WWOOF stands for “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms” – and it’s an idea that is recognized in farming communities all around the world. Casey and I first learned about WWOOF-ing while living in Oregon. The idea intrigued us, but we never made an attempt to begin volunteering in the US. It was only after we decided to travel the world that we began our WWOOF volunteering.
What is WWOOF?
A volunteer, or “WWOOFer” gets the opportunity to spend time on an organic farm and learn how the farm operates. Ideally you are learning what sustainable agriculture is all about and the organic principles used by the farmer who is hosting you. During the stay on the farm the WWOOFer doesn’t pay for board or lodging, and sometimes meals are covered depending on the work and host. This is worked out between the volunteer and host before any work begins.
WWOOF was designed as an education program to share the experience of organic farming, and in some cases learn a new culture. There are volunteers from all over the world that travel to different countries to volunteer their time on organic farms.
How does it work?
Each country has it’s own WWOOFing organization. You can go online and search for the WWOOF organization in your country, or a country you wish to visit. The membership pricing may vary by country. You must be at least 18 years old to be a member, but in some countries you can join below this age with consent from a parent or guardian.
You can have an individual profile for yourself, but some WWOOF sites have the option to have a shared profile for couples. I have seen this used for friends that will be traveling together as well.
Once you have a membership, you have access to create your profile and browse host farms for the country you are registered in. When creating your profile be honest about what you can do and want to learn. Also be sure to include some personal interests (i.e. what you like to do, why you want to WWOOF, or what you might like to do while in the area). This will help you make better connections with hosts!
There are no hard rules about how many hours you are expected to work, but you should be open and communicate with your potential host. It’s a good idea to discuss what you are going to be doing before you make the commitment. You will be a guest and should understand you are exchanging an equal value of work for accommodation and sometimes food. This also means that if you find yourself in an uncomfortable position, or doing something that wasn’t originally outlined, you should speak up and know that you are free to leave at any time.
The duration of your stay on the farm will have to be pre-arranged between you and your potential host. The average stay is 2-3 weeks, and it all depends on the time of year and growing seasons for that region. I have found that generally the host will ask for you to stay a minimum of a week at first to make sure everyone gets along well, then the offer has the opportunity to be extended if everything works out.
Expectations when WWOOFing
While staying with your host you will be asked to perform any number of tasks. You can generally expect you will learn and take part in their daily business operations; such as, helping with livestock, gardening, landscaping, cutting wood, harvesting, and so on. You may also be asked to work with machinery for certain tasks. Be honest with your host if you feel comfortable working on the equipment and how much (if any) experience you have. Your host should not pressure you to do something you are not comfortable with, but if you are open to learn then let your host know so that they can teach you the proper and safe way to work.
It is also expected at times that you will help with meal preparation, and of course tidy up after yourself. You are a guest in someone else home (and maybe country), so be polite and understand there may be cultural differences if you are WWOOFing outside of your home country.
Becoming a WWOOFer has been a great opportunity for my husband and I to travel and learn about different organic farming principles. Not all WWOOF hosts can accommodate couples, but some may be able to host several different volunteers, or just a single person at at time. Pay attention to the host profile when looking for volunteer work. The host profile will give you an idea of what things are currently happening at the location and what type of work the host may be looking for a WWOOF volunteer to do.
My Experience WWOOFing
My husband and I WWOOFed while traveling New Zealand. We had a mix of experiences. Our first location was more of landscaping work and stacking firewood at a beautiful location. Our second host had specialty breed livestock that we learned how to care for, a food forest and garden which we were able to work in and learn about different plants, and they took the time to teach us how to use different farm machinery.
We were grateful to be accepted into our hosts’ homes and were treated kindly. We began each WWOOF volunteering with a 7 day trial, and stayed longer than that at each location. Our work days varied, 5 hours a day for 4 days with 3 days off (no meals on the days off), to 4 hours a day for 7 days with our host providing all our meals. We had discussed and planned our working hours before arriving at the host locations. Most of the communication was done through the WWOOF website. The first host ran regular pick-ups on Tuesdays into Auckland for volunteers. Casey and I were traveling New Zealand in a campervan, but I wanted to mention this as some hosts will offer to pick-up and/or drop-off volunteers (check the host profile to see if they mention this).
We met incredible people while volunteering, learned new skills and made life-long memories. Our hosts were eager to teach us and tell us about the area and history. We learned so much more about the country through our WWOOF volunteering. I do want to mention though that our experience wasn’t perfect, but we expected that we might have a few miscommunications at first.
Also, we noticed that sometimes there are profiles on the WWOOF-NZ website that mention an organic garden, but are looking for the volunteer to also help out with non-agriculture related jobs. As I mentioned above, research your host and communicate about your expectations and you should find that you have a very pleasant experience. If you are looking to learn about organic farming and different agricultural processes, then WWOOF is a great idea for you. If you are looking for work while traveling, but not necessarily gardening/farming, then you can try alternative organizations (like HelpX).
Enjoy your time WOOOFing, or traveling! And if you have any experiences you want to share please leave a comment below.
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