For travelers who want more from their vacation than insulated cookie-cutter hotels, tourist trap eateries and herd-like group tours, then WWOOFing may be the perfect solution. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) operates in more than 50 countries, enabling volunteers to learn about biodynamic farming from hosts who produce organic products on their land. The hosts then provide the volunteers with free room and board, which is a great way to save money while traveling. These tips will help ensure your first WWOOF experience is one that you’ll always remember.
With farms all over the world, choosing your destination is probably the hardest part of getting on your first farm. The beauty of WWOOFing is that it’s something you can do in a foreign land or in your own backyard. Once you decide where you want to go, the next step is to visit that country’s website. For example, you can sign up for a WWOOF Canada yearly membership at http://www.wwoof.ca. The cost of the membership varies from country to country but generally runs about $30. After you join you’ll receive the country’s farm list, which will give you all the information you need to find a farm, as well as a membership card that must be presented to the host during your stay.
WWOOFing is more popular than ever and farms in more desirable locations can fill up months in advance. So when sending out inquires it is important to tailor your email to the farm and explain why you are a good fit. This will help your chances of being selected for your top picks. For WWOOFers, many countries have a review platform in place, so you can read host recommendations and warnings from other volunteers and leave your own thoughts following your stay.
Be realistic about what you need to make your stay work for you. For example, if you need internet or WiFi, make sure you ask your host prior to accepting to volunteer at their farm if it is available. Also understand that you are there to work. When I volunteered at a Tuscan vineyard for its grape harvest, our group worked 6-8 hours Monday through Saturday. Alternatively, at a WWOOF farm in Serbia, I worked for only a few hours most days. Generally, the host will expect you to work six hours a day, 4-5 days a week. For any type of harvest work plan to work a bit longer. Most farms on the WWOOF list give a detailed explanation of your duties, but if you have any questions or are unsure, just send the potential host an email asking about what their expectations are of volunteers.
If you commit to a host, it is imperative that you follow through. Flaking or cancelling can put the farmer into a real bind and jeopardize their livelihood. These aren’t large corporations, they are family businesses whose commitment to organic farming depends on volunteers. So if you have any doubts about being able to honor your agreement, then do not agree to work. However, that doesn’t mean that the hosts have a right to mistreat their volunteers or use them as slave labor. If you find yourself at a farm where you feel you are not being treated fairly, then by all means leave.
WWOOFing is without a doubt one of the best ways to tap into local culture. What started 40 years ago as a way for a London secretary to support local farms has blossomed into an organization that gives travelers a chance to become part of a region’s fabric, not just see it from behind a guidebook.
Have you ever taken a volunteer vacation?