Get Down and Dirty: WWOOF

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Heard a lot of WWOOFing while looking into how to work your way around the world?

Don’t get nervous. Your fellow travelers aren’t barking mad, they’ve just discovered the joys of one of the most extensive international volunteering networks.

WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms, connects travelers with an itch to pitch in with farmers and gardeners around the globe. They offer bed and board to their WWOOFers in exchange for help in the gardens, tending the livestock or in loads of other ways from bee-keeping to barn-raising.

Almost every country in the world has its own WWOOF website.

For only $25 or so, you can get an annual membership and access to that country’s farm descriptions, maps and locations, photos, volunteer feedback and contact info. It’s Farmer in the Dell gone digital, making WWOOFing one of the cheapest and easiest forms of finding a volunteer gig.

The question is…

Can You Dig It?

Some would-be volunteers shy away from WWOOFing because the closest they come to farm or gardening expertise is knowledge of all the lyrics to Old MacDonald.

Trust me, you don’t have to know the difference between a rake and a radicchio to be an all-star WWOOFer.

Before I went WWOOFing, I wouldn’t even look at a pot of petunias lest my house-plant killing vibes caused them to shrivel on the spot. Now I’ve planted leeks to feed a community of 20, performed routine sheep hoof check-ups and converted an old shed to a cozy chicken coop.

Your hosts are happy to show you what you’ll need to do and how to do it.

What you do need is a desire to get involved in the working life of the farm and give your all to your host. Your muddy, mucky, sweaty, dusty, prickly, smelly all.

WWOOFing can be tough and odoriferous work. But for a certain kind of Go! Girl it can offer the best kinds of benefits: days spent outside, drinking in the stunning landscapes, and working side-by-side with a local family to really help them out.

The Hosts With The Most

Thousands of WWOOF hosts out there are hoping to meet you and would cherish and appreciate your help. But with so many to choose from, even when you’ve narrowed it down to Northeastern Albania or Grass-Fed Yak Farms Only, how do you pick?

If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that the road to WWOOFing happiness is paved with clear intentions.

  • Get in touch before you commit
  • Get the scoop on how volunteer-stays work with each particular farm. When your expectations match theirs, it’s a winning combo.

Some good questions to ask upfront are:

Where will you be staying?

Some farms offer spare rooms in their house or an out-building.

Another common crash-pad for volunteers is a caravan: a stationary camper van decked out with a bed, a few counter tops, and the occasional string of Christmas lights – this is my personal favorite.

Camping at Sandy Creek
Creative Commons License photo credit: c.j.b

Other hosts only have spaces for you to pitch a tent.

When will you work?

At some sites, a few hours each morning is all that’s required of WWOOFers, while others expect volunteers to gear up for full days in the fields.

Remember, WWOOF hosts are usually just working families, not big businesses with lots of structure. You might have firmly set hours, but you might just be asked to muck in as needed.

Can you roll with that?

How easy is it to get around?

Staying on farms means you’re not exactly smack-dab in the middle of a bustling metropolis. While soaking up the laid-back local flavor is part of WWOOFing’s appeal, you’ll want to know how easy it’ll be to go further afield than the farm fields.

Are there villages or shops within walking distance? Local bus routes? Any bikes you can borrow?

Of course the biggest guarantee you’ll love a place is when you and your hosts click.

So a farmhand’s tip: There’s no substitute for a quick phone call. While email can let you sort out all of the above, a chat on the phone can give you an instant feel for the personality of your hosts and the vibe of a place.

They’ll be happy to hear from you, too.

Reaping the Harvest

So now you know finding a farm volunteer gig anywhere on earth is as easy as E-I-E-I-O. But if you’re harboring any seeds of doubt, don’t forget a few of the bountiful benefits:

  • Good Eats!

You are staying on an organic farm after all. Meals are usually comprised of your farm’s homegrown, homemade deliciousness.

Harvest Still Life - Fort Collins, Colorado
Creative Commons License photo credit: gregor_y

If you’re the kind of girl who walks five miles out of her way for locally-produced chevre instead of supermarket string cheese, you may find WWOOFing is the perfect culinary-tour-on-a-shoestring.

  • Sprechen Sie WWOOF?

When I looked up from my casetta full of freshly picked olives and jumped into the middle of my Umbrian hosts’ conversation – “Si, due piu, e poi finito” – I realized I was learning more than the traditional techniques of the olive harvest.

While many hosts speak English, you’re getting a chance to slip into the rhythm of their daily lives, and learn the lingo while you’re at it.

  • All In The Family

WWOOF hosts are some of the most extraordinarily generous and welcoming folks I’ve met on the road. You’d be amazed how grateful someone can be to have an extra pair of hands to haul potatoes.

Besides making you feel at home on the road, WWOOF hosts are often eager to help you make the most of your experience. You’ll have a local’s tips and tricks on what to see and do in the area, and quite often, a set of friendly faces to do them with.

If the traveling farmer’s life appeals to your inner muddy maven, it’s time to make hay from the resources WWOOF membership offers you.

