Culture

Wwoofing: Slavery Lite

Wwoofing
Wwoofing
Wwoofing
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Willing Workers on Organic Farms, is a loose network of national organisations that facilitate placement of volunteers on organic farms. | Photo: Archives | Link | Wwoof, Wwoofing, Farm, Organic, Volunteer, Tank Top, Dirt,

Working the land is a good thing. But for free? Maybe not.

Oh to be young! Oh to be out in nature working the fields! Oh to be a-Wwoofing!

I'd never heard about the burgeoning "back to the land" experience called WWoofing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) until my girlfriend's son Jake went overseas a few months ago. Following a semester at Oxford, he and a college cohort met up in Germany to experience WWoofing firsthand. (BTW, Jake has had enough after a week.)

Now, the concept of American kids signing up to do this kind of work is encouraging, and it's far better than their signing up with ISIS. I think.

By WWoofing, you can meet like-minded people from all over the world, feed goats with Gerta, tend bees with Boris, and harvest apples with Andre. With ISIS, you can behead Fred, destroy ancient artifacts, and grow a really cool steampunk beard.

In theory, it's a good thing to see our kids showing an interest in something that isn't them. And it's refreshing to see them actually work, tending to livestock, gardens and fields. Back home, just try to get them to mow the lawn or pull a few weeds. Good luck.

It seems to me the main beneficiaries of this whole Wwoofing phenomenon are the farmers. They get free labor from 20-somethings (some older people Wwoof, but they are insane), and in return all they need to provide are a few meals and a 'mattress' that 2700 other people have slept on.

Hmm... free labor in exchange for food and crude accommodations. Why does that sound so familiar?

Oh wait! I believe America had a similar experiment that lasted until 1865. I believe it's called 'slavery.'

The similarities are striking, but with one distinct difference: almost all of today's Wwoofers are white. I highly doubt a young black person, hearing about the opportunity to toil in Klaus's organic artichoke fields near Stuttgart, is going to leap up with joy and sing a few Hosannas. "Twelve days a slave? I think not."

And here's the rub: Despite frequent horror stories about the experience ("I worked 13 hour days, 6 days a week!"), WWoofing is getting very popular, dare I say 'trendy.' Slavery was popular too, but for all the wrong reasons. Yes, it did spawn "Roots" and "The Color Purple," but I bet most blacks in this country would've preferred that their ancestors had been free people, and had been given a choice as to how they would lead their lives.

Now our kids are CHOOSING a kinder, gentler kind of slavery. Yes, they can leave whenever they want to, but the fact that they chose to do it in the first place is a bit odd. Perhaps it's driven by a pressing need to connect with people from different cultures, their fellow slave-travelers.

But maybe, it's just a way to come to grips with their marketability, because in this economy, many of our Millennials will be working for near-slave wages for the foreseeable future, perhaps as baristas or dog walkers.

Wwoof.

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Updated Apr 22, 2017 5:29 AM EDT | More details

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