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We Are Where We Eat: WWOOFERS Get Taste of Organic Farming

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, November 29, 2012

W-W-O-O-F spells WWOOF and it stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. A person in the program is a WWOOFER. The gerund, WWOOFING, is a way of life at Kingbird Farms co-owned by Charity Kenyon 

"There are a lot of people just graduated from college, and they're trying to figure out for a summer or for a year what they want to do with their lives." Kenyon says. "And there's other people that are just woofing around the world." 
No sooner does one herd of WWOOFERS leave this isolated farm between Hwy. 99 and Interstate 5, Kenyon and her husband, Mike Eaton, take in the next. Today's autumn chore is firewood. Eaton directs the current WWOOFER pack in log splitting with a power splitter.
"So we're not all touchy-feely, human-powered here," says Eaton. "Sometimes we use shortcuts." 
His WWOOFERS on this day are Adele Renard from western France, 21 and Anouck Gilis from Brussels, 18. They're still terrified at commandeering Eaton's tractor. The fumble and giggle as they find the right knobs and gears as they take off down the deserted road.
1129EC WWOOF1 
Kingbird Farms' five organic acres gets good reviews on the WWOOFER website where growers seek WWOOFERS and WWOOFERS seek placement. Kenyon and Eaton provide beautiful accommodations in a home they built in the Cosumnes River Preserve amidst sandhill cranes. Eaton's role the past three years, besides WWOOFER host, is teacher.
Eaton tells the girls "this is chard and a few lettuce and some onions, and what you can do is pick these up and put them on this tray here. Adele and Anouck are to remove chard seedlings rooted on cloth in Eaton's homemade potting mix, by scraping them off with a cake server … "the ideal tool," Eaton says.
"We can take the super novice and introduce them to growing plants and to food prep," Eaton continues, "we can also take those who've had a lot more experience and are willing to think more deeply about timing, transition, soil-building, broader management strategies …"
Anouck says the weather in Belgium now is rainy and cold. She's happy to be working in the Central Valley as a WWOOFER. "It's a really nice way to travel and to meet really lovely people and, uh, yeah, it's nice to be in the garden and the fresh air."
Kingbird Farms is not commercial. Eaton says they grow food for themselves, to barter with some restaurants -- and give the rest to the food bank in Galt. A third WWOOFER Mikael Jenson, tugs at mallow weeds."It's awful."
Mikael is a mechanic from Denmark. At 30, he's one of the older WWOOFERS who's been around the world. Room and board may be free, but WWOOFERS pay their own travel expenses from farm to farm. Kenyon and Eaton stay put, taking in new WWOOFERS every 10 days. WWOOFER Mikael wonders how they do it.
"You don't know the people and they don't know you, so they kind of have faith in that you are, yeah, a good guy and don't steal or trash anything. It takes a lot of guts to do that and just let strange people into your house."
Some WWOOFERS start their own farms. Others go home better at gardening. Uppermost in Kenyon's mind is one fact: The average age of a US farmer is 62. Kenyon says she's helping furnish the country with new ones.
"If we're going to eat well in this country, then we're going to need more young farmers. I think that it's a growing awareness of the importance of good, clean fair food. And WWOOFING is part of it."
By evening, the WWOOFERS are blogging. Their hosts Charity Kenyon and Mike Eaton go over a stack of WWOOFER applications. It won't be long before a new pack of WWOOFERS arrives in Galt from all over the world.
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