By Pat Teti –
If you buy locally produced meat or vegetables, you are probably connected to a worldwide network of travellers who help grow those meats and veggies. Their idea of a holiday is to live and work on a small farm or ranch far from their home for weeks at a time in return for room and board. These helpers are critical to some of our local producers because they’re compensated with room and board—not cash. Helpers also receive the bonuses of memorable experiences and friendships.
Unlike tourists, these helpers are motivated by the desire to experience the inner workings of a small piece of a faraway culture and geography rather than the desire to relax or play. They’re also willing to spend extended periods away from cities, dirty their hands in repetitive outdoor work, and accept accommodation that can be basic. Having an adventure at minimal cost is another benefit to those so-inclined because while staying with a host, a helper’s expenses are virtually zero.
It’s not all work and no play for helpers. Hosts generally ask for around 25 hours per week with weekends off. These and other details, such as eating and sleeping arrangements, are shared on specialized social networks operated by several organizations. Anyone can browse these websites to get an idea of where hosts are and what kinds of help they want but helpers must purchase a membership in order to see the full host descriptions and to contact them. Included in the host descriptions are reviews by previous
helpers—one of the most useful bits of information in the listings.
A helper wrote this in her review of one of our Cariboo producers and it gives you an idea of how positive these relationships can be. I changed the names to make it anonymous.
Joe and Moe are absolutely the best host parents ever – such lovely and fun people! I couldn’t have asked for a better place to stay during almost two months. … I had the farm experience of my life and I am so thankful that I was able to join important moments in their life. … I had so much fun and we all laughed a lot – it felt like my second home… my second family. I could definitely recommend this place! (from www.workaway.info)
Most helpers I’ve met in the Cariboo have been young and European but helping isn’t just for youngsters. A local farmer had a helper from Quebec with grown kids and she seemed to be having a blast when I met her at the Williams Lake Farmer’s Market. I speak from experience when I say helping isn’t just for young people. I think it’s for anyone who is healthy, intrigued by the unpredictable, and able to travel for at least a few weeks.
When I lost my job at age 60, I started going on annual six- to eight-week “helper” holidays. The ideal duration for a gig is at least a week but this can be arranged with the host in advance. In my experience, an equally important requirement is the time spent researching and contacting hosts before a trip. Although it’s possible to make arrangements with hosts on short notice while travelling, that’s not reliable.
I start looking for and contacting hosts at least a month before I leave home in order to have hosts arranged for the first few weeks of my trip.
I’ve had six helper gigs with hosts in three different countries, each from one to three weeks long. All of them have been rewarding and a few have also been challenging. My first helper gig was in a tiny farming village six hours by train from Sophia, Bulgaria. Buying a train ticket, getting on the right train, and getting off the train at the right stop were unexpected challenges due to my total lack of familiarity with the language or even the Cyrillic alphabet.
On another trip, I had an intense experience as a helper with a Catalan family near Barcelona. During my two-week stay, they involved me in every work project and social event of their extended family, encompassing different households, farm plots, mountainsides, towns, parties, and feasts for up to 14 people with all conversation in Catalan.
With my poor grasp of Spanish and no Catalan, doing simple things with friends I’d just met kept me out of my comfort zone much of the time. Although it was a wonderful experience, it’s better to be prepared with at least a basic understanding of the host’s language.
After that gig, I helped tend a beautiful flower garden for an English couple in southern Spain. It was so low-stress it felt like I was staying at a B&B. Such experiences really make one appreciate the ability to communicate!
If you’re curious about being a helper, you can browse one of these organization’s websites for basic information at no cost. Full access requires a membership.
If you have property and would like help with gardening or other simple tasks, you might also consider joining as a host. Helpers, don’t forget your travel insurance!
Helpful links: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms www.wwoof.ca, Help Exchange www.helpx.net, Workaway www.workaway.info. A two-year membership for one person ranges from $25 with Workaway to $60 with WWOOF Canada. WWOOF membership includes accident and liability insurance.
Pat Teti was a research scientist with the BC government for 18 years and has always enjoyed making things. He blogs about travel and bread baking at www.iberianpixels.blogspot.ca