Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Way of the WWOOF

If you want to explore the eco world, volunteering is an excellent starting point. I don't know of a better way of getting to know people than working with them. It's easy to get going, the best known eco volunteering organisation probably being the excellent WWOOFing network, (used to be Willing Workers On Organic Farms now Worldwide Opportunities On Organic Farms), with over 500 active hosts in the UK and a worldwide network beyond that. It's a long established organisation and works well. The deal is that you help the hosts, typically on a small farm doing organic and other interesting stuff in return for your board and lodging. You meet some very interesting people and can experience varying degrees of low-impact living. It's good to have a useful skill or two to offer, obviously experience with plants is useful but your hosts may be glad of other skills as well. I always end up doing woodwork on projects and often give therapy treatments for sore backs etc.

Student volunteers working on Nigel and Cassie's roundhouse at Lammas, 2009

Lammas again, fresh air washing up - the plate rack was blown away later...

Nigel and Cassie's roundhouse looking good two years later
I'm very interested in how people can learn to cooperate and in alternatives to the harsh unreality of growth at all costs economics, so have been very interested to visit and work at various communities and cooperative ventures. If that interests you too, the Diggers and Dreamers site is a good way in to this world, it's how I found Chickenshack and went on to work with Steve Jones of Sector39 fame. Having also visited the Crab Apple Community at Berrington Hall and the community at Canon Frome Court I have to say I admire what all those people are doing but it's not for me! mainly because of the lengthy meetings of the decision making process. I struggle to stay focused on what people are saying for any length of time being much more of a practical person. (The decision making process is different here at Treflach - more about that in another post soon).
One of the most interesting places I've worked at is the Lammas Eco Community - it was also the most challenging! I arrived there, over two years ago now, just at the beginning of three weeks of very wet and windy weather. Back then it was really hard core, a sort of cross between a building site, a refugee camp and a failed squat, all flapping tarpaulins, mud and cold. I almost turned tail and headed off that first night, I'm really glad I stayed though, it was great experience for low-impact building of roundhouses etc. and I have some great memories, like reading stories to Nigel and Cassie's kids by the light of a wind up torch and a candle inside a yurt swaying from side to side in a storm. Volunteers have put in a huge amount of energy into this wonderful project and made an important contribution for which the Lammas residents are always very grateful, as are all the other hosts I've worked with.
So if you have the time and are interested why not treat yourself to a volunteering adventure this year!
A chance to visit beautiful places too, Ben Lawers from Tombreck on Loch Tay, Perthshire

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