If the term ‘WWOOFing’ immediately makes you think of cute puppy dogs, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
The international organization WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) are the volunteers who stay with host families and provide work in exchange for food and accommodation. I have had both positive and negative experiences WWOOFing across France and Australia.
The primary goal of WWOOFing is to share diverse agricultural ideas between cultures. The WWOOFing organization is quick to point out that WWOOFing is NOT a way to travel for free. You will be expected to work for 4 – 6 hours a day.
The tasks vary from farm to farm. Once you join the WWOOFing organization for the low fee of $25, you will have access to postings from farms throughout the country of your choosing. In these postings, the owners of the farms will explain what they do and what is expected of you. Some farms only want volunteers for a week or two while others require commitment of a few months. Once you find a farm that appeals to you, it’s important to contact them directly. Introduce yourself in an email and explain why you want to volunteer at their farm specifically. A few phone calls later, you’ll find yourself at your first friendly farm!
My first experience WWOOFing: Atherton, Australia
Although the floods had destroyed their potato fields, my hosts still found plenty for me to do. From cleaning the house to mucking out stalls, I was adopted into the family as a temporary member. The scariest thing I had to do was swat lethal spiders out of the rain gutters. The most disgusting thing I had to do was hose down a horse’s trough full of dead birds. However, my hosts relieved me of any duties I felt uncomfortable completing.
I stayed in a small RV outside of the farm house. On Wednesday nights, my hosts took me into town to play poker at their favourite pub. We boycotted work one Saturday to enjoy the local horse races together (cover photo). Although I wasn’t practising “organic farming activities”, I loved my time in Atherton because I felt at home.
The second stop: Childers, Australia
The atmosphere at my second farm was completely different. Although I was given a room in the house to myself, I only used it to hide in. There were two other volunteers sharing the living room. My hosts stuck me in a metal shack sorting tomatoes.
A few lonely days later, I got a taste of the sun working outdoors—and immediately wished I was back in the shack. Picking tomatoes and fixing fences is hard work. The sweat on my legs mixed with the dirt, covering my body in mud.
The worst part of my stay was the unfriendliness of my hosts. They were constantly fighting with each other. They left us volunteers to fend for ourselves whenever we weren’t slaving away at work. The entire experience would have been different if they had only taken us somewhere, anywhere, during our stay.
My third and final try: Normandy, France
My host was a single woman whose fondness for animals outweighed her desire to find a man. I spent two weeks speaking French and caring for geese, ducks, horses, dogs, cats, goats, sheep, peacocks, and cattle. I did various activities that ranged from cooking lunch with fresh garden ingredients to peeling and re-painting wooden fences. I was even head-butted by a goat. Twice.
My host was constantly asking for help. I spent a lot more than 6 hours a day working. I lived in a small mobile in the large backyard. My host took me to a farmer’s market one weekend, but other than that, we stayed at the farm. I enjoyed my time in Normandy, but I found it lonely living on a farm miles from civilization with only one other lady who didn’t speak my first language.
Every WWOOFing experience will be different. It all depends on where you go, what you have to do, and—most importantly—who you are with. As does everything.
I highly recommend trying WWOOFing a few times during your travels to take a break from hostelling and see your destination through the eyes of a hard-working local.
Have you WWOOFed before? Are you planning on it? Please share your experience and your opinion!