white tea
Harvesting organic white tea. Photo courtesy of Rishi Tea.




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STEPHANIE ZONIS focuses on good foods and the people who produce them. Click here to contact her.



Product Reviews / NutriNibbles / Organic Matter


Organic Matter Archive

October 2005

Click here to read other months’ columns

Experience Organic Farming Firsthand as a “Wwoofer”

My name is Stephanie Zonis, and welcome to Organic Matter for October 2005.


Nope, no canines here. This Wwoof stands for “World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms,” an organization that seeks to bring together adventurous souls who want to learn about organic farming, and organic farmers in need of help. Wwoof opportunities exist in countries as far-flung and diverse as Denmark and China, Nepal and Slovenia, and Korea and Canada (yes, you can Wwoof in the U.S. as well). Wwoofing is unpaid labor; you are a volunteer. In general, a Wwoofer provides roughly 6 hours of labor per day, 6 days per week, for accommodations (which can range from camping to living in the host’s house), at least some meals, and, not incidentally, knowledge. I’ve only been to one Wwoof host (and I didn’t go as a Wwoofer), but here’s my description of their lifestyle:  

Bypass the flock of magpies that hangs hopefully and constantly around the kitchen door. Down the path, you’ll find the turkey, the chooks (Australian slang for “chickens”), the ducks, and a pair of geese. If you go a little farther back, you’ll see the three alpacas in their enclosure. There’s a house, too, but what you notice instantly about the property is the garden. You can’t help it, as the garden takes up so much space—about 3-1/2 acres. It’s sprawling and usually untidy, but it nonetheless yields some lovely herbs and fruits and vegetables. The gardening is done organically, but there’s never sufficient time for A. and D., the couple who own this land, to tend the garden properly. This husband-and-wife team have had at least 30 Wwoofers stay with them to date, one for as long as 8 months. The Wwoofers, who have come from countries such as South Korea, Scotland, Thailand, and Germany, live in the couples’ house and take meals with them. In return, they provide hands to assist in feeding the poultry, feeding and walking the alpacas, feeding those magpies or other wild birds in the area (A. and D. have several bird feeders), getting supplies for the animals, or yardwork. If the Wwoofers are handy in the kitchen, they may find themselves helping A. as she stirs up yet another batch of her fabulous chutneys or preserves; those with neat handwriting may be pressed into service writing labels for these products, which are sold to local boutiques or at the monthly Farmers’ Market, which is as exhilarating as it is exhausting. The couple are sociable and good-natured and often have friends and relatives over. One thing I especially like about the hosts here is that the Wwoofers seem to become extended family, keeping in touch via e-mail and phone calls and returning for more visits. It’s a wonderful sense of community.

Describing what one might be doing as a Wwoofer is difficult, because so many of the farms have a different focus. I’ve seen listings for Wwoofers wanted to help with cheesemaking, olive-picking, carpentry, vegetable garden tending, berry-planting, fence-building, caring for livestock, house-sitting, general household help, and even helping at a yoga/meditation center. Everything depends on who needs what at the time you browse the listings.

It used to be that almost all Wwoofers were under 25 or so, venturesome younger folk who longed to see some of the world and weren’t settled down. Nowadays, however, there are baby boomers and older vacationers in the mix. Some people just want to get away from city life for a while, and Wwoofing can be a way to manage that and learn simultaneously (as you might expect, most Wwoof hosts do not live in cities, and many live in rural areas). And time commitment is often negotiable. Some hosts specify a minimum time commitment, often one to four weeks, although longer stays are possible depending upon how the experience goes for both parties. Wwoofers can be singles, couples, or friends traveling together. Some hosts even allow you to bring your child and/or your dog!

How does it work? For the best and most accurate information, surf over to www.wwoof.org. In a nutshell, though, you must first decide in which country you want to Wwoof, then join the organization in that country (a modest fee is required to join). Once you’re a member, you’ll have access to the host listings. Ideally, host listings describe the type(s) of work you’ll be expected to do, whether experience is required, the type of accommodations available, and any bonuses or restrictions. In this latter category, you might find that the host lives near great hiking or kayaking territory, can produce vegetarian or even vegan meals, or doesn’t want smokers or kids. You contact the host and arrange your stay; it is of utmost importance that you don’t just show up! Quite apart from anything else, it’s completely unfair to the host.

As is the case with everything in this world, not all Wwoofer experiences are positive. Even in a very complete listing, you won’t know exactly what you’re getting into until you’re there. Presumably, some flexibility of mindset is a great help. But I’ve read some wonderful accounts written by Wwoofers about their farm stays, and I have first-hand knowledge of the sense of family that surrounds the Wwoofers at the Australian hosts described above. If you want hands-on knowledge of organic farming, Wwoofing might be a good way to go. 

Organic Find of the Month: Rishi Tea

What could be so special about a tea company these days? Everybody sells the stuff. Well, that’s just the point. Everybody does seem to sell tea these days, and much of it is second-rate. That’s not the case here. I wish you could listen to this company’s “tea guru” speak, even for five minutes, about the beverage he loves; his knowledge seems to be encyclopedic. And he’s made so many trips to tea-growing regions of the world (Rishi Tea believes in relationships with their tea growers, not with middlemen) that I’m certain he has enough frequent-flyer miles for a round trip to Jupiter. I’ve watched this business grow over time, and I like the fact that they take genuine pride in what they sell, especially as their offerings continue to increase in number and range.

But this is an organics column, and we must not neglect those principles. Luckily, Rishi Tea doesn’t, either; they have a fine selection of organic teas from which to choose. Many of these teas are also Fair Trade. There’s an organic and Fair Trade Earl Grey, for instance, but if you’d prefer something a trifle more exotic, how about the organic Jasmine Pearl? If you’re into white tea, an organic Snow Buds (Xue Ya) is available, or perhaps an organic Citron Oolong? There are Yerba Mate blends and Chai, too. Even if you’ve decided to forego caffeine, Rishi Tea still has you covered, in the form of their Caffeine-Free Botanical Blends, such as the organic Ginger Lime Rooibos.

I think highly enough of Rishi Tea that I’ve given it as a gift to someone I consider a tea connoisseur. Oh, and I’ve quite forgotten to mention their beautiful teaware, which they don’t promote enough themselves (the best way to see their selection is to click on the “Store” link of their website; by this, you may know they feature online ordering, as well). Surf over to Rishi-Tea.com. In this busy world of ours, it’s nice to know that a few clicks of the mouse can bring you truly fine comfort in a cup.    

tea ceremony earl grey
You can conduct your own tea ceremony
with this set.
Or, just buy a canister of your favorite.


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