WWOOFing is both an education and an adventure into the unknown; who knows what you will learn, when or how and this is part of the attraction. It is likely that there will be an assortment of practical experiences which fall together in a pattern unique to your journey. An organic education on the other hand, in the formal sense of a tertiary learning centre and qualification of some kind, is exactly the opposite. It is a heavily spec’d business with curriculum, learning outcomes and assessments all carefully prescribed.
Between the two extremes, Taruna College in the Hawke’s Bay offers an alternative type of education which is both an approved qualification and based on a working biodynamic farm. The programme integrates a broad theoretical approach with hands on applied skills; so it has a bit both worlds. Taruna has been offering the Certificate in Applied Organics and Biodynamics since 1991 and since 2005 in its current part time format. The programme is approved by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and so has their stamp of approval. Based around three, one week long seminars, spread two months apart, it has lent itself to WWOOFers who look to gain a theoretical framework on which to hang and structure their field experiences.
Kaori Yoshida a 30 year old Japanese from Kobi City, first visited NZ as a WWOFer in 2007. She described her former life as an event merchandiser with Sony Corporation as ‘stressful and bad for the health and spirit’. Returning again in 2013 as a Wwoofer at Shelly Beach Farm on the Kaipara Harbour, North of Auckland, Kaori took on the Certificate in Applied Organics and Biodynamics with the intention of learning more about food production while shifting to a better and more natural lifestyle. The programme was recommended by her hosts and required an impressive leap up to study in the English language for the first time. The content complemented her practical experience on the farm and gave deeper insights. Kaori now holds a working visa to assist with the task of breeding dung beetles for release throughout NZ. [www.dungbeetle.org.nz]
Hongze Yao from Fujian Province, China is also a current student on the programme. Yao, who has a degree in Crop and Soil Science from Michigan State, tells of spending three months researching options for a WWOOFing experience in New Zealand that would give him precisely the right type of learning in organic crop and glasshouse production systems. This initial experience led Yao into paid work for a biodynamic mixed dairy and cropping farm, Hohepa Clive Farm [www.hohepahawkesbay.com] in the Hawke’s Bay and he has been fortunate to have the full support of his new employer to study with Taruna College.
Students on the programme are not all WWOOFers. Some are developing their own small properties and wishing to take an organic path whilst others are employed by organic farmers and growers who are organically certified or intending to transition to this and are looking for greater understanding of their work practices.
Hannah Tatton a New Zealander who has been working in Sydney for a year, decided to beat a track home and take a career change at the same time. A combination of WWOOFing on a Coromandel vineyard, Ohui Vineyard [www.ohuivineyard.co.nz] which also farms cattle, plus part time study has enabled her to develop a new skill set – and quantify this. Hannah’s work in marketing and small business management is now set to shift towards closing the gap between the consumer and the organic grower.The Taruna programme has an unusual format in that it is neither full time nor distance based.
“There have been a lot of requests over the years for a distance based programme, this is something we have definitely resisted. Magic happens when adults come together from diverse background experiences and share a journey” says Programme Director Fiona Ward.
Taruna’s students hold a common interest in sustainable food production and this can be directed in a variety of ways; Permaculture, agro-ecology, biological farming, self sufficiency, organics or biodynamics. What is created on the programme is an open forum where discussions can take place, so it is not about converting people but more about considering what sustainability means in practical terms.
For information about programmes at Taruna College www.taruna.ac.nz or phone 06 8777174.