The making of ‘Living and Learning on Organic Farms’ (LLOOF); two years working on an EU farming project without actually getting dirty hands. WWOOF UK director Nim Kibbler has been involved in this far-reaching project since day one and reflects on its progress and impact.
It was back in 2013 at the first WWOOF UK AGM I attended that WWOOF UK made the decision to employ a fundraiser, to see if it was possible to make some of the hopes of diversifying the WWOOF spirit into relevant projects. Although this didn’t manifest as anything domestic, it did result in WWOOF UK proposing to apply for the old European Union fund, now called ERASMUS+ (not to be confused with that semester-abroad-thing that undergraduate students do). To speed the story along our fundraiser, Adam Cade, with experience of running his own sustainable education business, began an application for around €125,000 and looked for WWOOF European national organisations with the skills, time and interest to be project partners.
Success for the bid arrived in the summer of 2014 just as we were getting ready for the global WWOOF meeting in Western Turkey. The first of the project’s transnational meetings was tagged on to this meeting and for the very first time all ten EU WWOOF national organisations sat down in a room and discussed what was in store for us and what we had said we could achieve.
Therefore, our EDVORG project (later to be named LLOOF because clearly we can’t help but name everything with an acronym!) began in earnest, with our partners from Ireland, Italy, Czech Republic, Serbia, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Norway and our lovely hosts Turkey. We faced some initial changes such as the coordinator and sole employee of WWOOF Norway bringing in her neighbour, border wise, Sweden to assist with the workload.
Our brief was to create a lengthy, detailed learner’s guide incorporating the core aspects of farming, land management and food production; those we know to be the core of smallhold/farm life. Additionally, this guide would be translated into our nine native languages and we would ensure it was available online for WWOOFers and other rural/farming learners to find. Of course, the EU, which was providing the money, had its own specific outcomes it wished to see delivered; these included:
- collaboration between the various national groups
- experience of each others cultures and working practices
- creating a guide that would prove useful for volunteers on small organic enterprises enhancing materials for training and education
- open access to resources, no barriers to learning.
WWOOF UK’s role was to coordinate the project; Adam was employed in this role, I joined him as a director for assistance but had less time I could dedicate when I returned to Scotland in 2015. Later, we were also joined by Alex Lee, a director with a background in IT and online learning – very useful indeed.
One of the first conversations that Adam had with other WWOOF UK team members was about WORMS; a training manual developed by Sue Coppard and others back in 1984. It laid out a number of competencies that a WWOOFer would gather as they WWOOFed about the UK on a variety of smallholdings, farms and garden enterprises. WORMS was used as the basis for the subjects built into the learning structure of what became LLOOF.
When we reached out to the wider WWOOF community on the continent we were pleased with how well received the idea was and a number of WWOOF national organisations came forward as partners. We then had the difficult task of choosing those with the most fitting skills set. So our team for the next two years was:
- Vojtêch and Roman from WWOOF Czech Republic
- Basil and Ezster from WWOOF Italy
- Chemi, Fabio and Carl from WWOOF Spain
- Katarina and Milan from WWOOF Serbia
- Berkay and Hakan from WWOOF Turkey
- Daniel and Tamas from WWOOF Hungary
- Annie and Catherine from WWOOF Ireland
- Mette from WWOOF Norway, Jandi and later Teo from WWOOF Sweden
- Jan, Anna and Hendrick from WWOOF Germany.
Partners came with a broad range of skills, ranging from professional/community arts, social media/communications management, IT systems/web development, professional translation and farm/sustainable education. All partners were committed to monthly online meetings, spreading the workload between us. Each area of workload, for example ‘needs analyses’ of the potential learners, was assigned to a WWOOF national partner with suitable experience and skills.
In total the project has involved three transnational meetings, two of which would be tagged on to the back of other international WWOOF meetings. These were:
- Western Turkey in October 2014, after the global WWOOF meeting
- Northern Italy in September 2015
- South West Ireland in April 2016, after the European meeting.
