VOLUNTEERING AT GOVARDHAN GARDENS
All farms have one thing in common: unlimited work! From that perspective,
all farmers would be happy to have countless volunteers helping out.
But for some reason, many of the small-scale farmers I
talk to are very hesitant to accept volunteers. I thought that it
would be helpful for volunteers and farmers to post some of my
thoughts in this regard:
Many of our small-scale
farmers have very busy lives and can barely make ends meet. They
receive very few goverment benefits, if any at all; instead of
receiving support, they often have to deal with government
opposition and bureaucracy. Practically all agricultural laws are
written in favor of corporate farms, and completely ignore even the
existence of subsistence farm. Itís therefore easiest for many of
these farmers to just do most of the work by themselves or hire some
local labor for $5 to $7 per hour. The advantage of hiring local
farm worker is that they just do what they are told to do, that they
can work by themselves, and that they donít require food or housing.
Whenever their work is done, they go home; their work
was helpful for the farmer and hardly caused any
distraction from his own work.
The main downside of having to hire farm workers is
that many small scale farmers simply can't afford it. Most local farm workers
are not used to ecologically sound practices (traditionally, farm workers
in Puerto Rico have mostly been trained to spread herbicides and
chemical fertilizers or harvest a mono crop like coffee) or they canít be
trusted (theft of produce is rampant in PR).
One would therefore assume
that a volunteer is an ideal solution for every farmer. But this,
unfortunately, is rarely the case. First, volunteers who want
to help out at farms for extended periods of time, require housing
and food. The cost for housing and food per month is easily several
hundred $$ - worth 65-100 hours of paid farm labor. In addition to
that expense, volunteers who stay for extended periods of time
generally require training and attention (which reduces the time the
farmer can focus on his own work).
Even if the
farmer doesnít mind the training and giving guidance or attention, the volunteer would
have to do quality work for at least 20-25 hours a week in order
to just break even with the expense of housing and food. Physical work
in the tropics is quite challenging because it is most of the
time either blazing hot or rained out. While hired farm workers are used to
these conditions and usually also glad that they found at least some work,
volunteers often tend to think that they are a major support just
because they help out for a few hours a day.
Many farmers are therefore
charging volunteers or interns in order to avoid any financial
pressure of additional cost of food and housing. I always avoided to
do that at my own farm and my main conditions for volunteers were
just that they abstain from eating meat or drinking alcohol at my
Over the years, I have
encountered great souls whose primary motivation was to really
support the project, but also many others who just
wanted to do a minimum amount of work to stay for free and
then spend an increasing amount of time at the beach. Because of
these experiences, I have stopped accepting volunteers for extended
periods of time, and instead only accept volunteers for
projects that donít last longer than a few days. This has worked out
much better: it was easier for the volunteers (who often
over-estimate their own work ethics) and for me.
I am very busy with so many projects,
that I can only have people around me who know how
to work independently. In other words, for anyone who wants to volunteer at Govardhan Gardens: be
self-motivated and ready to work hard for as long as you can.
I definitely want volunteers
to get the important experience of working in ecologically sound and
inspiring farm projects around the island. In order to have a win-win situation
for all parties involved, I am starting this new section on my site, where
local eco farmers can post what their needs are and what they offer,
so that there are no false hopes or misunderstandings.
As far as a stay at Govardhan Gardens goes: at
this point in time, I only accept volunteers for smaller projects (1-3
days) or make exceptions for volunteers who have a high level of work
ethics and who can work independently.
VOLUNTEERING AT OTHER ECO PROJECTS IN PUERTO RICO
If you are an eco farmer
in Puerto Rico and you would like your project to be added here,
please contact me (email@example.com
The first project, I am
listing here besides my own, is that of a friend of mine, Magha
Garcia, called Pachamama Forest Garden (http://pachamamapr.blogspot.com).
Her place is
still very rudimentary and only for true eco adventurers. Itís a
beautiful tropical forest farm with a bordering river, close by
Mayaguez / Anasco. At this point, there is neither housing nor
electricity available. Any help or donations are welcome. The main
goal of this project is conservation and low impact ecological
If you are looking for volunteer work on the
east side of Puerto Rico, you can check out http://luquillofarmsanctuary.wordpress.com/ or
contact Skai Davis: firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the largest eco-projects in the
rainforest area (Patillas) that gets many visitors and
hosts volunteers is:http://eyeontherainforest.org/?page_id=3744.
You can also contact the project leader, 3T Vakil, directly: email@example.com
I will keep posting more projects
of friends and farmers who have ecologically sound and inspiring