By Teresa Sofía Buscaglia
"Two years ago, my cousin Terry told me about a different way of getting to know a country, working in organic farming establishments in many parts of the world. When I graduated from university, I entered the Wwoof International page and chose Argentina. I wanted to know South America, I love nature and one day I want to have my own establishment in Connecticut, where I live, to dedicate myself to the production of honey. I learned a lot during these months here ", says 23-year-old American Lauren O'Neill , who traveled with a friend and since October has traveled through Argentina, Uruguay and Chile following a route of farms and fields that receive them as volunteers.
Wwoof comes from World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farms, an international organization that spans more than 100 countries and invites you to work and live in establishments that develop sustainable activities: permaculture, living construction, organic food and a lifestyle in harmony with the natural environment that surrounds them.
The exchange is work on the farm for house and food, there is no money involved. The idea was born in London in 1971 when Sue Coppard, a secretary, invited some colleagues to an organic farm on the outskirts of the city. They had such a good time that they repeated the experience and more people wanted to participate. They set up an organization that they called Working Weekends on Organic Farms and eventually changed their acronym to the current one, which better identifies them.
Most of the volunteers are young people, university graduates, who want to have a different traveling experience from that of backpackers who stop at hostels and move around with tour packages designed for them. Those who choose it seek to know the cultures of the societies they visit in a deeper way, in a coexistence in which more solid ties are built and where the exchange is more spiritual than monetary.
Nyasha Weinberg is 24-year-old British and works as a government employee in London. I wanted to visit the country of Borges and Sabato, and learn Spanish in contact with the people. She is very committed to a sustainable lifestyle and in Yporá, an establishment in the second section of the Delta islands, she was able to learn about adobe construction and organic agriculture.
"As a Wwoofer one stays for long periods and there is an opportunity to develop deeper and more lasting human relationships. Hostels are generally located in the center of big cities and do not allow you to know the country from the inside, as I knew it. I was on an island in the Delta, one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, and I would never have found it if it had not been for Wwoofing, as it is not on the list of '10 things to do' presented by tourist guides, "he reflects .
In March, she will return to London to continue working as a teacher, but she wants to return to Argentina every two years, visit Yporá and see how the works being carried out there are progressing. He dreams of building a similar place in his country.
The Wwoofing system works in a very simple way: the volunteer accesses the organization's website, completes a form and pays an annual sum close to 38 dollars to access all the information that each country offers to contact their farmers. and associated farmers. Once he gets in touch with the one he chooses, he freely agrees when and how long to settle and what he should take, as well as the conditions of the place and the rules of coexistence they have.
Volunteers will have to work 4 to 6 hours at the establishment in exchange for house and food. Andrew Strange is the Director of Wwoof International, has a small office in New Zealand and works with only three other people. He is an organic farmer, just like his wife, who was raised on a Wwoof farm. They both want everyone to know the lifestyle in places like this. He describes a relationship of great freedom of action between the parties, which allows them to lengthen or shorten the length of stay. But he does not stop remarking that in case of misconduct the complaint reaches them through the website and they begin an investigation that may lead to the separation of some of the parties. "There are about 11,000 farms around the world, most of them self-sustaining. Some make a lot of effort to sustain themselves economically and this type of exchange is very good for them," he clarifies. In the country there is no office, they only contact each other through the website and there communication with the hosts is established.
The spirit that unites all the wwoofers interviewed by LA NACION is the same: knowing Argentina in depth, sharing with people their day to day, learning our language and our culture. There are 160 farms and chacras scattered throughout the territory and invite to the most diverse experiences. Patagonia concentrates the largest number of places, followed by Mendoza, Salta and Buenos Aires. The humid pampas never cease to dazzle those who come with the mythical image of the infinite sunrises and sunsets in endless plains, as well as the surprise of finding one of the most beautiful deltas on the planet. These images abound by the thousands in the social networks of all those who want to show the world these paradises that they discover while traveling and that are not in the classic photos of tourism agencies.
In Chascomús, province of Buenos Aires, Gabriel Logarzo, together with his partner and other friends, built Apakacha ("the land of here"), a holistic training space, with naturally built cabins and where workshops of different knowledge are given and religions. They have constant visits from wwoofers who come to learn about organic gardening, vegan cooking and living construction. Many of them have stayed longer than planned because they enjoy everyday life as a daily celebration, whose most important moment is lunch and the exchange of experiences. The people of the city are also slowly approaching this new cultural proposal.
