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The WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms)

Nicole Pita wrote:

I worked at Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza as a WWOOF volunteer during the month of May 2011. Every day on the farm was different. There were many tasks that I could choose from to work on, from bottling honey to picking coffee to mapping trails. The work was always rewarding, as was the food their amazing cook prepares daily!

If you are interested in learning more about organic, shade grown, quality coffee, FAF is a farm worth visiting. One day I took my camera around with me and recorded my day on film. Check out the video below to see what a day in the life of a WWOOFer at FAF is like!

Click here for view A Day in the Life of a WWOOFer at FAF

Every WWOOF farm I have worked on has been different, but this one by far is the most dissimilar. Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza (FAF) is the largest farm I have worked on and the one with the most resources.

A few quick facts about FAF:

  • FAF stands for Farm with Environmental Fortitude
  • 800 hectares in size (2,000 acres)
  • Grows: sugarcane, coffee, bananas, vegetables, fruits, makes cheese, honey and eggs
  • Have wifi internet
  • 6 families of workers live on the farm
  • Founded in 1850
  • Exports products to Europe and US (coffee)

FAF is located in a heavily agricultural area of the state of S„o Paulo, about 3 hours from the capital city of S„o Paulo. Every single square inch of land that surrounds us is either coffee, pasture, sugar cane or fruit trees, with tiny little pockets of forest here and there.

The history of land use change in this area is complicated and heart breaking. This all used to be Atlantic Forest, like the Amazon rainforest but cooler and with less precipitation. The figures are rough but about 70% of original Amazon Rainforest remains intact, on the other hand, only 5% of original Atlantic Forest is left. This forest is home to 70% of the vertebrate species classified as endangered in Brazil. Here there are only a handful of hilltops with Atlantic Forest left. Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza is one of the only farms in the area that has protected forest areas on their property.

Marcos Croce and Sylvia Barretto, the owners of FAF, do what they can to farm ecologically. They have buffer areas around bodies of water, they are replanting native Altantic†Forect tree species and they grow crops organically whenever possible. They say:

“Our Mission is to be a socially, environmentally, and economically Sustainable Farm Ė a model that sows the seeds of Sustainability to the Individual, to the Family, to the Business community and to Society as a whole.”

However, after conversing for a few days with Marcos Iíve learned a little bit of the history of the farm. It was originally all conventional coffee, meaning sprayed with pesticide and boosted with fertilizer. When Marcos and Sylvia converted their farm to organics they lost thousands of dollars a year as their yields dropped precipitously. But they donít live off their farm by any means. Marcos manages an export business as well, and with that money they have been able to experiment freely on the farm.

Which raises the question, is FAF sustainable? They have a garden that produces all the fruits and vegetable eaten at home. They continue to grow, buy and process conventional coffee, but are converting to organic and even shade grown coffee (more on that later). At this point they arenít losing money, but they arenít making any either, but without the export business they would not be able to continue farming.

Iím still trying to understand how the farm works and how much of it is actually organic. I donít even understand how this property is laid out. I feel like I could walk for a day and not get to see half of it. It also took me a while to understand why they even have WWOOF volunteers when they could easily hire paid help. But itís the same reason why I am not just WWOOFing because it is free. I am WWOOFing to learn. They are WWOOFing to share. Iím curious to learn, although with all the luxuries on this farm I feel like I could easily stay for a long timeÖ

At my fifth visit in Brazil , 14 years after my first one, I finally managed to open my mind for more than just 3 weeks, for this lovely country, blessed with nameless beauty. Together with my girlfriend Jana, we had the great opportunity to discover and enjoy a marvelous period of time at FAF! As we arrived there in February 2012, we barely missed the mango harvest by a whisker and the coffee was far away from being ready to get picked, but there were so many other usefull and pleasurable things to do for us.

Beside our daily tasks by choice, just to name some, e.g.: weeding, pollinating passion fruits or harvesting tropical fruits and vegatables (papaya, lime , avocado, manioc, yam and so many other ones),we always had the freedom to create and realize own projects. Actually I felt like being on vacation, with active recovery. We forgot the fact of physical work or labouring, because we wanted to get involved in the process of producing organic and healthy food in a natural and sustainable way. We could enjoy and taste the reward of our efforts immediatly, staying in a unspoiled environment, having fresh, organic and marvelous food, last but not least because of Rosangela too, I'm missing the yummy breakfest and lunch a lot.

But I don't want to forget to name the funny Luzia and the true soul Ze, the keeper of the flowers. We just can recommend a stay at the FAF, there are so many things to learn and discover. Silvia and Marcos are very concerned and interested in their fellow people and we got the impression that their main focus was about :how the WWOOFers get the most out of there stay at FAF.

We loved it to be there from the first moment and we are fully aware of the fact that we are blessed to spend such a wonderful time at such a great place with cordial people.

Jana and RŁdiger

Since October 2010 Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza started to have the visit of WWOOFers from all over the world! It has been a great experience! We have notices that the people that are engaged to the WWOOF community are very special.

We have made great friends and some already are talking to come back!

