Meander Valley Gazette

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A WWOOFing good time

RuralJoanne EisemannComment

August 2018 | Lorraine Clarke

WWOOF AUSTRALIA has just turned 37 years old.

From hippyfied beginnings in 1972 England, Willing Workers On Organic Farms has developed into a major worldwide movement, especially in Australia which boasts the largest organic agricultural area in the world, at 27 million hectares.

Tim Doyle is a staunch advocate of WWOOFing. He moved to his 46 acre property at Western Creek 26 years ago, and began to develop his organic berry and vegetable farm. “I did it all with no money,” he said. “I lived very frugally, and eventually it all came to fruition.”

He soon realised the mutual benefits of sharing the load and the joy with adventurers who trade enthusiasm and labour for accommodation and training in a multitude of organic farming skills.

Tim’s first guest was a 64-year-old Swiss lady, and the youngest a helpful 12 year old girl who came with her mother, a Canadian National Park Ranger.

“There is such a range of people, from very wealthy families in Paris, or poor areas of rural Asia. They come with no skills or fully trained.”

There are some challenges with people who have never had their hands dirty. Tim loves evenings with 8 or 10 people around the dinner table, who have all contributed something to the meal, from milking the cow, tending vegetables, pruning, picking berries or cooking up an international feast with the produce minutes after it is harvested.

“Everyone comments on the excellence of the food because it is all so fresh. By late summer, this place explodes with food. It is great to be able to share growing and eating it with people who gain confidence and discover, ‘I can do that!’”

Since 1995, Tim has lost count of how many hundreds of WWOOFers from 27 different countries have passed through his gate, and he pays it forward by WWOOFing in Japan.

Mark and Tara Ulbrich hosted WWOOFers while their children were growing up. They offered experience of building, weed removal from native forest, milking goats, work in the family’s large organic garden and handmade textiles to Asians, Europeans and South Americans who had fallen in love with Tasmania, seeking low-pressure time out.

The home-schooled kids had an instant rapport with the international guests. They learned songs in other languages and geography was a living lesson.

“What our family eats has been strongly influenced by them,” said Tara. “The expectation was that they would cook one meal per week from their culture, and we kept all their recipes in our WWOOFer guest book. We included them in family barbecues, as well as normal household duties.””

After finding a situation which might suit them, WWOOFers negotiate their expectations and discuss special skills they may have.

“You have to supervise them and put in a lot of time. Often you have to teach them from the ground up how to use tools. We took accidental damage as part of life. The system relies on goodwill on both sides,” Tara explained.

Many who arrived for a few days ended up staying weeks or months. Often returnees would bring parents with them to share their experiences.

“I don't think our daughter would have had the confidence to go to Canada this year as an Exchange Student if not for the international exposure.”

Tim’s advice for would-be WWOOFers is “Go for it!”

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