Farming Around the Country: An Organic Odyssey

Brian Bender
Farming Around the Country: An Organic Odyssey
NorlightsPress, Martinsville, IN 2010

A year of organic farm hoping. That was the aspiration of high school science teacher Brian Bender. With the help of WWOOF, the World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, Bender's dream became a reality as he selected eleven small-scale farms across the country, quit his teaching job and spent the next twelve months getting a hands-on education in sustainable living. As a WWOOFer, he was one of 400,000 volunteers helping on farms in over 90 countries. In return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles. Farming Around the Country is Bender's inspiring, often humorous, refreshingly unsentimental narrative of his year as a nomadic farmer. Entering a world dominated by "eccentric farmers and unusual chores" Bender's farm hosts range from Henry, a grump who overworks his woofers and feeds them leftovers from his meals at the senior center, to Kitty and Creek, inspiring Californians who participate in farm hosting primarily for the cultural exchange with WWOOFers rather than for the free labor.

Bender's farm experience, which ranged from livestock to produce, obviously included substantial hard work. But it also reinforced the unquestionable value of growing organic food in rich, fluffy soil. A small five-acre CSA farm in Vermont that plants crops based on the phases of the moon feeds 50 families. In contrast, the giant mono-crop farms of Bender's native Ohio can't even healthfully feed a single person.

Along with his adventure WWOOFing, Bender took mini-vacations and learned the joys of Couchsurfing, an online network where thrifty travelers are offered a spare bedroom or couch. He also plunged into meditation. Having never meditated before, he sat for a 10 day Vipassana meditation course recommended by a farm host in Shelbourne Falls, Massachusetts. With insight gained "farming around the country," Bender is now involved in an urban gardening project in Eugene, Oregon. — Reviewed by Gail Lord