Volunteer FAQ

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University of British Columbia student-volunteers celebrate with home-baked desert after a one-day workshop at EcoReality.
Here are some frequently asked questions (with answers) about volunteering at EcoReality. Please also see our welcome letter that describes our "house customs" here, then please fill out our volunteer application form.

Contents

Introduction

We really value volunteers -- interns, apprentices, students, work-exchangers, WWOOFers, etc. -- who come for a few hours up to a year or more. We are generally able to offer non-monetary compensation of meals, lodging, and training, to those who help us pursue a sustainable life. Such arrangements typically require prior agreement, with the exception of a scheduled work party, which is a "just show up" event.

  • A "WWOOFer" is someone who is typically travelling, and their stay is from a few days to short of a growing season. We supply room and board in grateful appreciation for their work.
  • An "intern" is someone who commits to an entire growing season, typically, March through September. We can supply a modest stipend and more educational opportunities in exchange for this committment.
  • An "apprentice" is an intern who stays for multiple growing seasons. We may be able to supply an apprentice with sweat equity, co-op membership, and a long-term right of habitation. (The co-op has not come to a formal agreement about this, though.)

Following is a list of guidelines for your volunteer stay, along with actual questions that volunteers past have asked us. Please check it over, and feel free to ask questions that aren't on this list.

How are you organized?

The site is owned as a BC Cooperative Association for the purpose of creating an ecovillage -- a self-sustainable settlement -- on Salt Spring Island.

We operate as a not-for-profit organization, preferring to reward labour rather than investment. (Our "reward" for investment is having a venue and opportunity to make reasonable money from our labour.)

Currently there are three resident members of the co-op. Cleome and Jan live in the yellow house, and Rudy lives in his customized trailer. Various non-member residents live full-time on the site from time-to-time. As of February 2014 there are eleven people living here, from 11 to 75, and every decade in-between.

What kind of work are you expecting from a volunteer?

In 2014, we're planning lots of greenhouse work, building permanent beds, working on a subterranean irrigation system, planting early spring greens, harvesting firewood, tending chickens and goats, organizing tools and hardware, mulching, building fences, digging ponds and swales, and more. Volunteers with specific skills would be useful on several construction projects, converting a vehicle to electricity, making biodiesel, water system maintenance, and much more. We have a listing of current projects that may be of interest to you.

Though much of the work is agricultural, there are other interesting things to get involved with. You may have the opportunity to be involved with biodiesel production, fuel alcohol distillation, metal and wood fabrication, electrical work, general maintenance, construction, and other things. But that would be the exception for someone with appropriate skills. Most of the unskilled labour is digging, weeding, planting, and such things, under the supervision of farm steward Cleome, and Jan who is a Certified Permaculture Instructor.

Other learning activities may include cheese and yoghurt production, food preservation, jam/jelly production, cider making, food drying, and more.

Although we strive to have a community atmosphere, economic necessities mean that EcoReality residents are not always available, and you may be working by yourself for significant periods of time. We strive to have at least one day a week of community work party, where many people work together.

Here is a list of volunteer tasks that we try to keep up-to-date:

