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wwoof World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers at Shields Nature Park

WWOOF-ing it at Scales Nature Park in Orillia Ontario

by Michael Soncina
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With the year-end travel lists appearing on our social media streams, images of Budapest and Bogata start dancing in our heads. Though, as the world becomes more accessible and our desires to travel increases, we often forget how much our own country has to offer for a fantastic adventure.

It is true that travel is expensive, but it does not have to be if you WWOOF

During my time as a blogger and tour director, I have come across my share of interesting programs and places, but none has ever proved as successful as the WWOOF program (World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers). This worldwide network of socially- and environmentally-conscience hosts offers volunteers the opportunity to work and expand their skill set for room and board and an overall good time.

As I have done the WWOOF program twice in Japan, I knew it was the perfect choice to unwind after my first season touring throughout Europe. I renewed my membership ($50 for two years) and after a short search ended up with the most unlikely of offers from Jeff Hathaway, the owner of Scales Nature Park near Orillia (one hour north of my home in Toronto). He had wood to chop and I had a need to reconnect with the great outdoors.

WWOOF World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers Scales Nature Park

Mike’s first snake encounter at Scales Nature Park

Scales Nature Park my WWWOOF Host

Scales Nature Park is one of those places that cannot be described properly unless you experience it. Primarily it is a reptile and amphibian education and conservation centre. From here Jeff and his staff go around Ontario delivering school programs and workshops for local colleges, running research projects to save Ontario’s turtle population, and hosting private functions and birthday parties.

Scales’ last project was so successful that they were able to release over 300 newborn turtles into the wild. Teams were set up in Muskoka to monitor and mitigate negative impacts on species at risk in the ever-dwindling wetlands here in Ontario.

While Scales Nature Park is home to all things cold-blooded, it is also the home for a motley crew of lost boys and girls. During my stay, fellow WWOOFers hailed from France, England, Germany and Brazil. Since we worked, cooked, slept, and cleaned together we all became really quite close; this type of bonding is often a consequence of the WWOOF program.

WWOOF World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers Scales Nature Park

A Brazilian volunteer experiencing his first winter at Scales Nature Park

Since Jeff is a modern-day Renaissance man with over 20 years in construction and conservation, he always has a project on the go. While at Scales not only did I get to chop wood, become a master at smashing things with a sledge-hammer and build a snake pit, but I helped with the creation of the soon-to-be-opened turtle hospital. The WWOOFers and I got a crash-course on building stuff. When Jeff does not have a hammer in hand he is working on proposals and research grants. His ingenuity has allowed for countless staff, volunteers, and even a few grad students to find work and funding in an economy that seems to have given up on its youth.

WWOOFing can be a gamble as hosts sometimes over-work volunteers or provide less than adequate food and housing but this was not the case here. Although I sometimes found the work at Scales physically demanding or confusing, I realized that these feelings are normal for anyone who leaves their comfort zone. Jeff has made an ideal environment for his volunteers. The centre hosts an in-house movie theatre, dance floor (with lights) and endless rounds of Uno! Since the current staff is made up of three not only beautiful but brainy ladies of roller derby and cheerleading infamy, a night out at the local Roller Skating Place (yes, it is actually called that) is sure to be had.

WWOOF World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers Roller Skating

Mike’s Introduction to the Roller Skating Place

So next time you are planning an adventure consider WWOOFing – or even better, take my word for it that Scales Nature Park is the place to be! You will not only meet people from around the world, aid in the conservation of dwindling turtle populations and learn some very important survival skills, but you may even find yourself trying to break the most-number-of-people-in-a-hot tub record!

Have you ever participated in a Volunteer / Travel Program before? We’d love to hear how your experience once! Share in the comments below…

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