This post is inspired by a couple of recent events, one was a conversation on the telephone with someone enquiring about volunteering here, I explained we no longer offer volunteering we have now moved to “work stay” opportunities.
Firstly let me explain how much we value the former volunteers we have had come here and offer their labour in exchange for food ,lodgings and learning opportunities. We have even found some life long friends who we care for very much, have been to their weddings visited in their homes and invited them to share our lives on return visits without expecting anything other than company.
Then there are the volunteers who have simply exploited the volunteering opportunities for a cheep holiday, they don’t want to work or learn anything, they just do the minimum they can get away with dig up plants they think are weeds and break tools through careless use and some times even outright abuse.
The contrast from good useful volunteers to negative and detrimental has been astounding over the years and has lead us to believe we need to redress the balance, of course we have become much better at recognising the wheat from the chaff but we still get negative people who cost us in time money and energy.
So to the inspiration for the post, while explaining we no longer have volunteers and now ask “work stayers” to contribution to their food costs the enquirer asked “aren’t you self sufficient in food” like food you grow yourself is free. This is of course the opposite, the food you grow yourself is worth more than any high end organic labelled food even from our local French street market. We have used no chemicals which mean more hand weeding, no carbon fuel powered implements which mean more physical labour and intelligent design. Yet we should give this away as if it were free?
Volunteers do help in the tasks of sowing, planting out and weeding as well as many other tasks but if they are neither interest or engaged with our project they can do more harm than good, digging up rhubarb because they think it is a common dock plant, pulling up young maize plants thinking it is grass, these are innocent mistakes which cost you a years production of that plant or those plants when they destroy six rhubarb plants. We could of course be working along side the volunteers all day to avoid some of these mistakes but then why do I need volunteers if I have to supervise their every move, explain and demonstration everything.
Our system is now more complex and involved than ever, we spend a great deal of our time with volunteers teaching and explaining, and more of our time growing food for others than ever, so now we are asking more form the people who come to help in this so the end of volunteers and the beginning of “work stays.” Now this may prove to be an error only time will tell as we may only attract those who can afford to pay and lose out on the truly dedicated, but that is a risk we have to take to avoid becoming a holiday subsidy project.
We do of course have the right to return money for those who truly prove to be of value to our project, and we have returning volunteers who we know we will never charge a penny, but for all new applicants we will charge in advance and only time and commitment will tell.