  • Maintenance:
    • Fix chainsaws.
    • Replace Pitman arm on sickle mower.
  • Farm store:
    • Clean and organize farm store bay of green building.
    • Procure materials, especially narrow garage door.
  • Greenhouse:
    • Sheet mulch propagation room in greenhouse.
    • Spread manure and compost in greenhouse
    • Tending and watering greenhouse plants.
    • Building permanent raised beds.
    • Planting greenhouse starts in soil blocks.
  • Animal care.
  • Fieldwork:
    • Weeding in the garden beds.
  • Implement food forest in the northeast field.
  • General site clean-up.
    • Clean up jars from around south corner of yellow house.
    • Clean and organize garage.
    • Clean and organize woodshop.
    • Clean and organize classroom.
    • Raking driveways for potholes.
    • Work on yellow house suite remodelling.
  • Fruticulture:
    • Decant vinegar.
    • Clean fermentation vessel.
    • Press and inoculate pear juice.
    • Prune trees.
    • Transplanting young apple trees.
    • Regular watering of new trees.
    • Remove grass from around new apple trees.
    • Remove grass from around established fruit trees, and establish sentinel and insectiary plants.
  • Harvest firewood
  • Get and install concrete well ring.
  • Plan, design, and dig out constructed wetland for white house grey water.
  • Scything around houses for hay and desired grass length.
  • Gathering and starting alder/maple cuttings for road buffer.
  • Plant more willow cuttings for road buffer.
  • Clean out area around biodiesel processor and help rehabilitate it.
  • Collection of cedar boughs for chipping. Use for rows between raised beds to control grass/weeds.
  • Wood chipping (with close supervision).
  • Work on EcoReality logo sign (indoor, bad weather).
  • Help install generator transfer switches, Yellow House, pump house, White House emergency power.
  • Build outhouses and other support for composting toilets project.
  • Data entry of harvest, sales, and labour data. (bad weather activity)

Recently completed activities:

Is there an age limit for volunteers?

Keeping in mind that most of what we need is physical labour, there's no real age limit on the high end. We've seen people in their 70's out-perform those in their 20's!

On the low end, WWOOF Canada requires you to be 16 years or older. We can take people under 16 if they are accompanied with a parent or guardian or come as part of a group. We have had high school groups here, and we've had volunteers as young as eight with parents.

However, we've had bad experiences with children much younger than that. We want to stay flexible about age, and know that a mature seven-year-old can be less trouble than a bratty teen-ager, but we find that very young children of volunteers are often a distraction and require extra time and effort from us.

How many hours a day do you work?

Work days are six hours per day, six days per week, with the seventh day (typically Sunday) off. The co-op provides seasonally-appropriate accommodations that may be a shared room in one of the houses or a tent outdoors, and three meals. Should a worker desire more than one day off per week, we request a voluntary contribution of $25 per night for accommodations and $25 per day for food, although we expect that you come here to work, not merely to enjoy cheap accommodations.

But this is not a clock-punching group of people. At times, there may be dawn-to-dusk work, and we try to make up for those times with other down-time.

What should I bring with me?

For much of the year, you'll need your own tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad, as well as personal toiletries. We generally have parking for campers and such, and can probably toss you an extension cord and water hose.

You'll also need sturdy work clothing, including heavy gloves, rain gear, and waterproof boots. We work rain or shine! We can help you purchase such items, but we don't lend ours out on a long-term basis.

If you do not have your own basic support -- sleeping bag, work clothes, etc. we may ask you to leave. If you need to borrow such things, be sure to let us know before your arrival.

We will supply towels, tools, and most other things necessary to the task at hand. (Although feel free to bring a favorite garden tool if you have one!) Feel free to bring (and share, if you're inclined) your favorite book, DVD, music CDs or sheet music, as well. Please put your name in items that you make available to others.

We have an open WIFI network, which you can use if you bring a device with WIFI capability. We may be able to offer you Internet access on one of our computers, but please don't monopolize it.

We have an unreliable Internet connection! It is supposed to be high-speed, but at times it will be barely faster than dial-up. Please avoid high-impact Internet use, like streaming video or audio. We may disconnect the WiFi if it interferes with our business use of the Internet.

Are you looking just for workers or someone to be social with as well?

We don't really want anyone who isn't social! We are striving to create a sense of community. We often have five or more at the table for meals, and neighbors may drop in as well. Everyone shares accommodation space, washrooms, and common areas. There may be jam sessions, recorded music, videos, or interesting conversation in the evenings. We try to organize outdoor activities on days off.

In addition, island life lends itself to a cohesive greater community. The greater Salt Spring community of nearly 10,000 has lots of evening events and other things you can get involved with. We have close ties with islands groups devoted to organic farming, ecology, sustainable energy, adult education, and more -- you can attend these meetings and activities if you like.

Can I come to your meetings?

