Changes to Australia’s working holiday visa scheme by the Abbott Government may see the end of WWOOF program — a lifeline to struggling farmers. Sophie Love, says not only will farmers be denied a helping hand but students on visas will lose what has been a valuable life-changing experience.
ALL OVER the first world a food revolution is in progress as people reject the over-processed food that has overtaken our high streets and chainstores since the 1950’s in the name of “convenience”. Slowly people are beginning to realise that fast food might be low cost but it comes at a high price. Sometimes the ultimate price — our health.
More and more people are seeking organic, biodynamic or chemical free produce from suppliers they can trust. They want to reconnect with farmers and the animals and soil that sustains them. They want to know exactly where their food comes from.
We run a 400 acre mixed farm, producing food for the local area which we sell direct to the customer and at local farmers markets. We also run the local farmers market and are an integral part of community engagement with farmers, farm enterprises, real food and healthy food choices.
We believe that we are helping to create a new definition of health and wellness, and by helping people to choose healthy foods and educating them how to cook and prepare them for optimum taste and nutrition, in some small way we are helping to alleviate the burden of diet related obesity and illness from the public purse.
We are also part of a global network of farmers of acres large and small who caretake the land & environment looking after rivers and streams, building healthy soil and sequestering carbon, planting trees, ensuring habitat for native species and more.
We don’t have the money to pay workers on our farm, and even when we do need help and have money to pay for it, there are no local people who are willing to work on farms. Rural youth are all moving to, and working in towns, older people don’t want to do honest hard physical labour, and other farmers are too old or too busy to help. The Willing Workers on Organic Farms program (WWOOF) is a lifeline for us and our on-farm business.
WWOOFers provide an essential service and in return have life changing experiences on farms like ours. They learn about food production, cooking and healthy eating. They learn how to care for animals and landscape. They explore the rainforest in wonder. They watch the platypus play. They see the eagles soaring above us and they leave with a sense of awe and wonder at the natural world. Many of them are city folk who have never before experienced country life. They all say that staying here is the highlight of their Australian trip.
Until now, WWOOFers have been able to do unpaid labour as part of their application for their 2nd year visa. They have been able to visit farms like ours and help and learn as they travel through this broad brown land. They have had experiences we can only wonder at. But now the Abbott Government says that only paid rural work can count towards their 2nd Year Visa Applications.
This Government wants to deny them these wonderful experiences. This Government wants to deny us the helping hands, which help make us viable and so enrich our lives, and that of our child as we learn about other far-flung parts of the world, share cultures and experiences, language and ideas
By forcing backpackers to work for money for their 2nd year visa, this Government is forcing them into fruit picking — back breaking labour that is often poorly paid and badly treated (as we have heard both on the grapevine (pardon the pun!) and in the media which has rightly exposed slave like conditions and a variety of abuses. Which means that they will walk away with a very poor opinion of Australia, rather than realising how amazing this rich and diverse land is.
Or maybe that’s the idea. To stop graduates travelling to our shores and revelling in the rural life, exploring the innermost areas of Australia and assisting rural and regional farmers to reach their potential.
We vehemently oppose this Government’s new law. It is yet another dagger in the back for rural and regional Australia.