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.
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.
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.
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!