The WWOOFing program
I didn’t know they had a WWOOFing program here. ‘Cause it was more or less not maintained. So it had been a couple of months without WWOOFers, but then a WWOOFer came and I thought “oh they’ve got WWOOFERS here”. So then I went to Agita and I said: “can I take charge of the Woofing department please? ‘Cause I want help”, he said “yeah sure”, he actually told me it was impossible, he’s tried ten people over 7 or 10 years trying to manage the WWOOFers, but apparently it’s a bit difficult for some reason. But after telling me it was impossible he said, yeah sure you can do it.
So we had three rooms just over here in the guest house that were used for WWOOFers, so I kind of took over those as well, and started doing… we made a flyer… So gradually when the WWOOFers were coming they would stay, they were staying for two days, or a week or two. But by limiting their work so they started at the same time every day and finished at the same time every day, just did four or five hours, and paying attention to their… in Sanskrit we call it Dharma, but their sort of nature what they like to do. Whether they want to work in a kitchen or construction, renovation in the garden and even in the garden what they like to do in the garden or maybe they like to build things or I don’t know? There’s a million things to do here take care of the cows and the horses or whatever. But whatever they would want to do I would move them in that area. And we would start all at the same time and finish at the same time. And we’d picked up the cleanliness renovated the rooms, made sure there is always fresh sheets and the water is always working, everything like that. Basically, community care.
So because of that WWOOFers started to stay longer. So they started to grow. We were averaging 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 WWOOFers on any given day. Then um, with Ervasi’s help (a lady here on the farm) we made one flyer; which is something I have done before, in normal work unlike gardening, I had done allot of promotional work before. So we sent that flyer out to all the Hare Krishna restaurants all the catering, sent it to all the backpackers, youth hostels all that kind of stuff and then we started to get flooded. So then we had maybe ten on any given day and we needed more rooms. So we started to renovate, build rooms, build a container here and I asked Agita for some capital, and now we have 28 rooms for WWOOFers, including this house. So yeah, so now like, I don’t know what it is today but two days ago we had 39 WWOOFers on that day. Which is a lot.
So in a sense not having any particular talents or knowledge about gardening we went the other way. I just brought so many WWOOFers and many of them know about gardening and like gardening cause they are WWOOFers, that’s what they like and I get help from people who are professional gardeners and I bring them in one day a week to tell the WWOOFers how to garden and all I’ve become is a facilitator, co-ordinator. I just take care of them. And they do everything [laughs]. Basically.
Like today they are harvesting, so they’ll get, I don’t know, maybe at least twenty boxes of veges you know, its fresh, its organic. Some of it will go to the temple, some to the restaurant in Burleigh, and whatever’s left over, after what the temple needs and what the restaurant needs, I sell myself at the market. That’s how I maintain myself, financially.
I say that the average stay now is more than a month and many of them have been here four months, five months, six months, seven months. I don’t think it would be possible to maintain the amount of WWOOFers that we have; as basically two things, attract someone to come, attract them to stay, so… and if you do both then, it’s growing, that’s why it’s growing. So, attract them to come is, you know whatever, there’s people talking, they talk amongst themselves. In that LOHAS demographic at least, we used to study it very rigorously, on the level of sort of executive marketing, (we in fact had an executive marketer working with us). What works? Those flyers work, those commercials work, does networking work, does social, you know like Facebook or something, what works? And in the LOHAS demographic and primarily it’s networking. Friends tell their friends, this whole woofer world, like the Byron Bay scene your age group, they just talk and they Facebook and they’re always on the phone and they’re emailing and; if they love it here their friends find out about it very soon. Yeah. I just go an email from somebody in Germany, ‘cause somebody came here stayed here, told their friend and now some friend from Germany is coming here and wants to arrange so they can stay here. So completely different from say marketing twenty years ago.
So it comes down to a non-faked, and actual, spiritual attempt to actually not pretend to for some mercenary spirit but actually care, actually to take care of the people, to go out of our way for Carunica and myself and some of the other community care crew here, who were WWOOFers themselves for the most part. They have sort of come as a guest and then become almost like a non-Hare Krishna member of the Hare Krishna community who then turns around and helps the guests, or the new WWOOFers new volunteers. And we really do, I mean I’m sure we fail in a million ways, but we really put a lot of emphasis and time and thought and energy and care and money, into making things very comfortable and very happy; as much as we can for them. Nice furniture, nice facilities, you know. If the hot water breaks it’s an issue, I want to immediately fix that. If somebody is unhappy with somebody else staying a shared room, we move them immediately. If somebody doesn’t like a particular service, Ok. What service is your favourite service? Ok we’ll put you there. Even if it doesn’t serve the farm’s needs as much, but the basic principle if a person is working in a way they feel inspired to work and are happy to work with people who they are happy to work with, then the best of them will come out. And morale goes up tremendously. And keep everything safe so that they know at 6.30 in the morning til 12, you’re at work and all the other minutes of the day you are totally free. Nobody can ask you to do anything. You have major social exchange. You have worked nicely with integrity, we are most appreciative of that, please enjoy. Have a nice time.
