WWOOFing in Kerikeri with Joe Delnero

While honors broadcast journalism student Joe Delnero spent a semester studying film, media, and advertising at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, he fell in love with the island’s organic heritage. Once his classes ended, he hooked up with a program called WWOOF, which stands for Working Weekends on Organic Farms. Delnero has since extended his stay in the country to help a local farmer develop and implement new organic farming techniques. Though primarily employed to provide manual labor in the gardens, Delnero has put his media skills to good use documenting the experimental methods used on the farm that have the potential to increase the productivity of organic gardens in New Zealand and beyond. Check out his New Zealand blog for updates from the farm!

I’m not ready to leave New Zealand. While I’ve been here five months, I can’t bear to part. So I have taken it upon myself to continue my learning experience in the “100% Pure” country through an environmentally conscious program called WWOOF. While it stands for Working Weekends On Organic Farms, I am working the next four weeks creating and maintaining biological systems for an organic farmer. The farmer, Collin Lewis, husband to Janey Lewis, and father of three boys, Brandon, 7, Daniel, 5, and Oliver, 18 months, is working on a series of gardening films about biological systems in the diverse Northland soils and environments. Ten years in the making, Collin has me hoeing the field to prepare for planting multiple species of potato, corn, pumpkin, carrots, beans, and herbs. He had me set up multiple tents with tight mesh to create isolated systems for the carrots to grow without outside pollen influence. Using dirt and boards to weigh down the sides, we will introduce maggots to the system to ensure the pollination occurs with only the carrot plants inside the tent.

Collin explained to me “organic” farming is a misleading idea. Basic biology says plants feed off nutrients, inorganic matter. So farming techniques need to account for the growth of organic crops, but also ensure plant access to vital inorganic nutrients. Collin’s designs factor specific fertilizing and composting materials to ensure healthy growth; this includes coffee grounds, horse manure, ash, citrus peels, and powder fish for each seedling. Collin knows his crop will succeed because of the use of natural fertilizer and planting in accordance to rain expectations and moon cycles. With the exception of a massive drought or virus, Collin has all ends covered and plans to begin filming and documenting his experimental practices next year.

The films tie in beautifully with my journalism background. Collin is just learning Adobe Premiere and has decided to let me work with some preliminary camera angles and editing techniques that may appear next year. In the most basic sense, Collin is planning a variety of videos that correlate to different soil structures, temperatures, rain environments, and regions of the New Zealand area. He already has gardens growing in “regular” soil, volcanic soil, and volcanic clay. With the isolated systems, he has basic control groups in each of these environments he can compare results between. I will just be the guinea pig exploring how to educationally and responsibly organize the findings in videos that can be understood and replicated by other organic gardeners around the world.

Finally, Collin is running experiments on time expenses versus effort necessary to establish an productive garden in a financially viable manner. This question haunts many large “organic” operations. With me behind the lawnmower sized garden hoe, I dig lines through a field about 2,000 sq. ft.. Each line is dug to either full depth or half depth. Some are not full lines, but side-by-side holes dug to full depth. A single full depth line can take an hour, but only a few minutes to rake a neat trench ready for seeding. A half depth line takes half the time, but involves some heavy raking and even shoveling out to prepare for seeding. In terms of labor, we quickly found it is easiest to dig the holes either side-by-side or in a full-depth trench. However, the results include the success in the crop which won’t be weighed until February. The WWOOFing program in New Zealand has not only allowed me to live in a 100% Pure New Zealand farm, but I have been incorporated into the New Zealand family. I leave for work in the morning, return for delicious dinners with the family at night. I play family games, have tickle fights with the kids, help with dishes, and read the newspaper. While studying at Auckland introduced me to New Zealand academics, WWOOFing has put me in the New Zealand home. I am privileged to learn about biological systems and the trials against organic farming as people like Collin work to find solutions.

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