One of the biggest areas of challenge was managing ten partners’ expectations and hopes for the project and what it could achieve. Our brief was to create just a PDF learning guide but it was quickly observed that there was more potential. This included the ability to branch out into non-written learning materials, formalised online learning tools and more subjects than those already chosen. Tensions in the team were sometimes high in relation to this potential to expand our output from the project. From the UK perspective it was critical we kept to being able to achieve the basics so we could ensure we received the funding (as lead partner this was our responsibility) and distribute to each of the WWOOF national organisations their share. Others felt that the PDF wasn’t the best approach for learning and wanted to see a formal course with an open-access learning structure applied to the resulting text. Others felt that text was excluding for learners who were more audial or visual in their learning styles. These arguments were passionate and rumbled on for some time. It wasn’t until the September 2015 Italian meeting, the first chance we’d had to meet face-to-face since Turkey eleven months previously, that we drilled down to what we’d produce.
We decided to create a Moodle website using the online PDF with the original areas of learning which would act as a formalising tool for all that text and allow people to explore online via on-screen text, images, videos and external links. Additionally, we would create a video channel on YouTube where people could submit videos, related to the same topics that were in the PDF.
The first year of the project really focused on the needs analysis of learners, this was done by a large survey which resulted in around 6,000 responses. This data was sifted through and the key messages and online resources extracted. Learning styles were assessed and there was final discussion about how to present our learning materials. Most of the decisions on final materials were hashed out at the Italian meeting, where we also had the advantage of having others attending the information conference to share their ideas and thoughts – we are indebted to them and the considerations they provided.
The second year was focused on the creation of these materials; the PDF, its many translations, the Moodle site, the YouTube site and some initial videos to kick it off. The latter part of the year saw us hold a press day in Ireland and begin the process of sharing the work. Importantly, it also opened up the opportunity for others to begin to contribute videos which are a rich addition to the learning material.
We have found that the type of learning we provide with LLOOF has chimed with a good number of people, with their feedback suggesting that this was the type of resource they needed when they were learning, now that they are learning or for volunteers whom they teach or mentor. We also found that it fitted into a lot of political conversations, which involved ideas on theories and values of land use and food systems. We know ourselves that these are common WWOOFer/Host dinner time conversations and so we decided to add a section to the PDF that explored, neutrally, the different kinds of farming that are practiced and some of the political movements that farming is connected with such as the Common Agricultural Policy, food sovereignty and biodynamic practice, just to mention a few.
Now, after many months of working together remotely and very occasionally face-to-face, we find ourselves with finished and developing learning materials online that will continue to grow and develop. We see those materials being handed over to FoWO (Federation of WWOOFing Organisations) where they can become global – which is very exciting. Indeed, we have two new volunteers who are past or current WWOOFers and who have agreed to help administer the materials with some of the original team members; we met these volunteers at our meetings in Italy and Ireland. So as a group we grow!
As I write this Adam has finalised the big bureaucratic report/summary that heads off to the EU and will hopefully see the project awarded all its funding. It’s sitting in my inbox ready to read!
If I look back at the two years, it feels strange and sad to realise that my life won’t so often encounter all my teammates from this project, in fact I’ll have to wait until 2019 to see them again at the next European WWOOF meeting. This, I guess, shows that we’ve met one of the main outcomes of these types of projects – that of fostering relationships between different EU citizens. It feels odd to reflect that as I’ve settled into being part of a European team, learning from them, that I’ve also encountered ’Brexit‘ – which is achieving the exact opposite.
As a team I know we are glad we have made these sites that may help WWOOFers expand their knowledge of land management in a sustainable and organic fashion. We hope that it might foster the grounding that helps people achieve the jobs or education they want.
One of the wider advantages is what has been achieved in parallel to the LLOOF project – the awareness of WWOOF has grown and now it is more commonly recognised as a legitimate exchange service for farmers, horticulturalists and food producers. In fact the EU commission in 2015 recognised the WWOOF movement as the largest farmer exchange scheme in Europe and when the average age of farmers in EU countries is 58, there’s a pressing need for young people to be engaged in farming related work/activities.
But this has led to something even more important for many WWOOF national organisations; if they’re recognised at top level government then maybe our WWOOFers may be able to be more candid about their activities when they cross borders and are met by inquisitive border officials. It helps to visualise and underpin the educational nature of WWOOFing, which we all recognise exists, but was so often questioned by officials with statistics on their minds. Some WWOOF national organisations have to fight to show their educational or charitable benefits in order to prove their right to exist and operate – we hope that with a globally owned and maintained education tool this proof is easier to demonstrate.
To find out details on this project, please visit EDVORG website.