ABC Wide Bay / By Eliza Goetze July 2020
Up until earlier this year, Luen Free was typically in a dimly lit nightclub, entertaining.
But with the Coronavirus pandemic putting her and many others out of work, she is using 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 knowledge.
WWOOF stands for Willing Workers 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 know-how.
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.
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.
"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.
"It's just so good for your mental health," Free said.
"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."
GOING TO TRY SOME? IT'S FUN WATCHING LITTLE PLANT GROW IN A LITTLE GARDEN PATCH - EVEN IF YOU HAVE JUST A FEW GARDEN POTS OR GARDEN BAGS - THEY'RE FUN TOO!
Spend Some Time With Nature - Hey?