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Farm volunteers join hands in Korea

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Published : 2014-01-21 19:59
Updated : 2014-01-22 12:55

A group from World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms will descend on a farm this weekend to lend a helping hand.

But instead of spades or secateurs, they will be using hammers, saws and paintbrushes, as they look to create murals and add to the facilities.

The farm is one of 60 across Korea participating with the local branch of the international farming volunteer group.

WWOOF volunteers pose with eggs they collected while volunteering on a farm in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, in November. (WWOOF Korea)

The group has volunteered at the farm regularly. Last summer, it hosted a WWOOF farm camp there for 50 people, during which they began building facilities ― an outhouse and a fertilizer storage area ― and painting murals on them.

Since then, the farmer has put in dormitory rooms for the volunteers to stay, and this weekend they will add places to cook and eat.

“We usually have meals on the farm, just anywhere or in the greenhouse, so we want to develop (the dormitory) and make it look nicer, and put a simple kitchen in there so that we can easily cook together,” said Kota Fukuyama, WWOOF Korea’s manager.

It is part of WOOF Korea's plans to make the camp bigger this year, and it hopes to double the total membership of the organization in Korea from its current 400.

He said the group WWOOF outings were something that made the Korean group unusual. WWOOF tends to be a much larger organization in other countries, but the Korean branch has used Korea’s small scale to its advantage by setting up an office in Seoul and using that central location as a gathering point for group activities. The outings happen about every two weeks.

“Usually people go WWOOFing by themselves, but we have events and people can easily join in,” said Fukuyama. “Usually many hosts want to have WWOOFers for long-term, but by having group WWOOF, we made it possible to do something in a short time, especially on the weekends.

“And also it became possible for people to meet with each other by joining this, so we really like this.”

This means that while members often act individually in other countries and seldom meet, the Korean version is more social.

“Of course we do the normal membership program, but by having group WWOOF we can meet the volunteers in person and we can communicate with them, and we can send a group of laborers to a certain farm for a day or two,” he said.

“As far as I know, we are the only one who does group WWOOF, and we are quite open. Usually people can only access WWOOF through the Internet but we are very eager to meet like-minded people and have more and more communication so that we can make a network.”

WWOOF Korea is also trying to set up a “community-supported agriculture” project, in which consumers pay a subscription to farmers in advance. The idea is to give the farmers a more stable income and the consumers more direct access to produce.

The group has been unable to begin CSA in its original format, but has set up a system where people can by a trial box for 30,000 won. The first boxes went out in December, Fukuyama said.

Participation in Saturday’s event costs 15,000 won for nonmembers and 10,000 won for members. For more information about the group, visit wwoofkorea.org.

By Paul Kerry (paulkerry@heraldcorp.com)

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