by Ryan Olesh
“Why would anyone give up their vacation time to, among other things, shovel compost for long periods of time?” I am occasionally asked variations of this admittedly valid yet humorous question. For most of the year, I work as a university instructor and take classes as well. Though I enjoy this work and these classes, I look forward to my academic breaks for a respite from gazing into my computer monitor for long stretches of time and navigating between the different classroom styles of my own teachers. Started in the 1970’s in Britain for people wanting to escape the cities on the weekend by assisting on local farms, the organization eventually known as Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) expanded internationally. The organization provides an opportunity for individuals, particularly young people, to travel and receive free accommodation while learning about sustainable agriculture, food ethics, and related issues.
For the past two years, WWOOF has given me a chance to leave the small Midwestern city where I live: After investigating “host” farms and organizations on the WWOOF website, I have the opportunity to experience life in a different environment. On average 20-35 hours of work are typically required as part of a WWOOF work-exchange agreement, which is typically informal and dependent upon mutual trust between “WWOOFer” and host. Even so, it is possible for some degree of friction to develop between these two parties: These two parties are often from different walks of life and are suddenly working close together.
Nevertheless, it is perhaps this potential of the unexpected as well as the challenge of joining this working dynamic is what drives me to keep returning to WWOOF. The opportunity to spend time with individuals committed to the cause they believe in is also a powerful draw. This past December, the opportunity to volunteer at Iskashitaa exemplified these positive aspects of “the WWOOF experience” for me. Dr. Barbara Eiswerth’s organization allowed me to not only interact with its dedicated staff but also with its diverse Tucson community who were kind enough to donate their citrus fruit harvests, their expertise and time as volunteers. The program engages people of all ages who contribute to the success of the program. It integrates refugees into the community through coordinating harvesting experiences and English language learning. This experience was truly an inspiration to me.
I would encourage anyone interested in contributing to the further success of Iskashitaa to contact the office. Working within a non-profit organization budget is always a challenge; nevertheless, the dedication and hard-work of Iskashitaa’s staff builds opportunities and the quality-of-life for refugees and increases awareness of refugee-related and sustainability issues. Furthermore, Barbara Eiswerth’s programs serve as examples of how innovation, dedication and hard work can strengthen community ties in communities such as Tucson.