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Advice to Farmers About Interns/Wwoofers

There are thousands of people willing to work on organic/permaculture farms for free or nearly free. Many farmers have explored this path and found it too frustrating and subsequently elected to no longer do this. Here are two well known farmers, Doug Bullock and Jacqueline Freeman, who have had great success and this is their advice to farmers considering this path.

The Bullock Brothers Permaculture Homestead at Orcas Island, Washington, is famous for being a powerful intern magnet. Interns actually pay to go there. As a result, the Bullocks get to pick from a large pool of interns queuing to go. And they have had excellent results with their intern program.

Some of Doug Bullock’s advice:

  1. Establish your farm before you get interns.
  2. Don’t ask your interns to do just the dirty work and never ask an intern to do anything which you wouldn’t do.
  3. A lot of interns come from a privileged background – be prepared for that. Many come from middle class, upper middle class, affluent families, people who have been through good universities.
  4. Keep the work interesting. Mix monotonous work with really interesting once.
  5. Look for interns with some skills and maturity. People with some social skill or those who already have worked in farms are most suitable candidates.
  6. If you have three or fewer interns, you should include them in your family. If more, they make a social group of their own.
  7. A hot tub, sauna or pizza oven really helps.
  8. Interns look for some structured education, so organize yourself to present them.

Jacqueline Freeman of Friendly Haven Rise Farm, Battleground, Washington, is famous for her beekeeping skills. Every year she has a large number of interns working on her farm.

Some of Jacqueline’s advice:

  1. Give interns work that matches their personality. Assigned jobs should match their skills, something which they are really going to enjoy and what they are really good at.
  2. Praise interns when they have earned it. This is really important as it creates a lot of positive vibes on the farm.
  3. Teach interns something every day. Twice or thrice a day teach them verbally and by physically showing them how to do. They have come to your farm to get educated, so teach them things they can take back to their own farm.
  4. Good food!. Feed them really well and get them involved in preparing the food.
  5. Fun with work. A swim on a hot day is a good idea!

Apart from Doug Bullock and Jacqueline Freeman, there are many other permaculturists and farmers who also have a wealth of experience in having interns on their farms. If they can also share their experience below, it will be of great help.

Further Reading:

Ravindra Krishnamurthy

Ravindra Krishnamurthy is a freelance science writer covering science, tech, the environment, health, food, and culture.

4 Comments

  1. As a person that has wwoofed/volunteered for many years and is now establishing a small or rather tiny hold I can attest to this advice. I have volunteered on farms where people really appreciated my skills and put them to work, and at farms where I was only asked to do what needed doing most and that the owners didn’t want to do themselves. Needless to say the last farms tended to lean towards monocultural ways of planting AND thinking. Perhaps I should add that I think of myself as having had a good day of work when I’m effin’ tired and only want to sit down, so I like to get tired at something that engages me rather than turn my own mind into a monoculture.

  2. I have been an organic gardener all my life and now wish to upgrade my farm along permaculture principles. I have been taking wwoofers for 14 years with varying degrees of success. Many only wish to come to me because I am able to sign forms that enable them to apply to the Australian government to extend their visas to enable them work in Australia for a second year. These ones don’t want to learn new skills and will frequently lie about their expertise and experience, or exaggerate their prowess. It is an excellent idea to offer to teach them skills in return for a small fee. That would quickly sort out those who have the right motivation.

  3. I think it is important to seriously consider bringing in people of different levels, skills, interests and motivations, etc., despite some additional efforts on everyone’s part, because people naturally come from different backgrounds of advantage, disadvantage and opportunity and so forth, which can naturally affect their skills, experiences, capabilities, interests and motivations, etc..
    Otherwise, over time, one might expect an increasing ‘elite’ kind of dynamic and risk of going back to square one, so to speak, where it is care of only some parts of Earth and care of only some kinds of people.
    This also makes me think of a certain kind or level, if subtle, of ghettoization. Discrimination can happen in very subtle ways that we sometimes can’t necessarily put our fingers on, even though sometimes we can feel it.

  4. We’ve been hosting wwoofers for about 2 1/2 years and I think all of the advice is spot on. It is pretty much the same as the list of points we wrote up as a famiy after we had been hosting for a year.

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