Farm apprenticeships grow in popularity

A growing number of people are opting for cheap farm getaway vacations.

It's apple season on Christina Allen's organic homestead farm, and as she trudges through her orchard, she grabs a piece of fruit from a tree and tests it for ripeness, "It's 90% ready -- we could make cider," she says.

One of Allen's inquisitive turkeys stares longingly at the core, "That's Wilma! Hi Wilma! What do you think of this one, Wilma? Is it good? Yeah, she likes it!"

Allen isn't just out testing the fruit, she's teaching two farm hands how to harvest. "Take any apples off so its stripped clean of apples just look around," Allen instructs.

The farm hands -- Bob Geisel and Erin Salsbury -- get up at 6am, they weed, they harvest, process applesauce and make vinegar, they spend some time with the chickens. Yet, these aren't farm hands like from a John Steinbeck novel, they're doing this for fun and are interested in starting their own organic farm.  

Erin Salsbury says she's been "wanting to tap out of the rat race...a slower lifestyle [that's] better for the environment."

Salsbury and Geisel  stay for free in a small yellow cottage on this homestead, and in return they help Christina Allen and her husband, Frank, and learn a thing or two about organic farming along the way. This thing they're doing -- sort of organic farming tourism-apprenticeship -- is a real thing. It's called WWOOFing for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.  

"In the last couple years our membership has doubled each year," says Sara Potenza who started WWOOF USA, she connects farmers and WWOOFers. In 2008 there were 3,000 people signed up to be WWOOFers. In 2012, there were more than 17,000, and almost 200 more farms signed up in just the past year.

Potenza says, "I think more and more people have been looking for an affordable vacation...I attribute a lot of that to the way the economy has been in the last couple years. And also people are looking for some sort of meaningful vacation too."

It helps the farmers out too. On the Allens farm, it's time to water the animals and bring in the flocks, and it will start all over again tomorrow morning.  

About the author

Sabri Ben-Achour is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the New York City bureau. He covers Wall Street, finance, and anything New York and money related.

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