Fasten up those overalls and shine your wellington boots, there’s a world out there just waiting to be WWOOFed.

Happy harvesting!

Tell us about your experiences as a worldly WWOOFer! Have stories or advice from the field? Know a farm that’s a little piece of heaven on fresh-plowed earth? We want to hear from you!

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About Author

When Julie was a little kid, she conspiratorially whispered to her dad, "You know what? I have powers." It took the world, and Julie, about 20 years to figure out what the heck she meant by that. But in 2010, when a chance backpacking adventure turned into a year of transformational travel, she cracked it: her super power is Wonder Wandering. Her mission? Using her powers of volunteering for globe-trotting good, not evil. Her kryptonite? Stayin' put.

15 Comments

  1. I wwoofed once in New Zealand with a good friend and it was amazing! So much fun, the family we were with was great. We mostly did some weeding and gardening. They had an adorable little girl who liked to play with us and run around, and the family was into beading so we learned a bit about their jewelry business as well. Would definitely do it again!

  2. I totally agree with this post !!
    I discovered Wwoof a couple of months ago while looking for budget places to stay.
    You can really get in touch with the local customs and learn how people live there.
    That’s the kick about travelling isn’t it ?
    I didn’t have the chance to try it out yet, but I’m definitly going to !

    • I love this interview there’s emoiton and honesty running all through it that you don’t always get in other interviews.I’ve watched the Beer and Beans blog take off over the past year; I am so impressed with the way they run the blog. I think the photography is getting better & better too and it started off at a very high level.Yesterday I interviewed a male professional photographer for a post I’ll run in a few weeks time and by no means is he a jerk in any way,shape or form. He has photographed many of the world’s notable people in the past 50 years Castro, Elvis Presley, Desmond Tutu and now I think I need to go back and ask him about male/female roles over the last 50-60 years & see what he has to say. I hadn’t appreciated until reading this that the ratio was so out of whack.

  3. I go back and forth about this program. I think it’s great and all but I don’t think it’s for me. I love volunteering, but I really prefer to be with kids and teaching. I like the idea of being physically active outdoors but I don’t think I would like small town farm life.

    • It’s great that you’re really considering what you like best in a volunteer gig, Rease, that’s the best way to put yourself on the path toward your perfect place. Haha, I will say I got to work with some very sweet, very hilarious kids that were part of farm families, but that’s not every WWOOF host. And small town life usually is (although I did just see someone asking for helpers in his rooftop garden in Edinburgh!)

    • Oh friend, so many strawberries were lost to the harvest and jam jar because of my insatiable desire to pop ’em right in my mouth. So a few missed the bucket, that’s the joy of fruit & veg gardening, right? 🙂

  4. I am currently looking into a WWOOFING opportunity and I am getting soooo excited! I will be going to school in London in the fall, and have a 1-2 month break when my job in the states ends and my school year begins.

    I am looking into WWOOFING opportunities in Europe, and have not really narrowed it down, but want to go to either a Nordic Country (Sweden, Denmark, Norway) or France, Spain, Italy, or Portugal**(Top Choice). I would love to be by the water, in nature, working with my hands, meeting cool like-minded people.

    Does anyone have any suggestions/can share some experiences?? I would love to hear! Feel free to email me – Smithmbc@gmail.com

  5. Umm….you’ve totally made me want to WWOOF on a Grass-fed Yak Farm – tell me you have a list of them somewhere?!

    I love this blog, please always carry on 🙂 and when you need some extra inspiration, please ‘carry on’ right onto a plane and come back to the UK, where you will always be welcome to WWOOF my potted tulips 🙂

    Be happy!!

  6. Great post, I think I would really enjoy WWOOFing. It would a be great opportunity to learn about farm life and organic gardening and such. I would love to give it a go after I leave school but still pondering the decision. Just wondering, do you have to be very physically strong?

    • Hey Tayla! The answer is definitely no – you can find WWOOF opportunities that will suit almost any level of fitness or strength. The key is to check with your hosts beforehand. I’ve seen some posts that mention that the work they need done is heavy-duty, so those that can’t lift an ox with one hand need not apply. But I’ve also been at lots of places that are excited to have any helping hands, and will find a duty (like sorting supplies or picking flowers…yes, really, picking flowers) that anybody could do!

      As long as you communicate with possible hosts before you arrive, you’ll find an exchange that’s perfectly suited to you!

  7. I feel I should clfairy too. The guy I worked for many years ago was not a photographer. He was an older man who inherited the biz from his father. The guy couldn’t even take a photo which made him more unbearable. He was a very mean & shrewd business man. He was old school and felt men made better photographers and didn’t mind telling you in the meanest of ways. I wasn’t trying to imply that male photogs are jerks- it’s just the contrary- All the guy photographers I have worked with over the years ( and at that studio) have always been down to earth and really cool people. I was just trying to point out that it is typically male dominated and how Oaxaca helped me get over some of the issues I had carried w me after my time in that hell hole of a job. There are a lot of amazing male photographers out there it’s just that professionally, in the field, there are a lot less women.

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