Our meetings are open for observation and perhaps some participation, but we recognize that people come here with differing goals. We encourage you to attend at least one meeting early in your stay, and extend a welcome to you to attend other meetings as you desire. Occasionally, we may request that you attend a specific meeting, for example, a farm meeting that is about something you have been working on.

We appreciate your opinion on meeting topics, but keep in mind that you are a guest here. You are not automatically a member and you do not have the right to be involved in meetings, agreements, and decisions. If your participation is disruptive, you may be asked to leave the meeting or even the site.

What kind of food is prepared?

We have a vegetarian kitchen. We try to eat local and organic when it is economically feasible. You are expected to help out with cooking and cleaning outside of your six hours of work. (You'd have to cook and clean anyway, right?) We have a sign-up sheet to help organize domestic care activities.

But we don't support vegans well. Permaculture stresses the natural integration of animals into the site for the many services they provide. This means that some of our meals will have our own eggs, milk, or honey. If you wish to maintain a strict vegan diet, or if you must eat meat, perhaps you should seek other farms that can better accommodate your dietary needs.

We may be able to accommodate reasonable dietary restrictions, but can't really work with picky eaters. Due to kitchen clutter and limited storage space, you should not expect to be able fix your own meals -- sign up for a slot to fix your favourite dish for everyone, instead!

Do you have musical events?

The island has lots of music events year-round, and we are a musical community. There is a piano, a couple guitars and lots of other miscellaneous instruments that several people like to get together and play. Bring your favorite instrument!

How far is your farm from the community?

We are 3km from the tiny village of Fulford Harbour (ferry, restaurant, coffee shop, and small store), and about 10km from the larger town of Ganges, where you can find all essential services, such as three groceries, liquor, pharmacy, library, restaurants, hospital, police, provincial/federal office, and way too many tourist shops and art galleries. There is local bus service into Ganges and the ferries. You can catch the bus on the street right in front of EcoReality.

We also have a page that explains how to get to EcoReality with map links and detailed directions.

Do you go to a weekly farmers market?

There are two seasonal weekly markets in Ganges. The Saturday market is about half arts & crafts and half food and produce, and is a big tourist draw. The Tuesday market is food-only, and is where the locals tend to shop. We may do one or both markets, depending on availability of product and staffing. You may have the opportunity to be involved, depending on need. (In 2013, we have focused on wholesale sales to grocery stores, due to under-staffing.)

How do I get around?

Fulford Harbour is only a 30 minute walk, and hitch-hiking is popular and safe here. There is local bus service into Ganges and the ferries, which you can catch right in front of EcoReality. Residents will often announce they're making a "town run" for anyone who needs to go, and we may arrange group trips to local attractions on days off. For people who commit to at least two weeks, we will pick you up and drop you off at the ferry -- or your previous or next volunteer gig on the island.

We have a number of bikes here. Ask if you'd like to borrow one, and we'll see what we can do. If you think you'll want to do this, we suggest bringing your own helmet. Since prior users may have left them in disrepair, bike mechanical skills would be valued and useful!

For people who will be here less than two weeks and need ferry transportation, we ask for a voluntary contribution of $10 to pick up or drop off from Vesuvius or Long Harbour, or $4 from Fulford Harbour, or take the bus for just $2.

Are you a religious community?

One of our core values is honouring diversity. Our personal religious beliefs range from agnostic to vaguely pagan and earth-based. The only thing we ask is that you not be proselytizing your religious beliefs to us.

How long should I plan to stay?

Typically volunteers stay for two weeks and then move on to a new host. But we actually prefer a longer period, so that you can learn more and so that we can make better use of the time spent training you. Volunteers who stay for a longer period will have more educational opportunities, and if things click between us, there are limited opportunities for "sweat equity" apprenticeship, by which you can become a shareholder and permanent resident.

Scheduled visits of an afternoon up to two weeks may be welcome as well, depending on how many long-term people are booked at the time.

I have a local job opportunity; can I be a "part time" volunteer?

