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The PJ Tatler

by
Zombie

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November 17, 2013 - 12:21 pm
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The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States — but the authors of that amendment didn’t take into account how to cope with people who want to become slaves as a political statement.

Absurd as it may seem, self-enslavement is now a growing fad among privileged white eco-activists, who happily “volunteer” to do unpaid manual farm labor, to alleviate themselves of civilizational guilt and to get in touch with the Earth.

It wasn’t long ago that lower-middle-class kids would spend summers working on farms in order to earn money. Now upper-middle-class kids labor in the fields for no pay simply in order to be cool. Their parents are supporting them, after all. It feels hypocritical to spend your life as a “food justice” activist if you’ve never actually grown food, so why not enslave yourself for a while to earn some political credibility?

A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle approvingly describes the latest mania:

[Brian] Blosser grew up in a suburb of St. Louis. But he was in graduate school and had become particularly curious about food, how it was grown and where it came from.

The 27-year-old’s search for answers has turned him into a perennial WWOOFer (pronounced like the sound a dog makes). The acronym has become part of the vernacular in the farming exchange program, which has become a cultural phenomenon and is especially popular in Northern California.

WWOOF originally stood for Working Weekends on Organic Farms, a loose-knit organization founded in 1971 in England to help place volunteers on farms in exchange for free room and board and an opportunity to learn about agriculture.

This month [Blosser]‘s working at Bobcat Ridge Avocados in Watsonville.

“I was intrigued by avocados, which we don’t see too many of in St. Louis,” Blosser said, adding that he will use his experience to start an urban farm when he gets home.

His host, Nancy Faulstich, her husband and three children have been participating in WWOOF USA for more than two years, taking in two volunteers at a time year-round. They’ve come from as far away as New Zealand and India to help with the Faulstich family’s avocado orchard – about 200 trees – and their large garden, doing everything from watering and planting seeds to mulching and unloading manure.

Erin Tormey of Irish Ridge Ranch, a 48-acre apple orchard and home to 180 laying hens in Half Moon Bay, says those looking for good surfing or a yoga retreat need not apply.

“I only want people who want to farm,” said Tormey, 52. “I think some have the impression that we run around in gingham dresses going to barn dances. Farming is a huge amount of physical labor.”

Tormey said the experience for her has been extremely advantageous.

“I can’t run the farm myself,” she said. But besides getting labor, “I have learned from every WWOOFer I’ve had stay here. Sometimes it’s as simple as doing something the same way forever and having someone with fresh eyes say, ‘Why don’t you move that here instead of there?’ The level of optimism these volunteers bring is inspiring. To bring about change by getting down in the dirt – well, it’s amazing.”

It’s “amazing” alright — amazing that voluntary indentured servitude has become the “in” thing to do among the über-privileged eco-hipster dilettantes of the modern environmental movement.

If the European colonialists had justified slave-trading as merely “giving Africans an opportunity to learn about agriculture,” would that have made it OK?

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Top Rated Comments   
Well, they do work at "organic" farms, away from those icky chemicals and those prisons for the livestock.
If this nation went back to those farming practices today, we'd all be starving in a week. When you see pallet after pallet of eggs, meat, vegetables, fruits, grain products, flowing into your hipster cities, do you think all that production comes from those hipster tiny little spreads?
Industrial farming is where its at, and it isn't going away. Go take some college kid and have them drive a combine 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, to bring in the wheat crop. Or work 6 hours straight milking an army of cows in the morning, only to clean out the barn and milk them all again in the evening.
Or maybe a meat packing plant? Do you think those steaks just jump into the plastic wrap all by themselves? Junior would be running back to mommy and daddy as fast as their little legs can carry them.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
The fact that a farmer can get a college kid to perform demanding manual labor for nothing more than room and board, speaks volumes about the value of a college education these days.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
The difference is that when you volunteer for the Peace Corps or at a food shelter, you are doing it to benefit the poor. Conversely, these new "self-slaves" are working as unpaid employees of for-profit capitalist enterprises. That's the key difference. You aren't helping the poor -- you're simply helping some guy who's richer than you make even more money. And in so doing, denying a job to an actual member of the working class.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (38)
All Comments   (38)
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There's somewhere else they farm like this: Cuba. We should work out an exchange program with Raul Castro: hipsters for refugees.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wow. You must really be down on unpaid internships ... Are you a $15 an hour minimum wage activist, as well?

Are the greenie-wienies annoying as piss, yes. Do they deserve all the contempt in the world, yes. But don't give the leftists an opening to forestall all opportunities for young people to learn a skill while not necessarily making money at the beginning, especially in agriculture...
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Is there some way we can sign up ALL environmentalists for this slavery?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Have the farmer pay them in apples. Take to apples to Berkeley, SF, Atherton, Los Gatos and sell them to high end stores.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
So in the eco-faith religion; salvation, self-righteousness, and wisdom is gained through your works.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can't really get with you here Zombie. I know some of these people and they are very passionate about small-scale agriculture. They plan to start their own small farms once they have the skills. A lot of people in small-scale farming world are libertarian or conservative, because they see what govt is doing to our food supply. I know it sucks to have to agree with the hippies, but face it, fresh vegiies and meat really do taste better :)
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think two possible good outcomes are possible. First these kids probably have no marketable skill and maybe they can catch on as harvest hands when we quit paying people to be unproductive. Second there is no industry more distorted than agriculture, other than maybe health care, by government intervention. Some (by no means all of these chuckleheads) will begin to see that trying to manage complex systems by administrative diktat is dismal. The FDA is the biggest hurdle to the agrarian utopia they want. Some of the former hippies that sell at my farmers market are full-on tea partiers now.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
My Aunt and Uncle had a small two acre farm when I was growing up. I loved spending time there either on a weekend or holiday. My Aunt canned a lot of the fruits and vegetables they grew and they also set up a small roadside stand to sell their surplus. I never thought of it as work, just helping out my Uncle and having a great time either planting, tending to, or picking the crops. There really is a difference between farm fresh produce and what you get from a supermarket. Of course we did have to wash the DDT off them before we could eat them. (Though I have to admit a few strawberries or peaches got a quick wipedown and devoured right in the field)
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
My father followed the harvest during the Depression: he had no choice and nothing to brag about. These twerps can quit when they want.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Arrow-straight cattle ranchers are doing this too, except yes, guests must pay and they must work, sleep on the ground, drink cowboy coffee, etc. It's especially popular with Europeans who feel the romance of America's old west.

I don't really have a problem with it. The WWOOFers sound deluded and they should try a gig on one of the evil corporate farms if they really want to learn about the economics and science of agriculture, but different strokes for different folks. At least they're working with their hands and getting solid results, not writing annotated diaries, calling them dissertations or senior papers, and moving on to useless discoveries about minority images in feminine protection commercials.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
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