For those of you unfamiliar with it, WWOOF is the acronym for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The concept began in England in the 1970s, when a London secretary craving a little interaction with nature began volunteering on farms in the weekend. She enjoyed it so much she thought others might also, so soon an organization (WWOOF, as Working Weekends on Organic Farms) existed, connecting organic farms with weekend warriors. From there, the concept grew.
These days “WWOOFing” posts are all over the world, and they are more readily associated with budget travel rather than weekends of getting back to nature. In reality, it’s great for both: quick and cheap weekends away (within driving distances of your home) and equally great for long-term budget backpacking in which saving money on accommodations is worth a few hours of toiling the soil each day.
The standard deal is a few hours labor, anything from weeding to planting to harvesting to shoveling poop, in exchange for room and board. Generally, farmers welcome volunteers into the family, sharing space and time and meals and plans. Often, the dynamic turns a little into mentor and student, with an experienced soil sifter showing a newbie the ropes, but with some experience, volunteers can also take on major projects and/or lead other volunteers on their tasks.
For me, a recent WWOOFing experience — my fourth — turned into a full-time job, and it has exposed me to a way of life, a way of living, that is deep and rich and in sync with my food, with my world concerns (about the environment, about mass consumption, about fair trade, etc.) and with my future plans: to have my own sustainable organic permaculture farm on which I escape the rat race and live a life of few footprints but plenty of abundance. But, it began as an experiment, just to see if I’d like it.
In the instance that you have no aspiration of being a sustainable organic permaculture farmer (I did not in the beginning), there are still many reasons to WWOOF. Whether or not you travel internationally or just enjoy a speedy sojourn out of the metropolis, you undoubtedly eat and, thus, have a vested interest in your food. This is the perfect chance to learn about it, where it comes from, who’s growing it, what goes into making just one salad, how to pick all the stuff to make that one salad and why it’s worth it.
I mean how many times have you eaten a cashew, a pineapple or an eggplant. Do you know what the plant looks like? Do you know how long it takes to grow from seed to fruit, how to grow your own or even what climate it lives in? Can you make your own jam, compost or herbal remedy? There is no explanation I can give that explains the sort empowerment learning such things gives you, the confidence to do things on your own and the will to explore more because you’ll know how much more there is to know.
Why WWOOF? Because, in the beginning, it’s just an experiment, and you may just like it.
Where to WWOOF
To be honest, WWOOF is a bit of a dated term in that it no longer just pertains to volunteering on farms listed through the WWOOFing organizations. In fact, I’ve never used WWOOF to volunteer because the organization operates independently in each country, requiring a separate fee for every one. Being on budget, I went with a cheaper option: HelpX, a site where not only does the fee cover you worldwide but, in addition to farms, lists work exchanges with hostels, bars and NGOs. (Work Away is yet another option.)
Regardless of which site you choose to use, the options will be plentiful. There are listings on all three all over the USA, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, Canada and wherever else. The point being that the best place to WWOOF is anywhere you are. The opportunities are there to be taken, and the pickings are vast and varied, from avocado farms to macadamia groves to straight up vegetable gardens, which could be tilled by anyone, from the young to to the old. You just have to give a shot.
Green Monsters: Do you have any plans to try this out? What is your experience with WWOOFing?
Image source: Oast House Archive/Creative Commons