For the past three years, the national headquarters of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) has been located on a corner many of us pass regularly: Hayes and Fillmore. The small sign on its cheerful red door and the box of pamphlets outside are the only clue as to what lies inside.
Curious to meet the team behind WWOOF-USA, we sat down with Executive Director Sarah Potenza to learn more about WWOOF's mission and presence in the neighborhood.
First, a little history: the WWOOF movement was started in 1971 in London by a secretary named Sue Coppard. Originally the acronym stood for "Working Weekends On Organic Farms," offering those trapped in London's urban environment the opportunity to get their hands dirty in the countryside.
Since then over 100 countries throughout the world have launched WWOOF programs, bridging connections between organic farms and those who would like to work on them, either for a short period or an extended stay. WWOOF participants could include students traveling around Europe, looking for free places to stay in exchange for work. Others are more serious, looking to learn serious farming skills and organic practices. WWOOF experiences can range from one night to several months, depending on the farm, individual and season.
WWOOF USA was launched in 2001, by Sarah and several of her friends. All students at University of California in Santa Cruz, the group participated in WWOOF-ing experiences in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Hawaii. Upon returning from their travels they decided to launch a branch in the United States, and thus WWOOF-USA was born.
The headquarters were initially located in Laguna Beach, until Sarah discovered the current address at 654 Fillmore Street. The office used to be home to Urban Group Real Estate, but as that company's business grew it took over the space next door. WWOOF moved in in 2012 and has been there ever since.
(Tori Degen, Program Manager and Board of Directory Secretary, Ruby the dog, and Sarah Potenza, Executive Director)
WWOOF-USA is part of the Federation of WWOOF Organizations, though each country has their own specific guidelines, requirements, and goals. For Sarah, she cites education as number one. "We want to train the next generation of organic farmers, and inspire them" she told us.
WWOOF also strives to support existing farms, and to create a community of all people to participate in the organic movement, not just farmers.
At the moment, WWOOF-USA requires that all farms registered with them offer at least a half day's work to WWOOFers. In exchange, farms will provide room and board, but no money should be exchanged. Farms vary from orchards to dairies, vineyards to ranches, meaning that those looking for a specific type of experience have a variety of options to choose from.
WWOOF-USA currently has 20,000 registered workers, and just passed the 2,000 mark for registered farms. "Every year it's growing," Sarah said, and the organization behind Hayes Valley's red door doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.