Daniel Kra didn't come to Ashland to see plays or go on vacation — he came to work on a farm.
The 26-year-old New Jersey native is one of many to participate in World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a global network that promotes travel and sustainability.
At least half-a-dozen farms in or near Ashland are WWOOF (pronounced "woof") members, meaning they invite people to work on their land in exchange for room and board — for days, weeks or months at a time.
Kra stayed for about a week last month at Restoration Farm, on Old Highway 99 South, where he learned about permaculture from Chuck Burr, who manages the farm with Karen Taylor.
"I've been weeding the rows of blueberries the first three days, and today I helped Chuck place the two 3,000 gallon tanks that will catch all the rainwater from the house roof for irrigation," Kra wrote in a blog post dated Aug. 29.
Burr, a retired software developer, said he joined WWOOF to get extra help on his farm — and to teach others about permaculture.
"I felt I wanted to get more grounded and start giving back," he said. Burr plans to hold permaculture workshops and community events in a classroom space on his property.
Other nearby farms that participate in the network include Abundance Garden Cooperative, Meadowlark Family Farm, The Big Backyard, Rogue Valley Brambles, Eloin Farm and Wellsprings Tree of Life Gardens, according to the WWOOF U.S. Web site, www.wwoofusa.org.
At Eloin Farm, located on 80 acres in the Rogue-River Siskiyou National Forest, WWOOFers, as they are called, stay for at least two weeks, helping to clear trails, care for farm animals and tend to gardens.
"Most of the WWOOFers who come through are young people who haven't had much exposure to what we have to offer," said Anne Roberts, head of the Order of the Trees, a nonprofit group that manages the farm. "Some of them have never worked in gardens."
Occasionally, the travelers don't fit in well on the farm: Some come for the free room and board, but aren't interested in doing the work, Roberts said.
"We're not hardcore, 'Get up at 6 and work until 9 at night,' but sometimes it's a challenge to actually inspire them to have a work ethic," she said.
Some WWOOF hosts screen interested travelers, something Burr is considering doing, he said.
Likewise, sometimes the hosts can be too demanding of their WWOOFers, making them work long hours or not teaching them about the farm, Kra said.
"When it comes to WWOOFing, it can often be hit-or-miss because of the nature of it," he said. "Some people just sort of want somebody to work for them, like cheap labor."
Still, by all accounts, most of the experiences on local farms are positive ones.
Talent resident Ken Muller worked on a handful of WWOOF farms in France in 2007 with his wife, Susan. When the pair returned, they decided to start their own farm, Rogue Valley Brambles, and participate in the WWOOF program, he said.
"That kind of really inspired us," he said. "We had a great time getting to learn about farming and getting to learn about the culture."
This month a man from Japan is staying at the Talent farm, which has hosted about 25 travelers so far, Muller said.
"You meet people from all walks of life and from all over the world," he said. "You're getting helpers and sharing cultural experiences."
Meanwhile, Kra, who is back in New Jersey, was so inspired by his experience in Ashland that he plans to move here in November and eventually start his own farm with a group of likeminded people, he said.
"The whole experience at Chuck's was just wonderful," he said. "I would have liked to have stayed there longer, it was so much fun."
Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or email@example.com.