The way that basically I have been running it, however it actually pans out over the years, is if you are prepared [pause] we present ourselves in a non-sectarian way. So all Choudhury Bikram, you know Bikram yoga, his head teacher/trainer, can’t remember his name, nice gentlemen, he announced at one of our yoga expos this little coined phrase all yoga is good yoga. I always like that one. So from our point of view (that was in a culture at the time when he said that when a lot of the yoga schools were in business competition and fighting and pulling each other down in yoga magazines and stuff like that. In fact Choudhury Bikram himself called all the other yoga leaders, even the most respected ones, like B. K. S. Iyengar, he called them yoga clowns. He’s a little bit Hollywood. But anyway…) we want to very overtly, very explicitly, very assertively present ourselves not again as a trick or as something that we don’t truly believe, or truly think, you know, something that you might use or use as a tactic. Not like that but actually from the heart to encourage people in whatever wisdom tradition or spiritual tradition that they want to practise.
We are pro spirituality, to the max. As opposed to a materialistic based life, simply on the premise of what will bring you your ultimate goals: health and happiness, good relationships and living more in harmony with the actual universe as we find it. Sort of like old school philosophy. Like in Athens times, or something like that. We really push that, so if you want to be, you want to follow a Buddhist path, or your own path, or some eclectic path, or ah, you’re almost like, you have a sensitivity towards being boxed into any sort of religious tradition, you just have your own spiritual goals. You want to become a person who’s forgiving, kind, merciful, compassionate, truthful, clean, whatever. We try to encourage that as a general policy.
For example, Tim a boy who’s… he met his wife here actually. They were both WWOOFers, now they’re getting married. He manages half our gardens. And he’s been playing music in the garden as a kind of conscious part of what he does. You know to make a nicer environment. So then we discussed, what kind of music? So ah, at first we sort of just went liberal. We just had other priorities on those first few days. And we found that, people would just play anything and some of it was, ah [pause] heavily materialistic, and some of it spiritual and some of it this and some of it that, and some… So it was a little tricky, how to do that in a way that balances freedom and taste and unique pleasure experienced through sound; and the principles that we run this farm by.
So we came to a thing where we said, ok, let’s just play, let’s make it all spiritual based music, about half Hare Krishna, because we are on the Hare Krishna farm; and half world spirituality. And I think he’s got things on there like Leonard Coen’s Halleluiah, he’s got Bob Marley singing the Redemption Song, he’s got, I asked him to put it on, I don’t think he did, Handel’s Messiah [laughs]. Like my parents… we use to… we used to be a little bit involved in Hillsong; which is the biggest Christian music organisation in the works in Western Sydney. Some of their music is wonderful, gospel music. Tibetan Buddhist chants, or other things that are closer to ours but significantly different like, say chants like the Chamundas might do – Chamunda yoga community – They are Shaktas ultimately. Actually in their day-to-day practice, most of them are not really philosophical at all, they don’t even care. They’re just there to do yoga and have a good time and be Satwik, as they would say or as we would say. But still, whatever, or there’s this local gentlemen Kevin James, in Byron, somebody showed the CD to me of him recently. As soon as I hear it, ‘sounds nice’. So like that. Just like we designed that music, like I think when you came in here there’s two of these signs and one of them is a quote from Jesus, I think. This one’s from the Bhagavad Gita. What’s this one from? So there’s one out there from Jesus, down the stairs. And another one from Marcus Aurelius, who’s um, people might know popularly from the Gladiator movie. He was considered a philosopher and a poet in his day. Emperor of Rome, I believe.
So you can bring wisdom in from other places, you’re not just saying it’s this way?
Very consciously, very assertively. And that effects how the WWOOFers and the volunteers and guests. I’d say actually only about half of them are WWOOFers, others are, they think of themselves as guests, volunteers, or friends of devotees. Or someone just who likes gardening; or something like that. Or some travellers who just needed a place to stay and this looked like a pretty place. Or they had a friend here. Whatever.
So what happens when they stay for three or four or five months, because now, the way guests see them, and the way the community sees them is not as guest who stayed for a week, or a day. They’re actually part of the community now. Effectively they’ve been living here longer than some of the devotees. So we try to balance that. I just, I basically explain that to them: “Now that you’ve been here a few months, you’re starting to be seen as sort of like a non-Hare Krishna part of our community, the Hare Krishna community.” So I encourage them to instead of them feeling themselves to be a guest who’s taken care of by the community, to sort of stand on the other side of the fence and see themselves now as part of the community who will take care of the new guests. It’s a work in progress. And, we’re seeing how that goes, but pretty much it seems to work. Nicely. The only thing we can’t deal with long term is if somebody brings, ah … we have a very high focus on, what would you that that? Non-human animial care. Whether its mice or cow or peacocks or birds, it’s like I don’t even allow them to do such controversial things as kill, um, like cockroaches or even cane toads. We just have a no, just don’t hurt anything. Anyone. Even the trees we’re very careful not to take a tree out unless we have to. Unless it’s very chronic for some other reason.