A fair exchange: WWOOFing on Réunion Island
Last year, I went WWOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) at a beautiful organic farm in the south of La Réunion. With WWOOFing, volunteers exchange their time and work for food and board. I slept in a cabin in the woods with hedgehogs burrowing about in the bushes, all different coloured birds singing in the morning and endless rows of palm trees offering shade from the sun.
For me, one of the best ways to get to know a new place is to work with the land, live with the locals and share meals together. This is why I absolutely love WWOOFing. It has got to be one of the best ways to travel. It is a mutually beneficial exchange where everyone involved prioritises people and planet above profit. You get the time and space to deepen a connection with local communities and nature.
There is a lot to learn and each farm has its own unique way of doing things, depending on the environment, climate and soil. At the farm in La Réunion we planted palm trees to harvest the core of the trunk which can be eaten in salads. Before staying with the farm I had only eaten heart of palm from cans which were nothing in comparison to the real thing, fresh from the ground. When potting up the very beginnings of the palm trees, I felt grateful to be a part of the start of the trees' cycle. I was filled with awe that something so small could grow into something so big and strong.
We also did lots of weeding, which helped me to get to know all kinds of different plants, to be able to identify which ones we could use as herbs/medicine/in salads and which were seen as pests. We planted courgette, ginger, root vegetables and pineapples. I also got to harvest passion fruit, pineapples and guava fruit to make jams which will be sold at the local market.
Of course, not everyone is able to travel far afield, due to various restrictions or responsibilities back home. The great thing about the skill-share philosophy behind WWOOFing, which prioritises people above profit, is that it’s something we can all do from our own backyard. That can be swapping French lessons with a neighbour for babysitting, or cooking a meal in exchange for a yoga class. The focus shifts from money to how we can best support each other in our communities. A fair exchange can make a big difference in the world.
Note from editor: For more information about WWOOFing have a look at this website: http://wwoofinternational.org/