History

Sue Coppard and The WWOOF Story

London, the swinging seventies: Sue Coppard, a secretary at the Royal College of Art and accordion player, wishes for nothing less than getting back to the land, and has the idea that sets it all off: If she helped out on a farm, then maybe she could spend some time there… And wouldn’t it be even more wonderful, if she did that together with other people?

Sue asked herself, whether other people might feel the same need she did. What could she do, in a time when the idea of the internet was still swimming in the same primeval soup as the world wide network of organic farms that was just being born there. It was obvious: Put an ad in a magazine. And she did just that. In fact, 15 readers answered, from whom 2 actually turned up to spend a weekend together as volunteer helpers at Emerson College, an agricultural education centre in the Sussex countryside. Sun was shining, the birds were singing and the townies had interesting discussions while they freed a field from sprawling brambles and cleared out the bed of a stream. Naturally, at appropriate regular intervals, they came together for a cup of tea. Sue‘s place to sleep was in a small hut with herbs hanging to dry from the ceiling and owls hooting in the background. It was heaven, however got another name: WWOOF (Working Weekends On Organic Farms, initially).

Sue Coppard at the International WWOOF Conference 2014 in Turkey, in a group with WWOOF Coordinators from 5 different continents

Sue and her growing squad of WWOOFers got a feeling about what ecological agriculture was about, and the more they learned, the more enthusiastically and passionately they worked on the organic farms at weekends. Later, Sue was proud to be able to show a farmer and his son how it was possible to stack hay bales, layer upon layer, in a really stable way – just as she had learned at Emerson. Or how you can stack pieces of wood with the bark on the outside so that it doesn’t get damaged by moisture.

More WWOOFers and farms joined „Coppard‘s Land Army“, as they were called in the headline of an early newspaper article about the new phenomenon. Soon WWOOF would not only be organised as a weekend get-together, but become a matter of „fix it yourself” with WWOOFers reaching agreements for individual visits at host farm.

After two years, Sue allowed herself something she herself describes to be the second most important thing she has done for WWOOF. She gave up the organisational activities, which she had previously done more or less on her own, passing them on to several people, and started a 15 month long journey through Asia, the Caribbean and to Hawaii. Following this she returned to her WWOOF community and was able to experience how her idea spread over the world like a wildfire.

Today, Sue Coppard lives in a small house with a garden in Wiltshire. Sue says that the range of cultural activities on offer there was that big , she could fill up 4 lives with all of it. Just as before, she makes music and is a secretary again, in the local accordionists club, where she also gives lessons. And then Sue is also still a gardener and loves it as much as ever to hear the birds while she is weeding in the garden with her hands digging in the earth.

Sue Coppard at the WWOOF European Coordinators Meeting 2019 in Hungary. Accompagnied by Tori (USA) and Frank (Germany)