Caleb O'Brien wrote:

Through a fortuitous series of chance encounters I found myself WWOOFing at FAF during the month of May 2012. We arrived just after the end of the rainy season and the farm was resplendent: fields and forests verdant, paineira roxa trees heavy with pink blossoms, the air filled with the low hum of bees, green clusters of coffee beans maturing on the trees. I'm a beekeeper and my main task during the month was helping Silvia continue to prepare her hives for the upcoming honey flow. Slivia is a tremendously knowledgeable & infectiously passionate beekeeper--it was a great pleasure to help take care of her bees and learn from her years of experience. In addition to beekeeping, we cooked, worked in the commercial vegetable garden, cleaned, painted signs, helped with a U. of I. spring trip, etc. etc. etc.

Perhaps the best part of WWOOFing at FAF (apart from the company and setting, of course) is the food. Rosangela, the cook, is a force to be reckoned with: her culinary wizardly combined with the fresh bounty of FAF's fields and orchards makes for some of the finest food I've ever enjoyed. I never quite felt like I was working hard enough to deserve it.

WWOOFing at FAF is a great opportunity to get to know a beautiful piece of Brazil far off the beaten tourist track, to understand the traditions and transformations that are affecting coffee production in Sao Paulo state, and to learn about every aspect of organic farming, from fertilizers to marketing. Perhaps most importantly for me, it reinforced the importance of the decisions we all make every day as consumers. Standing in a grocery store in Missouri contemplating row after row of virtually identical coffee bags, it's hard to imagine--let alone understand--the real difference between conventionally grown and organically grown coffee. It was only after living at FAF, after seeing wildlife thriving beside commercial coffee production, seeing the difference that organic agriculture makes to the health of a land and it's inhabitants, that I understood how vitally important our decisions as consumers are to the success of sustainable agriculture everywhere. I consider the month I spent at FAF to be the most rewarding, interesting, and valuable segment of my travels.

Thank you


Nicole wrote:

FAF is located in a heavily agricultural area of the state of S„o Paulo, about 3 hours from the capital city of S„o Paulo. Every single square inch of land that surrounds us is either coffee, pasture, sugar cane or fruit trees, with tiny little pockets of forest here and there.

click here to

Julie Pallozzi wrote:

Julie Pallozzi

My overall experience at FAF has been full of adventure and learning. From catching large fuzzy spiders, working alongside Luzia in the garden, and even just watching the farm?s daily life, there is not a moment here where there is nothing to do. I particularly enjoyed the people I have met here. It was great to make friends with WWOOFers from three different countries, and it was even more fun to discuss our cultural differences. The farm employees are also full of character, and I felt that they did genuinely want to get to know me despite the language barrier.

As for the WWOOF work, there are plenty of places to become involved on the farm. It is easy to participate in a variety of different areas on the farm, and it is also easy to dive into a specific area and stay there. Either way you are sure to get the most out of your experience!

Thiago Almeida wrote:

My name is Thiago, I was born in Brazil in 1981 and somehow ended up graduating in Sciences of Education in Denmark, in 2009. Me and my wife set up for a travel around South America and we had the luck to decide to include Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza (FAF) on our route. That has been our best travel decision so far, for the people and the place have been deeply attached to my heart ever since, and I felt like growing roots there, just like all those amazing trees which suddenly become part of your life.

To start with the place I must say that the wwoof description list and the website (arquivo.fafbrazil.com) only let you take a small peek into everything FAF and its owners are and represent. When you take a walk around the farm, the charming 19th century buildings seem to want to tell you a story of a great past, of people who left there home countries many decades ago and set out in an adventure to another world, cut deep into the bush and there laid the first stone and started building what was one day to become a piece of heaven under the sky. Today, with the majority of the buildings renovated, new trees planted, flowers blossoming in every corner and loads of birds delighting your sight and your ears with a show of colors and harmonious melodies, FAF has abandoned its original concept of conventional coffee producing farm and has adopted an innovative model of sustainability. As you will hear from the owners yourself, if you are fortunate enough to decide to visit the place, FAF's "mission is to be a socially, environmentally, and economically Sustainable Farm - a model that sows the seeds of Sustainability to the Individual, to the Family, to the Business community and to Society as a whole".

Thiago Almeida & Johanna Demmig

Johanna and Rachel
in the Vegi Garden at FAF
Johanna at FAF

Johanna and Luzia

To end with the last and the best, the people, from Luzia the gardener, passing by Rosangela the cook, all the way to Marcos and Silvia, there is no one who doesn't touch your heart in a special way. After four weeks working at the farm, I felt I didn't want to leave, as Brazilians in general, but this family specially, have a way to grasp your heart and make the moments you spend with them unforgettable. Many times are not enough to say thank you very much Silvia and Marcos for the time we spent together. FAF has somehow compromised my travel through South America, as I haven't been so far to a better place and I constantly long to come back to you guys, to the meaningful work, to the long time spent at the table having interesting conversations, the wonderful food, the horse riding, the river baths, the lessons about nature...

There is so much to learn in Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza, I truly recommend a visit.

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