It’s a sad day here at our homestead in Homer, Alaska -- we just said goodbye to our Woofer. Nope, not our dog or a component of our speaker system. Our woofer is named Julia and she came here from Oregon. She’s a “willing worker on organic farms,” affectionately known as a “woofer.” Have you heard of this program? It’s very popular in Homer, and also where we spend the winters in Hawaii.
Woofers (technically, WWOOFers) are usually young, college age or early twenties. Host farms post their information on one of several official websites, so potential “woofers” can make contact and the two parties can mutually decide if it’s a good fit. The arrangement is simple: labor, usually twenty hours a week or so, in exchange for room and board. The particulars of the situation depend on what the host farm needs, and what the worker is interested in doing or learning. Many woofers want to learn organic farming techniques or other skills connected to a sustainable lifestyle. Some just want a way to travel to new places without spending lots of money. For Julia, the appeal was that she could come to Alaska and really experience what life is like here, instead of zipping through with a backpack.
We don’t have a farm, but we have plenty of building going on. Julia learned things like how to denail boards, how to run a cordless drill, how to start a fire in a woodstove. She went blueberry picking with us and took a kayak trip across Kachemak Bay. She loved every minute of her two-week stay, even the times she stood out in the rain handing tools to my husband while he put a roof on our new shed.
The benefits for us? I got the fun of having a new Oberlin grad and future med student hanging out in our ramshackle homestead. My husband got an overly educated carpenter’s assistant. My little daughter got someone new to chatter to. Anyone who lives on a homestead knows there’s always work to do, always a need for more help. Ideally, we’d have five strong kids to help us out. Instead, we go for Woofers.
Right now, I’d give the Woofer program ten thumbs up. But not all woofers are created equal. Some have a work ethic that, let’s just say, isn’t in line with what Alaska demands. There’s always the question of compatibility. The woofer has to be someone you don’t mind having at your dinner table most nights. It’s really important to talk thoroughly beforehand about what they’ll be doing and what everyone’s expectations are. Even so, things don’t always work out well. But the beauty of it is that it’s a temporary situation. Woofers rarely stay longer than a few months. If you want to keep in touch after they’re gone, you can; I certainly hope we do with Julia.
If you’re interested in the concept, either as a host farm or a worker, there are several websites here in the U.S. and internationally. Based on my experience so far, it’s a wonderful way to meet enthusiastic young people and pass on Alaska-bred skills to those who want to learn them.
Jennifer Bernard's next release is HOW TO TAME A WILD FIREMAN, out on September 24. Read more at JenniferBernard.net.