Jul092012
N.J. WWOOFing: a hands-on education to sustainable living

N.J. WWOOFing: a hands-on education to sustainable living

Published: Monday, July 09, 2012, 8:15 AM

woof1.JPGAnnie Bennett of Princeton picks spinach at Orchard Farm Organics in Montgomery Township.

First come the dirty fingernails, and the sweat, calluses and aching muscles aren’t far behind. But when you’re milking a cow at 4:30 in the morning and have to get to the goat next, maybe you’re not thinking about how much your back hurts.

Or the fact that you chose to do this work. For free. On your summer vacation.

If you are Faith Kiener, 18, and Leah Pham, 20, you are in your glory. Beyond the hard work that can leave you too tired to even shower at the end of the day, you’re into — really into — sustainable organic farming.

Kiener and Pham are "wwoofers," so called because they, like 18,000 others in the U.S. and thousands more in 50-plus countries, are members of WWOOF, or Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The nonprofit group connects volunteers with organic farmers in a cultural, educational — and labor-intensive — exchange.

In down-to-earth terms, farmers get a much-needed assist and wwoofers get room and board while they learn about environmentally sound farming. The word spreads online at the WWOOF website, and then people like Kiener and Pham find themselves far from their Ohio homes, up before dawn on a New Jersey farm.

"When you wake up, you know there’s stuff that has to be done," Kiener said of what, besides her alarm clock, gets her out of bed while she works at Orchard Farm Organics in Princeton.

Wwoofers do whatever farmhand help is needed; they weed, plant and harvest crops, milk cows and goats and even build fences. They arrange their stays with their host farmers and can be there for hours, days or months at a time.

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