A woman in a puffer jacket holds a chicken in her arms, standing in a banana plantation.Up until earlier this year, Luen Free’s “office” was typically behind the decks in a dimly lit nightclub, sending techno beats across a sweaty crowd. But with the coronavirus pandemic putting her and many others in the music industry out of work, the former triple j presenter has used the time to pursue her other passion: organic farming.

And with the pandemic leaving fewer backpackers who typically go ‘WWOOFing’ — volunteering on organic farms — Australians are being encouraged to help out on home soil.

Soaking up knowledgeWWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a worldwide movement that has connected thousands of volunteers — many of them travellers — with farmers who offer food and a bed in exchange for gardening gardening know-how.


When her touring income suddenly dried up, and as Bunnings sold out of seeds as Australians embraced isolation gardening, Luen Free enrolled in a horticulture course at TAFE and later began WWOOFing at a farm in northern New South Wales. While it has “pretty much the exact opposite” to her lifestyle as a DJ, Free said the opportunity to learn has been a silver lining amid the turmoil of 2020.

“It’s been incredible … I’ve had this break where I’ve been able to go to bed at 9.30 every night and spend all my time just concentrating on one thing,” she said.

A woman in black overalls and a long sleeved top crouches in a garden with brightly coloured herbs and spinach.

At G’Day Farm in Childers this week, Free was “soaking up” knowledge on everything from tree pruning and irrigation to how to maximise productivity in a small space, chasing chooks and discovering new types of fruit trees, while her husband Patch lent his carpentry skills to build seed beds. With their newfound knowledge, the couple planned to start their own market garden this year.

G’Day Farm co-founder, Greg Dixon, said he and his wife Dionne would struggle to run the farm smoothly without WWOOFers. They welcome a small number of regular volunteers, who donate a few hours each week, as well as visitors like Luen and her husband Patch who stay for a week or more. “Each WWOOFer we’ve had, they’ve been great — a huge help,” Mr Dixon said.

DJ, producer and horticulture student Luen Free says gardening is ‘just so good for your mental health’.(ABC Wide Bay: Eliza Goetze)

WWOOF Australia manager, Traci Wilson-Brown, said border restrictions meant fewer backpackers, who typically make up 80 per cent of WWOOF volunteers, but more Australians were taking their pandemic passion for gardening to the next level.

“We’re starting to see a few Australian WWOOFers who weren’t originally planning to go WWOOFing — they were planning to travel overseas, and now they’ve decided since they can’t do that — they’re looking for alternative ways to travel in Australia,” she said.

Two hands grabbing a bunch of fresh, green parsley growing in brown mud.
Volunteers can ask “as many questions as they like” and help with activities of their choice at G’Day Farm in Childers, from pruning trees to picking herbs.(ABC Wide Bay: Eliza Goetze)

“We’ve had some fantastic WWOOFing families who’ve joined as a family and they’ve taken their kids on a trip around Australia — or around their state, depending on what the lockdown situation is.

“It’s a fantastic way to see some of their own country and do something productive at the same time.”

Luen Free hoped the time would come when she can return to a full-time music career and tend to her own market garden at home.

In the meantime, she was encouraging anyone mourning cancelled plans, be it festivals or international travel, to get their hands dirty.

“I think that everybody should have a go at gardening.

“And in terms of going and volunteering somewhere, no matter where you live, you’ll be able to find somewhere to go in your local area.”


Key points:

  • Musician, DJ and former triple j presenter, Luen Free, joined the WWOOF movement after her touring income dried up due to the pandemic
  • WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, connecting volunteers with farmers who provide food and accommodation
  • Farmers say its a good time for Australians to get involved as there’s a backpacker shortage due to coronavirus

Source ABC Wide Bay: For the full article see: Former triple j host and musician is pivoting to permaculture in the pandemic


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