"The town of Chascomús received us very well. The presence of the wwoofers in the social life of the community is striking and enriching. They learn our language and we learn what they come to show us. The activity begins early with yoga and meditation. at 7 AM, breakfast at 8 AM and then work begins, coordinated weekly by one of us, until 1 PM, when we meet for lunch. After a nap, we work a few more hours and then rest. never had problems because if we do things from a positive intention, from love, everything is integrated ", describes Gabriel, who currently has 4 wwoofers: Luigi Galiazzo, from Italy, Bruno and Mónica Figueiredo, from Brazil, and Charlie Thäsler, from Germany.
The Wwoof philosophy is clearly linked to a philosophy that opposes consumerism, not only because the economic base that sustains it is a barter of physical work and spiritual enrichment, but because the places where the hosts host them are built with values that they defend a sustainable lifestyle, in which the relationship between man and nature is one of respect and gratitude, not of utilitarianism and abuse.
The consumption of food is carried out according to its time of production and the geography of the place. It is made in a natural way (most of the farmers are vegetarian, vegan or raw). All this seeks to remove the toxic from our daily diet and the idea is to spread it so that it becomes a habit in all those who want to learn to eat in a more natural and healthy way.
"I think people in cities should be closer to agricultural work and not just connect with nature when on vacation. These kinds of experiences should be more frequent and should be open to anyone, there should be more farms in the cities. suburbs of cities so that people would be better informed about the origin of their food. (According to research by the British Nutrition Foundation, from 2013, 30% of British children believe that cheese comes from plants. ) Also, another reason why farmers need wwoofers is because their income is so bad and they cannot pay employees. If Wwoofing helps more people understand the importance of organic agriculture for the world, it is the path to sustainability ", said the English economist and university professor Raj Patel to LA NACION. The author of Obesos y famélicos made an extensive study on the world food crisis and strongly advises everyone to inform ourselves about what we consume as well as its production process.
César, Inés and Juan have different projects, but the same objective: to lead a family and community lifestyle, in contact with nature and with affections. In turn, open to others those spaces that they build, share experiences and knowledge, and help each other.
Together with friends, César Rodríguez started Teshuva 5 years ago, in Verónica, province of Buenos Aires. He receives wwoofers all the time and with their help he builds the house where he and his guests live. On a daily basis, they also work the garden and prepare homemade bread to sell in the town. More than 25 wwoofers have already passed through your establishment and there is a waiting list.
Different is the case of Juan Laso, founder of Las Tierras de Avalon, in Canning, province of Buenos Aires. With a family in "construction" (four children ranging from 6 years to a month of life), the built space is constantly expanding and the help of the wwoofers is essential: they learn agriculture and construction, in addition to enjoying a intense cultural exchange, and he and his family are advancing with the community project, open to anyone who wants to get closer.
Inés Lopez Crook, together with her family, built Yporá, in the Delta islands, a place that will slowly serve for meetings, workshops, retreats and accommodation for educational purposes. One of the many wwoofers who have already passed through there is Cédric Allain, a 23-year-old Frenchman, who left his master's degree in finance in Paris to take a trip as far away from France as possible.
He had known Wwoofing in New Zealand, but his experience had not been good. In Argentina, on the other hand, she highlights how much she learned with Inés and her family during the three months she stayed with them. "I had a wonderful experience. I met many interesting people, I learned a lot and lived in the middle of nature. In New Zealand my experience was very bad. There was no exchange or communication. I lived it more as a free job than as a learning experience," he describes .
Like any system, the Wwoofing also has its shadows. Cedric experienced something that is a possible risk within the good intentions that this type of travel contains: the abuse of the hosts in what they demand of the volunteers and the poor conditions of housing, hygiene and food that they can offer them. There are different forums that report on these things to report cases that violate the unspoken rules of this meeting between both parties. The important thing is to inform yourself very well about the place where you are going to settle and seek the opinion of wwoofers who have already passed through there.
Another risk of the lack of information is taking this experience as something easy, light, an "alternative" way of doing tourism. It is an experience that requires a lot of physical strength, tolerance and respect for cultural diversity. The Wwoofer will live in the house of a family that opens the doors of their home to him and that chose to live in harmony with nature, generally with a healthy eating style and with diverse religious practices. It is important to know how to respect this and not to attack with different customs or views of how to do things.
On the way to a more harmonious world, with more connection between people, with less environmental impact, Wwoofing is a step, an advance that allows all those who want to live in communion with the environment and with their social environment to find themselves across the planet. Thus the community will be enlarged. "Think globally, act locally", stated in 1915 Patrick Geddes, an activist who in his book Evolving Cities already proposed a different way of thinking about urban life. A century later, humanity begins to feel it more possible.