Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hopefully they won't be like Maggie's farm.

I have always wanted to see what farm life is all about and we hope to keep the Canada leg of our trip on the less expensive side, so World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF for short) seemed like the logical choice.  Best case scenario?  Free lodging and meals in exchange for a half day of mending fences, planting crops, weeding, learning the ins and outs of organic farming, hanging out with baby cows, and having the rest of our time to explore.  Worst case scenario?  We don't get along with the hosts, pack up our stuff and move along.  Not such a worst case.   Friends had spoken highly of their experiences WWOOFing which helped to put our minds at ease.

Friends also recommended lots of research before committing.  As somewhat cautious and fairly introverted people, we were definitely interested in making sure we didn't end up like Bart, and we didn't want to lose sleep every night at a party farm (if those exist?).  I haven't seen much advice out there about choosing a WWOOF spot so I thought I'd narrate our introduction to this process.  In short - ever job hunted?  Yeah, it's like that.

As we started our search we had a few key things in mind:
  • Location
  • Duration (no more than 2 weeks given our schedule)
  • Hours per day (no more than 6 hours/day, no more than 5 days/week)
  • Types of farms (dairy, garden, etc)
  • Tasks (not just painting fences)
  • Lodging (preferably separate accommodations to ensure down time - see introvert comment above)
  • Availability of hiking and/or water activities (ideally)
  • Working with farm animals (ideally)

Location didn't take long - Patrick was interested in checking out the Gulf Islands of Vancouver, that sounded good to me, so we focused there.  Easy.

However.  Narrowing down the WWOOF opportunities using our other criteria was quite the ordeal.  So many wonderful farms!  Such beautiful pictures of gardens and surrounding scenery!  "OMG does their description really say garden piglets - how can we possibly say no to that??"  The list of criteria grew to include the size of the farm, last login to the WWOOF site, whether they had kayaks available...  Five hours and one ranked spreadsheet (with columns like "cheese?" "sheep?", and "recreational activities in the area?") later, we had our top choices. 

We sent our first introductory email, toasted our accomplishment... and checked email every five minutes for the next week anxiously waiting for a reply. 


Slightly disappointed, we sent off a few additional emails to our remaining top choices.  The first host to reply was no longer hosting.  We set up a Skype call with the second host who replied; she was very nice but we weren't sure about personality fit and the timing wasn't going to work out anyway. 

We were mentally preparing for another weekend of spreadsheet mania when the third host replied, offered an alternate proposal to our dates but also hooked us up with a nearby farm to round out our originally proposed timeframe, and confirmed - all within a few days. This act of generosity touched me and I'm excited to meet these folks, they seem like really good people.

Time will tell how these first couple of opportunities pan out but we think the selection process worked pretty well overall.  Here are a few things I'd like to do differently for the Nova Scotia leg of Canada:
  • Cater intro emails better.  Much like a job cover letter, really emphasize that you've read up on their farm and highlight opportunities of particular interest.
  • Don't wait a week to hear back.  Farmers are busy people, but we're on a bit of a schedule too.
  • Include whether they have reviews in our weighting.  Some farms looked amazing but I had to wonder why they'd been WWOOF hosts for 5 years and no one had posted a review.
  • When in doubt, Skype.  This helped us quickly eliminate one option that probably would've been tolerable for 2 weeks, but would definitely not have been our ideal situation.

And now, off to do some core work to make sure our backs can withstand manual labor after years of sitting in cubes...

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