Sunday, April 05, 2009

WWOOFing it..

The end of the semester must be coming up because Oldest Son called this week with new, out of left field plans for the summer. He and friends from college are planning a trip to Europe.

On Wednesday the plan was that they were doing something called couch surfing where he and his college friends go to Germany, Belgium and Italy and stay on some stranger's couch for nothing while traveling from place to place.

To me it sounded like the perfect way to connect Ax Murders and victims through the Internet.

On Thursday night I got a call from him and the plan changed radically - Couch Surfing was out thank God.

The new plan? Work on an organic farm in exchange for food and shelter. When I told his mother the next day, she used the term "slave labor". I was thinking is sounded like the end of the parable of the prodigal son where he's eating pig slop and saying "my father treats his pigs better than this".

The program is called WWOOF for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and Italy was certified as a WWOOF organization in 2001.

How does it work? Basically you join WWOOF in the area you are interested in and then you get insurance and a list of farms, you pick one out and connect with them about working there for a period of time. He sent us the list of potential farms and here is a typical entry:

Family-run 7 hecare organic/biodynamic farm in Piemonte, Monferrato. Their main produce is wine and hazelnuts. Situated 3 kms from the village, 15 km from Alessandra and 100 kms from Milan, Turin and Genova. The farm is very busy all year round and Paolo always works with WWOOFers. Meals mainly organic (meat and vegetables) but can cater for vegetarians. Have two children of 4 years and 2 months. Jobs to be done: pruning, wood cutting and maintenance work (winter); in the vineyard (spring); the hazelnut harvest (August); the grape harvest and wine making (September) and all year round in the vegetable garden and garden. Possibility to help out at markets. Accommodation in room with bathroom. English and French spoken. Contact: Paolo Malfatti.

First off, what the heck is a Cascina and a hecare? Cascina sounds like Casa which I know is house so I'm guessing "little house". It turns out I'm close. Babelfish translates Cascina as "Shack". Great, first word out of the gate? Shack.

Next, what is a "hecare"? A hecare is a hectacre I'm guessing and so, thanks to Google, I find out that's about 17 acres. Being from the suburbs we have no idea how big that is. We can only guess from the numerous "green acres" signs that go up in our township where the state buys land so that it won't be developed and then giant signs go up that say:

88 Acres Saved from Development - Green Acres.

17 Acres is tiny then. We don't even think about saving anything less than 25.

I notice a lot of the entries are for farms that grow "hazelnuts", so many in fact that I start to believe it is a secret euphemism for marijuana or poppies. Hazelnuts, right, wink-wink.

So the kid that I can't get to cut the grass or god-forbid weed is going to Italy to do vineyard pruning and make natural sausage. Right. Send Pictures. WWOOF is about working. You can tell from the logo:
Is this person visiting Rome and sipping espresso? No! they have a work hat and a wheel barrow. And what's in that wheelbarrow? Donkey Shit.

In fact the FAQ for WWOOF Italy expressly states: "If you are solely looking for a cheap way to see Italy WWOOF IS NOT FOR YOU."

This WWOOF thing gives us an idea. Why don't we sign up to have WWOOFers come here to do the chores we need getting done over the summer and don't have time for because we WORK. We could do it organically if that's a big deal. Things like clean the pool, cut the grass, paint the house clean out the shed etc. Things we might ask, say, Oldest Son to do. It's kind of a win-win.

Here's our entry:

Family-run 1/3 Acre organic/hyrdo farm in New Jersey. Their main produce grass clippings. Situated 13 miles from the City, 1 Mile from Maple Shade. The farm is very busy all year round and DAD always works with WWOOFers. Meals mainly processed foods (meat and vegetables) but can cater for vegetarian girlfriends. Have two children of 18 years and 16 Years. Jobs to be done: pruning, weeding, grass cutting and pool maintenance. Possibility to help out at food shopping and errands. Accommodation in private room with bathroom, digital cable television, Internet and Air Conditioning. English spoken. Contact: Dad.

We also do a little Internet research about "WWOOFing". On youtube we find out it's for people like this guy who sings "minnie the moucher" to goats after six days of "WWOOFing" :

I'm hoping this has nothing to do with WWOOFing side effects.

Overall I'm all for it and I try to get the big picture.

In 1890 there was a man named Orazio Celone who was a poor "organic farmer" in Italy. He wanted a better life for himself and his children so he emigrated to America. He crossed the ocean to this new life and he had children. His children had children, those children had children. (One of those children married a man who was in vaudeville, a hoofer).

Oldest son is the 5th generation from Orazio and what does he decide to do? He turns around to go back to Italy to work on an organic farm as a WWOOFer. Now that's progress.

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