“If I’m ever reborn, I want to be a gardener – there’s too much to do for one lifetime.” ~ Karl Foerster
Before Big Branch Apiary we lived in a suburb on the outskirts of New Orleans. It was a lovely house that backed up to the Mississippi River and had a second-story balcony across the front that was at eye level with one of the most massive magnolias I had ever seen. My garden, a combination of flower and food plantings, was over half an acre and had been professionally designed to address drainage problems and add lighting. There was a vegetable garden, about ten citrus trees in the little orchard, a rose garden designed by David Austin, and a bog full of iris that doubled as a catchment for runoff.
It was a small piece of Eden. And it took a lot of work and non-organic chemicals to keep it that way.
Spread that over roughly 50 acres and you will get an idea of what the workload might be at Big Branch Apiary. Now, we aren’t manicuring every inch of those 50 acres. We have three acres in blueberries, an acre in cut-flowers, and three acres where the barn, henhouse, hothouse, and kitchen garden are located. The rest is an ancient mixed hardwood forest interspersed with some wetlands. It’s a lot to manage on a bootstrap budget.
If only there was some way to get folks to help pull weeds and feed chickens for free. And fortunately, there is an organization that matches organic farms with those looking to see what farming is like. That organization is WWOOF: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
WWOOF started in Great Britain about 50 years ago as Weekend’s on Organic Farms. It has since grown exponentially and has hundreds of thousands of members, both host farms like The Apiary, and people looking to come work on the farm. These folks are known as WWOOFers and are a diverse group of all ages, all experience levels, and from multiple continents. We had signed up to host before we had any accommodations just to support the work of the organization but six months ago we had our first WWOOFers arrive from Colorado. They were a couple in their early 50s who wanted to experience life on a farm before committing to doing it themselves. Since then we’ve had several others come and help on the farm. One of the more memorable was a young woman from Belgium named Louis. Louise was tall, thin, and model-like, complete with a cute, non-farm wardrobe. But looks gave no clue to her abilities. Louis wrangled weeds from the earth, drove the tractor, donned a bee suit and helped with the hives, cleaned dishes, and did anything else that was needed. She, like most of the WWOOFers, was a huge positive for us and the farm.
The WWOOFers have helped in so many ways. With their help, we’ve managed to stay ahead of the weeds and get over 2000 blueberry bushes trimmed. We share our knowledge and glean from theirs. The labor they give in exchange for lodging and meals has played no small part in helping us successfully grow an organic farm. The WWOOFers give of themselves, leaving us and the land enriched in the process.
A successful business requires vision, passion, hard work, and creative approaches to challenges. The help we get from our WWOOF guests is one example of finding a creative solution for a farm pro