International group of WWOOFers brings organic farms, volunteers together

International group of WWOOFers brings organic farms, volunteers together

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Posted: Friday, August 31, 2012 10:36 pm

Spend much time at Bright Hope farm and you are likely to hear two terms come up often: “sustainability” and “WWOOFers.”

The 25-acre spread located north of Sedalia is owned by Mark and Annie Albright, who bought the land in 2003 with an eye toward building a self-sustaining operation that would provide their family with the means to truly live off their own land while also providing enough of a surplus to generate income from produce and hand-crafted items including Annie’s herb-infused soaps. The Albrights are original board members of the Sedalia Area Farmers Market, where they are known for usually having the first berries of the season, as well as Annie’s soaps and elderberry elixir.

While Mark works at SFCC as a horticulture instructor, Annie tends to the farm and to the couple’s 24-year-old son, Chris, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in October 2005 in an ATV accident.

What could be a daunting task, given the veritable petting zoo assortment of animals to tend — three pigs, a couple of turkeys, a couple dozen chickens, goats, rabbits, a horse, a burro and even a few llamas, plus the herb garden, vegetable garden and a small stand of fruit and nut trees — has been made easier over the last year through the couple’s membership in World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

“It took me a while to talk my husband into it, but we finally decided last year we would give it a try. We have had 10 WWOOFers in the last year, and we love it. It has been a great experience. They are a big help on the farm and we do our best to teach them several things while they stay with us,” Annie said last week during the farm’s regular stop at the Sedalia Area Farmers Market.

Nearby, her latest trio of WWOOFers, Jesse Howard and Jodie Gelineau, both 23 and from Townshend, Vt., and Bob Kuhn, 54, of St. Joseph, are busy entertaining visitors to the Bright Hope booth — Howard and Kuhn strumming through an assortment of roots tunes on a pair of guitars while Gelineau mixes up a light basil, tomato and mozzarella salad.

“The whole idea of it is they come and do work, and then we teach them about farming and self-sustainability and preserving foods — the whole range. They mostly are young people who want to learn about how to grow organically and be self-sustaining,” Annie said.

WWOOF first launched in the U.K. in the 1970s as a way to reconnect urban dwellers with farming opportunities. Today the organization uses and its related websites to connect sustainable farming operations in 30 countries (there are about 1,300 North American farm members) with people interested in trading labor in exchange for room, board and training. According to the organization’s North American website —— participant farms and workers agree to a policy where “one-half day of volunteer help is traded for food and accommodation, with no money exchanged. This is not paid work on farms; it is an exchange of education and culture.”

Overall, WWOOF is “a worldwide effort to link volunteers with organic farmers, promote an educational exchange, and build a global community conscious of ecological farming practices,” the website reads.

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