology and food sovereignty.’ 

I could see UK producers needed this organisation, and what LWA needed in return was support in the shape of more members and a higher profile. WWOOF UK was (and still is) looking for more hosts to support a healthy volunteer-to-host ratio, and both organisations charged a similar membership fee. I felt another partnership scheme coming on… 

I approached LWA and the core group were unanimous – we should go for a one-year partnership. We finalised details and the scheme was ready to start on 1st April 2015. It runs until the end of March 2016 and you can apply right now. Four months in, WWOOF UK’s Host Contact Taryn Field has this to say: 

The scheme is going really well, there seems to be a lot of interest. Most of our hosts had not heard of the LWA before so it is great they are getting more coverage. The only thing is, some of the LWA members who showed interest in becoming WWOOF UK hosts have not followed up by sending their details. I know how busy land workers are, so this is just a gentle reminder to complete registration with us when they have a moment.’ 

LWA’s Ashley Wheeler echoed Taryn’s positivity but, given the theme of my regular musings and this article, it was his deeper message which really grabbed my attention: 

The partnership between the Landworkers’ Alliance and WWOOF UK has been great. In offering a free year’s membership, new or renewing members are finding it more accessible to join both organisations, and we have had around 40 people take advantage of the offer. There are so many small organisations with similar aims and objectives, we need to be collaborating in this sort of way more so that we can form closer links and build a stronger movement. By joining together like this we have a greater voice and so bringing about the change in the food system to one based on food sovereignty principles is more feasible.’ 

So it appears many people really are feeling the same way. Another example: on the back of the new partnership, LWA daughter organisation Groundspring Network (GSN) contacted me about working together. This is a very credible crossover as many people use WWOOF as a toe-in-the-water tester or informal apprenticeship, and Groundspring’s reason-for-being is ‘orientating beginner farmers and growers in the world of sustainable agriculture’

Some exciting possibilities surfaced and to take immediate advantage of low-hanging fruit, our first collaboration offers the opportunity for two GSN members to attend each one of the WWOOF UK regional host gatherings. Groundspring says this allows its members to ‘pick the brains of local farmers, learn what it’s like to be a WWOOF host, have a wander around an inspiring working farm, possibly even find a mentor.’ 

‘Inspiring’ is truly the right choice of word because, after our introductory event in Gloucestershire run by a WWOOF UK colleague, she texted to say ‘Fab day at Postlip. I love my job!’ If this is a typical result of how exchanging words with like minds can buoy you up, there’s a big additional incentive to do more of it! 

Groundspring member Page Dykstra joined this opening meeting at Postlip Hall, and was also very enthusiastic. ‘I found it useful to learn more about WWOOF, especially the challenges and advantages of being a host’ she said. ‘I also found it interesting as a networking event for people doing different organic/sustainable agricultural projects in this area.’

Coincidentally I bumped into Page a week later, at the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) annual gathering. A lot of useful information was exchanged during the day and unusually for me, I didn’t leap around to Kale-y Collective’s fine music in the evening, opting instead for Cider-y Conversation at the fire-side. Topic of discussion? The pressing need for all our organisations to become more closely-knit, and how to do it. For the first time I found myself sharing the way we think of ourselves in the global Federation of WWOOF Organisations (FoWO) – an umbrella organisation in which all groups form part of the umbrella so it is in no way hierarchical. 

This same conversation continued a week later at the home of Ruth West and Colin Tudge – by extension the home of the Campaign for Real Farming, the Oxford Real Farming Conference, The College for Enlightened Agriculture; and again the following week at Earthworm housing cooperative. And I think it will continue until it happens because, from what I’m gathering, the time is ripe.

There are obstacles to overcome: nuanced agendas, the need for everyone to be financially viable, the inevitable politics of passionate organisations trying to work together, our busy-ness and the fact we are often tied to our land in simple enactment of our basic values. Creating the ‘umbrella we are all part of’ won’t be easy and I don’t have all the answers, but I am very keen to hook up with people who are at least asking the same questions.

Representatives from Landworkers’ Alliance and Groundspring Network will be the keynote speakers at the WWOOF UK membership weekend and AGM at the end of September .

**LWA reminds hosts: By taking advantage of the partnership offer, WWWOOF hosts are invited to various events hosted by the Landworkers’ Alliance, such as the upcoming Seed Saving event at The Real Seed Catalogue in Wales on the 4-5 September. Contact for further details of membership benefits and upcoming events.**

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