Food / NonProfit

Wwoofing at Dig In

Just finished my second and last week of wwoofing at Dig In Community Garden in Burnsville, NC.  Burnsville is full of local creatives who seem to “get” community and look out for their neighbors.  About 1/5th of Yancey County (of which Burnsville is the hub) lives at or below the poverty line.  While some families here who live/work/farm at the established “poverty line” are completely self-sustaining and content, others struggle to put food on the table.  Dig In Community Garden is helping to lighten the load by providing families in Yancey County with fresh fruits and vegetables distributed through three other nonprofits in the area.
What is Wwoofing? “WWOOF” stands for Word Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.  The WWOOF-USA farm network of over 1,300 farms allows for wwoofers to work on a farm in exchange for meals, “housing”, an opportunity to meet new people and become educated on anything to do with organic farming/food policy/co-ops/CSAs/community gardening/cooking/local food/etc.  My brother has called it indentured servitude.  The word  “Housing” is in quotes above because the meaning of that word varies from farm to farm. Some farms provide you with a yurt or give you space to put up a tent. Others don’t even have outhouses or running water. Props to wwoofers that are up for that.  I am not one of them. Dig In has an adorable white, 100-year-old, electrified, plumbified, and clean farmhouse right beside the community garden.  If they didn’t want to have wwoofers, they could totally rent the place out to tourists.
Wwoofing is a shot in a dark from both sides.  A real exercise in trust.  The farms don’t really know who they’re allowing to live on their farm, and wwoofers don’t really know what they’ll experience prior to arrival.  You also don’t know what the fellow wwoofers on the farms will be like.  All of the wwoofers I’ve worked  with so far have been passionate, intentional, generally positive and really smart.  Farms pay a small fee to be listed on the Wwoof-USA website, and aspiring wwoofers pay $30 a year to have a wwoofer profile and access to the farm database.  It’s the wwoofer’s responsibility to contact the farms to check availability and start dates.  The Wwoof-USA website doesn’t do background checks on registered wwoofers, so it’s up to the farms to run them if they wish.  Wwoofers are basically relying on information from the host farms directly, random blogs from other wwoofers that may be online, and reviews on the wwoofing website (that farms have the power to delete) when deciding what farm/farms would be a good fit.  My advice, and the advice from many other wwoofers who have blogged before me, is to not make assumptions but to ask many many questions of the host farm before committing to come so that all is clear in regards to expected work hours, how meals work, typical farm tasks, if other wwoofers will be there, etc.  I’ve heard horror stories of wwoofers who’ve shown up to a “farm” only to discover that it’s actually a bed and breakfast with a small garden and the host just needs you to clean every day.  One couple I wwoofed with ended up having to babysit children and someone’s elderly mother at two of their prior farms.  That’s totally not cool and not what wwoofing is about.
Thankfully I didn’t have any such problems at Dig In.  Linda, one of Dig In’s founders and the owner of the property, was clear on what the garden’s expectations were and what to prepare for as far as accommodations go.  Dig In only accepts wwoofers who have gardening/farming experience and a general interest in their food justice mission.  They allow wwoofers to stay for about two or more weeks.  There were two other wwoofers there the first week and another two the second week.  All great people.  Dig In gives each wwoofer a decently stocked farmhouse pantry, $50 a week grocery allowance cash, and access to most anything in the garden in exchange for 5 garden hours a day (harvesting, weeding, planting, working with volunteer groups, etc.).   I’ve only spent $15 of the food allowance in two weeks ($1.50 on chocolate covered peanuts—totally not a necessity).
Dig In was the perfect match for what I wanted in wwoofing.  They were interested in me because of my involvement with the Square Foot Gardening Foundation, and I wanted to wwoof with them to learn  the ins and outs of running a community garden whose soul purpose is to meet other nonprofits’ food needs.  Dig In broke ground in 2010 and by that June, Good Eats! Soup Kitchen was up and running, serving and delivering a garden produce meal once a week.  Today the food from Dig In goes to make about 600 meals a month distributed every Monday through Good Eats! and provides fresh produce almost daily for Reconciliation House (a food pantry, thrift store, help with power bills, etc.) and another food pantry to distribute.  Dig In will provide several thousand pounds of food this year. The community garden is run by Linda & Mike who own the land, weekly volunteers like Deborah, John Harton who helped found the garden, garden manager Laura, wwoofers, and volunteer groups.  You feel a real sense of community and family at Dig In because those in charge of the farm, volunteers, and wwoofers are all working for the same thing (serving the hungry in Yancey County).  It’s a different experience than working at a for-profit farm where the farm owner is more like your “boss”. I will be back to visit for sure.  If you decide to wwoof at Dig In, make sure to ask Laura about her “Yes I Cane” business, Deborah about her beekeeping, and John about giving you a tour of Empty Bowls HQ and Penland.  Also make time to visit nearby farms like Mountain Garden and volunteer at Good Eats! soup kitchen on Monday nights or at the Reconciliation House.  It’s great fun to see the food actually be put to use.
And… that’s just the beginning. There’s SO MUCH more to say, but wifi’s limited in these parts.

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