In Yeongwol County, Gangwon Province, Aleksandra Bykova, a Russian graduate student, is taking a break from city life. The graduate student is known as a “WWOOFer” in the town.
Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms is a global movement that promotes cultural and educational experiences on organic farms. First launched in the early 1970s in England, it has since spread its influence in more than 132 countries.
“I was curious to know the real culture of Korea, not the ones archived and shown in museums, so that’s why I came here.” Bykova said, after having spent the weekend at WWOOF host Kim Hun-sik’s farm.
This being her second visit, Bykova has attained basic skills of planting roots of bellflowers to mushroom cultivation.
Her experience on the farm is in line with a growing number of people who are turning to nature for solace amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bykova helps out picking bellflower roots at the farm. (Kan Hyeong-woo/ The Korea Herald)
Bykova spoke with confidence about how she has changed from being introverted to more talkative since her WWOOF experience began, especially as she got along with the farm animals she met strolling around the serene village. “I wanted to be free from (the city life in) Seoul, and yearned to be closer to nature. Since all the people here sincerely welcomed me, I felt encouraged to step out and help as best as I can.”
WWOOF Korea opened its doors in 1997, and currently partners with some 60 local farms that use ecological and sustainable farming practices. WWOOFers offer helping hands to their host farmers in exchange for free meals and a roof over their head.
Welcoming strangers into the front door on Day 1 was a challenge for the host. Kim reminisced on his eight-year experience being a host for WWOOF Korea in Yeongwol.
“I have learned a lot from my WWOOFer friends, and feel blessed to travel around the world, right in the middle of my living room, having unforgettable rich conversations,” Kim said.
One of the hosting events that Kim takes special pride in is the construction of tidy ochre houses aligned next to one another, just a minute away from his working farm. “Staying at our farm in particular, you get a chance to help out building ochre houses, in addition to learning organic farming skills,” Kim said. “It is a physically exhausting job for sure, but in the end, all WWOOFers who have helped out said they felt a sense of accomplishment and happiness through taking on new challenges.”
Kim and Bykova hold a view that in the WWOOF community there is no such thing as borders, boundaries or limitations. With overseas trips tightly controlled due to COVID-19 at the moment, traveling to local areas where people can connect with each other beyond the limitation of geography and culture might be a good alternative.
Kim and Bykova sits down infront of the ochre houses for an interview with The Korea Herald. (Kan Hyeong-woo/ The Korea Herald)
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