WWOOFing in Tennessee: An Introduction

The day after my visit to Natchez Trace State Park I arrived to meet my WWOOF hosts in the small town in Grundy County, Tennessee where they lived. WWOOF, which is an acronym for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is an international organization that connects volunteers with a wide variety of farming, homesteading, and garden projects. Having browsed a couple hundred postings from different farms in my search(es) for the right fit, I can say that most host farms seem to be small-scale organic producers who sell directly through local farmers markets though there is a HUGE variation in opportunities: coffee plantations in Hawaii, alpaca farming and wool spinning in Idaho, off the grid homesteading and subsistence farming in Washington, cheese making in Vermont…. If you have any interest in farming or gardening or even creating art projects, there is a WWOOF farm for you. Most farms – especially because they do not use pesticides – have WWOOFers do a lot of weeding but due to the variety in types of opportunities, any number of potential activities exist from barn construction to goat milking to fiber spinning. How it works is that in exchange for a set amount of work hours per day, WWOOFers receive free meals and a place to sleep. As a work exchange, no money changes hands, but there is a huge variety in the types of work and accommodations so every situation is different though in general farms get help and volunteers have the opportunity to learn a plethora of skills in addition to getting free food and board.

I had looked into WWOOFing two previous times, and while intrigued by some of the more unique opportunities, had not really seen anything that leapt out at me. I was interested in gardening for the purposes of food production for example, but had not been interested enough in working in the growing-food-to-sell-at-the-farmers-market-type model that (naturally) is necessary in providing income for many of these farms. But while driving in Florida sometime in December, WWOOF popped into my head and so I returned to the website to start reading listings. This time however, I searched with the keyword I had in mind: community garden. One of the first profiles I read was that of Grundy County Community Garden in Tennessee and I knew immediately that was where I wanted to volunteer after working with Habitat for Humanity in New Mexico. Started just last year, the GCCG is a project managed entirely by my WWOOF hosts Jonathan and Laura and is designed to grow organic, sustainable food to be donated to the Grundy County Food Bank while educating and helping the recipients create their own food security. This incredible project was exactly what I was looking for. Even more amazing is that I discovered during our initial phone call that Jonathan and Laura were also involved in other projects I had interest in, particularly creating a sustainable homestead. The chance to be involved in feeding people while working to create a sustainable lifestyle was exactly what I had been seeking.

As pleasant as the day time temperatures had been the past few days, the night of my arrival was forecasted to be 7 degrees so when my hosts offered me the spare bedroom in lieu of sleeping outside in my tent, I gratefully accepted. I met them at midday and Laura prepared the first of many delicious fresh (vegan!!!) meals which was awesome. Jonathan and Laura and their 1 year old baby Cypress were so welcoming that I never did move to my tent. Beyond the luxury of it, staying in the house has allowed me to work on a few of their other projects as well which I will update you on in future posts. But for now I will be posting with less frequency for a while though I can’t wait to catch you up on all the projects I’m working on. Just a couple pictures for you below though:

Raised beds we constructed out of repurposed scrap wood, Grundy County Community Garden, Tennessee

Raised beds we constructed out of repurposed scrap wood, Grundy County Community Garden, Tennessee

Me drilling air holes during the construction of worm bins for (worm castings) compost

Me drilling air holes during the construction of worm bins for (worm castings) compost