Volunteers escape to the country by helping out on organic farms
GWANGCHEON, South Chungcheong Province ― While most people here enjoyed family celebrations over Chuseok, Anna Gennaro and Roberto Sella took the harvest festival literally by staying on a Korean farm.
The Italian couple spent more than 10 days surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday getting back to nature by volunteering on an organic farm in South Chungcheong Province.
“We decided to volunteer because we are really interested in nature and organic farming,” said 27-year-old Anna, who worked with Roberto, 24, to help plant onions and harvest red peppers at Young-I Farm, near Gwangcheon, a three hour KTX ride from Seoul.
“It is a good way to save money while traveling and be in contact with local people, and culture and also to learn about farming, which is something we would like to do in our life.”
The couple connected with the farm through the local branch of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, which opened in 1997 and now has over 50 member farms around Korea. As in the 50 other participating countries around the world, farmers producing food in a sustainable and ethical ways offer bed and board to visitors in return for 4-6 hours labor a day.
For anyone willing to get their hands dirty, a joining fee of 50,000 won will qualify the staunchest of city-dwellers to plant seeds and dig weeds and get a taste of country life.
WWOOF Korea organizer, Kota Fukuyama said WWOOFing was getting more popular here, with 350 people registering to volunteer last year.
“Volunteers can have a real experience of traditional country life ― something they cannot experience with normal traveling,” he explained.
“Farmers can get more labor for free, and another big reason is that they can meet and socialize with people from different cultures. Farmers with their own land cannot easily leave their place. But by being WWOOF hosts they can meet people without having to leave their farms.”
WWOOFing jobs can range from tending crops and animals to serving customers in farm shops, helping to make food like soybean paste or Kimchi, or even harvesting salt.
In Korea, volunteers can help on a goat farm in Geonggi Province or a Buddhist green tea plantation in Gurye, South Jeolla Province.
Several agrotourism villages are also registered, such as Dori Village Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province where the vegetables are donated to a children’s institution following an education system inspired by a commune in India.
For another completely different experience, WWOOFers might help with collecting salt at Mahatab Salt Farm on Imjado, South Jeolla Province from September through November. Those interested in woodwork could also visit Habasa carpentry house in South Jeolla Province.
Over Chuseok Anna and Roberto, who have also WWOOFed in Turkey during their international travel over the past year, worked hard to help their hosts Choi Young-san and his wife Park Bun-yi on the Hongsung-gun farm they cultivate using EM enzymes rather than pesticides.
Anna Gennaro and Roberto Sella weed a field of organic cabbages on Young-I Farm in Gwangcheon, South Chungcheong Province, as they WWOOF in Korea. (Kirsty Taylor/The Korea Herald)
Although asked to work long hours during the busy harvest season, they got the chance to make organic kimchi, and sample Chuseok staples including rice cakes and japchae noodles.
Park said: “I enjoy having WWOOFers here because I can let them try Korean food and show them Korean farming life.”
Her guests worked for around eight hours each day in the glorious green surroundings.
Although WWOOF office says work should be from four to six hours a day, with one or two days off per week for longer stays, the guidebook warns that guests may be asked to work more hours in busy seasons.
“Right now is high, high season from August to September so there is a lot to do,” Roberto said.
He advised people going WWOOFing for the first time “to be open and to be prepared for a hard job.”
It is good to plan in advance and to read host profiles carefully before deciding where to stay, making sure the type of work is of interest.
Duree Jung, 24, said the work was minimal when she WWOOFed at a farm in Gangwon Province for five days last summer, leaving plenty of time to relax and enjoy the countryside.
She and five other guests from America, Canada and Hong Kong, helped to harvest corn and potatoes, eating the organic produce at night.
“At that time I was fed up with the big city, I just wanted to go to the countryside. It was a good time ― sleeping at the local community center and swimming in the lake,” she said.
“For the family, it was the first time for them to meet foreigners. At the beginning they didn’t know how to work with foreigners, but they soon got used to having them there. In the end they learned about people from other countries. Even though they don’t speak English well.”
She recommended WOOFing in Korea to foreigners who were “really open minded.”
While WWOOF Korea can help non-Korean speakers arrange stays with hosts who don’t speak English, patience and flexibility will be needed during the stay.
“I think Korea is a country of two sides and it is nice to be able to see both,” said Anna, who spent the first week of her Korean journey in Seoul.
“When you go to a foreign country, you don’t need to understand everything about its culture or always share the people’s feeling. What I have learned in all this trip is that the most important thing is that you respect other people’s ways of life.”
Roberto agreed: “We didn’t know anything about Korea and Korean people before coming here so it seemed like a good way to learn.
“There are cultural differences between us and the family but they are nice and friendly. We have seen a different way of life.”
Go to www.wwoofkorea.co.kr
for more information. English-speaking host farms
● Joy Farm ― Bonghwa-gun, North Gyeongsang Province
Minimum stay: two weeks
The farm nestled deep in a mountain valley was started by a couple who left Seoul for the simple life in 1997.
● Color of Jeju ― Jeju City
Minimum stay: three days
This cooperative of seven neighboring organic farmers produces a wide variety of fruits.
● Sanmauel High School ― Incheon
Minimum stay: two weeks
This eco school aims to foster a healthy environment for its 60 students through organic farming.
● Hansol Farm ― Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province
Minimum stay: one week
This family-run organic poultry farm also produces organic strawberries and other fruits.
By Kirsty Taylor (email@example.com