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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.

WOOFers derive 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 Bien.

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.”

The other 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.


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