By Som Liengtiraphan ‘17
“What did you do this summer?” is a common conversation starter at the start of the fall semester. Some undergrads picked up work skills internships or made some extra case with a seasonal job. Nina Listro, though, ‘17 traveled to Puerto Rico and spent part of her summer “WWOOFing” at an organic fruit orchard.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), Listro explained, is an organization that connects farmers to people who want to learn and experience organic farming. Volunteers receive food, accommodation, and the opportunity to “dig in.”
Listro, along with two friends, Katie Wolfe and Steven Whitney, spent three weeks at an organic fruit orchard this summer in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. A typical day on the farm started at 7:30 am with a breakfast of oatmeal. Then from 8:00 to 11:30 am, the volunteers took care of chores and manual labor on the farm. These tasks include planting cacao trees and weeding. This was followed by a three hour lunch break. After the siesta, another three hours of work was completed before dinner. Dinner was usually included fruits and vegetables grown on the farm.
After two weeks on the farm, Listro, an English Language, Media, and Communications major, and her friends traveled through Puerto Rico before returning for a final week on the farm. On the bus out of Mayaguez, Listro and her friends met a villa ownership and his son.
“My friends (Katie, Steven and Max–a student from San Diego that worked on the farm with us) and I met Luis Ortiz and his son Tsunami on the bus from Mayaguez to San Juan for an organized march against Monsanto,” a US company that specializes in developing genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds.
“Luis owned an oceanside villa that he rented to vacationers, and he had a week where he didn’t have any guests,” Listro explained. “He asked us if we wanted to help clean and paint the villa during that week and in exchange we would get to stay there and he’d pay for our groceries.” The villa was in Rincòn, the surfing capital of Puerto Rico. We worked Monday-Friday for about six hours a day cleaning bathrooms, washing windows, painting the exterior…. The rest of the time we were free to do what we pleased, which tended to be swimming in the crystal clear, turquoise water. Max even taught us to surf on one of our days off!”
“One day we were cleaning the kitchen window that looked straight out to the ocean and saw 7 wild manatees. We hurriedly put on our swimsuits, grabbed some goggles and snorkels, and got to swim with them. I even touched one–It was magical! We worked there for a week, and stayed for a few days longer before we had to go to the airport. We still keep in touch.”
To Listro, this experience was a time of learning. Not only did she learn about organic farming and its lifestyle, she also learned a lot about herself. “What I learned most was to control my own anxiety. There were no parents there and I had to learn to deal with it on my own,” she said. “But I had two friends to support me, and I grew up a little.”
Listro said she would recommend WWOOFing. “Definitely! I wished I had stayed longer than five weeks, but five weeks is a good place to start. I would recommend getting to know the farmer you are working with before you go. Travelling is the best way to be in tune with yourself, and by going, I learned a lot.”
For more information on WWOOF, visit their website.