WWOOF, World Travel, and Organic Farming

Organic farming – it’s a beautiful thing!

Ever since I started eating more healthy, I wanted to connect more with my food, understand where it comes from, how it’s grown, and the farmers involved. I learned from a friend that there is a program, available all around the world, where people can volunteer on a farm in exchange for food and shelter, and learn about farming, growing food, and more. This program is called WWOOF – World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

I did some research on the WWOOF program, and the more I learned, the more excited I got. I don’t know if I manifested hearing about this program, but I had been wanting to go work on a farm in order to learn more about where my food comes from, and the process of organic farming – without the use of chemicals. It so happened that I had recently come to a point in my life where I was “commitment-free”. I was no longer working, had no debt, had no family obligations, and was in a position to move out of the house I was living in. I figured this would be a great opportunity to travel around the world, and WWOOF. I could learn about farming, have a place to stay, clean, organic food to eat, and travel around the world.

It’s been a few years since I’ve traveled internationally, and always felt a sense of freedom, adventure, and exploration when I did travel. I decided to learn about world traveling, backpacking, camping, and what I could expect. I read many blogs and articles on people who backpacked or bicycled through many countries, watched several documentaries, watched videos on YouTube; looked for any resource to learn.

Many common things I would come across, would be what to expect when volunteering on a farm. In reading many different farm profiles on the WWOOF website, I learned there are so many different types of farms, all with their own experiences and opportunities for learning. There are permaculture farms, biodynamic farms, horse farms, cattle ranches, goat farms, sheep farms, chicken farms, commercial farms, small homestead farms, produce farms, fruit tree farms, farms that go to farmers markets, and farms that aren’t farms at all – hostels, someone’s backyard farm, soap making farm, and so much more.

The way I would plan to visit a farm was to decide where I wanted to go, then find a farm in the area that I felt I could learn the most from, have some time to explore the nearby area, and mostly just read farm profiles to see what was appealing to me.

I learned a common concern of WWOOF volunteers is to be treated on the farm as “free labor”. Conversely, a common concern of WWOOF hosts is to have a volunteer who doesn’t care about farming, wants to do minimal work, and is only looking for a free place to stay and free food to eat. These are very understandable concerns. The best thing to do is to communicate with the farm. WWOOF suggests to the farms to expect 4-6 hours of work per day, 5 days a week. Many farms do ask this, but it’s my experience that farms more often ask for 6 hours, sometimes 8 hours per day for 5 days a week (I’ve also seen even more, but that seems a bit unreasonable for volunteer work).

Here are a few good questions to ask the host:

  • How many hours will I be expected to work?
  • What type of work will is needed to be done on the farm?
    This is good to know as there is so many different tasks. If you are interested in learning something specific, it’ll be a good idea to speak up and ask to spend more time learning that something specific.
  • What type of accommodations do you provide?
    You’ll want to know where you’ll be sleeping and showering. Some farms provide a private area or place that’s shared with other WWOOFers. This can range from a bedroom, cabin, trailer, yurt, tent, or barn. You’ll also want to know if you have access to a shower (with hot water – some places don’t provide hot water). Toilet access – some farms have compost toilets – humanure, some have a standard toilet.
  • Is there access to wireless internet?
    Many farms provide wireless, some don’t.
  • Is there access to electricity?
    Some farms are completely off the grid, and use solar energy or a generator. If you want to charge a laptop, cell phone, or have a lamp, it may be difficult. Usually this is mentioned in the farm profile.
  • Will there be other WWOOFers?
    While it’s nice to have time to yourself, it’s nice to have another WWOOFer to make friends with.
  • What kind of food do you provide?
    Do you accommodate special diets/dietary restrictions – vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc…? (This is good to know)
  • What’s the minimum/maximum time I can stay?
    Some farms require 1 week, or 1 month stay, and sometimes 1 month max, or even a full season. Best to know how long you plan on staying, and ask if that will be acceptable.
  • If you’re traveling with any animals, children, or other people, ask if that is okay.
    Many farms do not allow pets. Not because they don’t like animals, far from it. They can pose a risk to their own animals, or farm. This concern has been discussed heavily on the WWOOF website forum by both WWOOFers and hosts (if you would like to read further). Some places only have enough room to accommodate 1-2 people, or maybe bringing small children may not be okay. It’s best to ask.
  • Can you pick me up from the nearest town?
    Some people don’t have a vehicle, so they may need a ride from the nearest train or bus stop.

    Many of these questions are answered or addressed on the farm profile. It’s a good idea to read the farm profile to get a better idea of what to expect. Many farms will respond in a timely manner via email, but it can also be a good idea to call – especially if you have a difficult time getting a response.

    Something to keep in mind when WWOOFing, is to keep in communcation with the WWOOF host – especially if your plans change and you won’t be able to make it. The WWOOF hosts reserve space for you and turn down other WWOOFers. If you flake and don’t show up, it creates problems for the farmers, where they could have had help from others. It also takes away the opportunity from other WWOOFers on that farm during that time.

    It would also be a good idea to know what to bring. If you have a car, you have more room to bring stuff. If you just have a backpack, you may need to bring just a few essentials. Most all farms will provide necessary tools and supplies. If you want to bring your own work gloves or rubber boots (when needed), that is up to you. You can also ask the farm if they recommend you bring anything specific.

    If you’re on a backpacking journey around the world (like I am), you may need to consider bringing more items. I have a whole list of stuff I packed, which I will go into more detail in another post.

    WWOOFing is a great experience, and opens up a whole world of opportunity in one’s life. If you’re interested in volunteering on farms, or even budget traveling (and willing to work in exchange for food and shelter), I highly recommend it. I should also mention, some farms do provide a stipend – maybe giving $20 – $50 per week. This little bit of cash can go a long way, but not many farms offer this.

    There are alternatives to WWOOF, such as HelpX.net. This stands for Help eXchange. The benefit to this, is you pay one fee to access a list of participating places all over the world, whereas WWOOF has independent organizations for each country, which means you have to pay each country for their list. HelpX is also not just farms, there are other opportunities for volunteer.

    Since I’m backpacking around the world, I am also open to CouchSurfing.org. This is a great way to find a (usually) free place to stay for a night or two, in many places around the world. It’s also a great way to meet local people, as they may often show you around the local area. I’m also open to finding the occasional job so I can have some spending money as I travel. Since I’m not looking for an actual “job”, I prefer to work under the table, for a few days or a few weeks. A good way to go about this is just to ask around, and be open to any type of work.

    Another good resource is the LonelyPlanet.com Thorn Tree Forum. There are a lot of discussions and topics on traveling, budget traveling, backpacking, where to stay, what to see, where to find work, meet up with a travel partner, and more. If you’re in the USA, I recommend becoming familiar with Craigslist.org. This very popular website is an online classified section for local areas – depending on where you are. There are sections for ridesharing – which is a great way to travel long distances carpooling with others, since hitchhiking can be rather challenging. There’s also a “Gig” section for finding work, though most of the time they’re scam. You become familiar to what is legit and what’s not. Craigslist is also a great resource for buying and selling most anything.

    For more information, visit these websites:

    http://wwoof.org
    http://helpx.net
    http://couchsurfing.org
    http://lonelyplanet.com/thorntree
    http://craigslist.org

    Happy Travels!

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Posted on October 27, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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