WWOOFing: The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Dirty

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 FarmsWWOOFers (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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Happy Travels.

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6 comments

  1. Hi! I’m also considering to have a wwoof experience. I discovered it last year through a couchsurfing group (alternative ways of living and consuming) and I’m planning to spend next winter by doing a volunteer job

  2. Regarding yor 2nd stay, your hosts are not your babysitters or entertainers… Unless they explicitly mentioned you would be taken to different places in exchange for your work, they had no obligation to do so.

  3. Completely excited, my daughter and her boyfriend went to Kona Hawk Farms to participate in this wwoofing program where they get young people to work on their farm for exchange for room and board. As a parent, I was not excited about this idea because as a rule, I don’t trust people with my child but this is something she wanted to do so I supported it. Before I get to what happened, I will say this with all honesty… If your young person is thinking of doing this, do not let them choose Kona Hawk Farms. I say this because it was apparent that they were only concerned about the work they wanted them to do and not the development of the whole person. When you are dealing with “20-somethings” from everywhere, you’re bound to get some complex personalities. These individuals ARE NOT skilled in conflict resolution and if your young person ends up having a problem, their resolution is that they dump them on the main road in the middle of nowhere without any cash, in the middle of the night in the rain. All the while knowing that their families are way in California. That’s exactly what happened to my daughter. Now, let me be totally transparent. My daughter’s boyfriend did not handle this particular situation as well as he could have. However, a 2 year intern by the name of Shane decided to push my daughter’s boyfriend in a verbal argument and my daughter’s boyfriend punched him. Not the best response but if you are pushed, you just may respond right? Might I add that my daughter and her boyfriend were also the only young people who were African American at that. When my daughter informed me that they were told that they had to leave in an hour, I tried to call the owner Doug and have a civil conversation. He immediately started yelling at me to which I had to remind him that there was no reason to yell at me. I tried to make sense of the situation but it was clear that he didn’t care about these young people so I did not push the conversation. I asked him where would he take them. He told me only out to the main road. And that is just what he did. He left them on the road and told them good luck. To them, they were the equivalent of trash. However, they didn’t realize that these young people were like gold to their families in California. In Kona, my daughter and her boyfriend had to hitchhike and walk until they were able to reach the airport. At any time, they could have been murdered, injured or tortured. My family and I did not sleep the entire night. This is my only child….my only daughter and my miracle baby at that!!! To this hour, Doug has not even called me to see if they were okay. I feel it is an absolute travesty that they are being allowed to work with young people. I will tell anyone I can about this experience and advise people not to buy their products. Oh if you’re asking yourself what happened to Shane??? The young person that started this whole thing??? He was allowed to stay…..but he’s not African-American either. The beautiful thing in all this is that the only person to help my daughter and her boyfriend was a homeless man with a car that was near breakdown and some extra food. He drove them as close as he could to their destination and provided them with food. God Bless Him.

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