Katie Bien mugs amid piles of “black gold,” rich compost – chicken
feathers give a clue to one ingredient in the recipe -- that she and her husband Keith (far right) have been making all year. Also
pictured are WOOFers Chris Graham (left) and Nick Smith, organic
farming interns who will help them spread the wealth around the
crops. This summer, the Biens will host a day camp on their farm to
teach school children the value of fresh, local food.
By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
Keith and Katie
Bien, with their permaculture design credentials and their Hugelkultur potato
beds, are a new breed of farmer. As such, is it any surprise that their farm
hosts a new breed of farmhand? Dade County, please meet the WOOFers.
their name from the organization Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. They
are people – generally young people – who take a few weeks or a few months out
of their lives to live and work on farms, getting an education in organics and
three meals a day in exchange for tough outdoor labor Americans of previous
generations abandoned in droves. “That’s mostly what we get, is young people
who want to learn about organic farming, and they work so hard,” said Katie
She and her
husband, Keith, have had WOOFers of both genders since they began farming in
Wildwood, but the current crop is two young men, Nick Smith and Chris Graham.
“I’ve been out
of an actual job since November sometime and I’ve been looking for something
else to do,” said Graham, 21. “I figured this would be a good way to learn and
to do something different.”
WOOFer, Nick Smith, is a 32-year-old botanist who works for a nonprofit company
that does habitat mapping for community planners. He was facing a five-week
layoff and decided to spend the time WOOFing because: “I didn’t want to sit
around and watch TV for five weeks.”
Smith said he’d
previously had farmhand gigs under the old-fashioned concept of getting paid
for labor. “The work we do here is just as hard but it’s more flexible when we
can do it,” he said. He said he’s enjoyed his stay with the Biens and is
thinking of coming back when they begin construction of their planned new house
to learn building skills.
Graham will be
at the farm all summer and thus lives in a camper in a back field. Smith, who
will be leaving shortly, lives, as most WOOFers, do in a tent.