If you haven’t heard of WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) then maybe you have been living in the cell membrane of a banana. Or maybe you aren’t a student-peasant, and have sufficient money to stay in a hotel.
Speaking from personal experience, I can testify that WWOOFing is a guaranteed way to immerse yourself in another culture in a truly unique way.
For those unaware, the concept is simple. WWOOF is a programme which aims to create a mutually beneficial arrangement between organic farmers, and willing volunteers. In return for help around the farm, WWOOFers receive FREE accommodation for their stay, and usually two meals per day. I’ll let you imagine the quality of the locally grown, organic, traditional food that you will devour.
Here’s how it works:
- You begin by selecting the country you want to visit/work/travel in. This is a truly global programme stretching to every corner of the world -I’m talking Guatemala, Belize, Madagascar.
- A £30 yearly subscription is then required for access to the contact details of your desired nations farms. This really is the only cost of the trip. Previously, all three of us who WWOFed signed up but TIP: realistically you only need one member of your travelling party to sign up in order to contact the farm. I highly doubt your host will bother checking – as long as you tell them how many of you are travelling.
- Research your farms. Get a group chat started on WhatsApp, and begin bouncing around some of the particular farms which take your interest. You know what you are interested in and the array of farms on offer should match your criteria. You can get involved with animals, planting, picking, beekeeping, construction, maintenance, food-making, vineyards and more.
- Narrow down a shortlist of around 5. This year I contacted 4 farms before I finally found one which had room to host us! The earlier you do this and contact your host, the more likely you are to get a place.
- Send an ass-licking message to your prioritised choice. Get as creative as you want. Through the WWOOF website you contact your host stating briefly why you want to work on their farm. After all it is at their discretion whether or not to accept you. This year I noticed my particular host required a bit of construction work so I threw in this line: ‘Hello Jeanne…we are three young, strong, fit young men from London, ready to lift and move whatever your farm needs….’. Guaranteed place right there. Check your hosts level of English on their description or on their website so you can tailor your email accordingly.
- Send perhaps two or three of those – depending on the farm they may not check their emails that regularly. After all, farmers do have about 872 other things to sort out.
- Await a positive reply from one of your chosen farms. The rest follows: let your host know your dates of arrival/departure, if you require a pick up from the local train/bus station or airport. Usually hosts are more than happy to pick you up or organise the transport to get to the farm. Remember, the email correspondence is the first chance to build a good relationship so make sure you get off on the right foot.
- Before you set off on your adventure, get a contact number so if it all goes tits-up on the travel, you can plead for help. Hosts appreciate a bit of organisation and future planning so let them know your arrangements.
- GET THERE AND SMASH IT. Enjoy whatever weird shit you will do (we buried, and a held a funeral for, a dead sheep in Italy) and make the most of every experience. You will miss the oddities I guarantee you.
(I will save more details on ‘How To Be the Best WOOFER’ for another post)
When you tell your family or friends that you are about to volunteer on an organic farm you will get a weird response and a few laughs. Good. Why do something normal? If sitting on a sun-bed for two weeks is not your thing, and you want to learn something about a different way of life then get out there and WWOOF. You can get the same sun and amazing surroundings without acting like a ‘Brit abroad’.
Here is another list for you.
What can you gain by WWOOFing?
- A quality time away with your friends sharing a unique experience that not many others can say they have done.
- Knowledge of the agriculture way of life. This is especially poignant if like me you have resided in cities or suburban comfort for the majority of your life. Its a refreshing wake up call on the realities of where our food comes from.
- Language skills. It will make you a worldly person by placing you in situations where you engage with the local dialect. I know people who WWOOFed for three months and learnt Italian!
- Inter personal skills and building relationships. You meet an unbelievable amount of people in and around a farm, and it gives you the freedom to meet others from different backgrounds (you may also meet other WWOOFers as we did, making some great friends from around the world)
- Other practical skills such as cooking with local food, animal management, scientific solutions on farms, how to use equipment (we recently learnt to drive tractors!)
- Knowledge of your host country, cities, and towns that not many people will have heard of. If, like me, you are interested in different cultures and histories then WWOOFing will teach you a lot about unfamiliar places.
- This is the perfect way to extend your travels on a budget. If you are planning on a year long travel wherever in the world, you will find that a stint volunteering will reduce your costs dramatically whilst experiencing the other benefits.
- A few pounds here and there if the food is anything like the stuff I have experienced in France and Italy.
In summary, WWOOFing is a cheap way to go on an adventure. Your level of work will vary from farm to farm, but it is enjoyable – you earn your keep and you get a feeling that you are contributing to a project.
G E T // I N V O L V E D