Our experience with volunteers who also had outside jobs has not been great. They often start out enthusiastic about working here, and gradually drift into viewing us more as a cheap boarding house. Changing work schedules made it impossible for us to plan meals and farm work. Individuals' use of kitchen facilities was disruptive of our normal flow.

To consider such an arrangement:

  • We need a firm commitment to a fixed schedule up-front, of at least three full days per week, so we can plan farm work.
  • No subsidized days off. You will be expected to pay for meals and lodging for all days when you are not working on-site.
  • No individual meal preparation -- you either eat with us, or eat off-site. If you choose to forego a community meal on short notice, you should still contribute for that meal, as we cannot change our meal planning on such short notice.

In any event, we appreciate that you are here when you say you will be here. Volunteers who are in and out without giving us reasonable notice (generally, at least 24 hours) will be asked to leave permanently.

Can I bring my pet with me?

We have domestic animals, wild animals, small children, and members with their own pets — all of these situations seem problematic when you throw a strange, new, transient animal into the mix. Our experiences with pets brought by volunteers have ranged from inconvenience to disaster (dead chickens!).

For those reasons, we strongly discourage bringing your pet with you, and that you recognize that bringing a pet provides no benefit to EcoReality. To consider such a situation:

  • It must be an "inside-only," well-behaved pet,
  • You must have a suitable facility for it (such as a camping trailer or adequately-sized vehicle),
  • You must clean up after it,
  • You must compensate for any damage your pet does,
  • You must be prepared to leave on short notice if your pet causes problems.

I need to smoke marijuana several times a day, for health reasons.

Sorry, this is not the place for you.

We have a reasonable recreational intoxicants policy for down-time, but with farm machinery and sharp tools and all, we need you to be intoxicant-free during the work day, for your safety, and for the safety of others working around you.

If for whatever reason, you find yourself under the influence of intoxicants during the work day, you need to remove yourself from the worksite and explain why to the EcoReality resident with whom you are working. If this occurs more than once, you may be asked to leave on short notice.

I can't eat food cooked in a microwave. Do you use a microwave?

We've heard this from people who were content to fry their genitals with a laptop computer, or to cook their brain with a cell phone!

This is not the place for a debate on the uses of technology. We prefer a balanced approach that uses current technology in a responsible way, while avoiding contributing to ongoing development by avoiding the purchase of shiny new things.

We view a microwave oven as a tool -- one with advantages and disadvantages. We would not think of putting certain things in the microwave, but routinely put other things in there.

If you are uncomfortable eating food that has been cooked in a microwave oven, this is probably not the place for you.

I am not in Canada. Can you help me get a visa?

Our experience with this has been dismal. We spent a lot of time researching requirements, wrote multiple letters, sent financial statements, and spent a lot of money on courier services and international phone calls, to no avail. Canadian consulates are apparently instructed to treat all temporary visa requests as though they were immigration requests, especially requests from third-world countries.

If you cannot convince consulate officials to grant you a visa, it is unlikely anything we can do will change their mind.

On the other hand, Canada allows free entry from many countries. If your country is not on the list of countries from which a visa is required, you may be able to enter Canada without a visa. But please check with the Canadian visa office for your country before making plans. If you can enter without a visa, you can generally stay for up to six months in any twelve month period, then you will have to leave Canada.

Volunteers, WWOOFers, work-exchangers, interns, and apprentices from other countries must have the legal right to enter Canada before being considered for a stay at EcoReality.

When you enter from another country, be sure to say you are "volunteering" rather than "working." You are allowed entry to volunteer without the special permit that is required if you are working for wages or salary.

What is the next step?

Volunteer agreement 
First, read and understand our volunteer agreement. This is our basic information and conduct guide for all visitors, and includes a simple liability waiver. You will be asked to sign a copy upon your arrival.
Volunteer application 
If all this hasn't scared you off, the next step is to fill out our volunteer application form and someone will get right back to you!

I have a question that isn't on this list!

Send us your question, and we'll add it to this list!

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