WWOOFing gives the opportunity for people to experience idealistic lifestyles, such as living in a chalet at the foot of Mont Blanc, or spending time on a ranch in Texas, or even staying in the Bush of Australia, for free. WWOOFing participants only have to pay for their travel – their accommodation and food is catered for.
The organisation was created in 1971 after previously being called Working Weekends. It originates from the UK when a woman called Sue Coppard, a secretary from London, decided to organise a weekend for herself and two other Londoners to visit a farm in East Sussex. She wanted to experience some time in the country like she had when she was younger. In exchange for spending time on the farm, Sue and her two companions completed what she described as ‘housework’, which included clearing out blocked ditches and hacking back brambles which were encroaching into a field.
After the success of the weekend, more followed, and the interest for having weekends away grew both among willing volunteers and the owners of farms. All of a sudden WWOOFing was born.
Over the years it has continued to grow and has national organisations in over 50 countries and independents in another 40 countries. As the experiences were no longer limited to a weekend, the name had to change.
What does WWOOFing stand for?
In most countries WWOOF stands for ‘World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms’ (adopted in 2000). However, there are a few organisations where they decided to keep the old name (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) and one has chosen for the acronym to stand for ‘We’re Welcome on Organic Farms’.
Volunteers (known as WWOOFers) do a variety of jobs, which they agree with their host. They can include weeding, helping with the harvest or assisting with animals. It’s advised for WWOOFing participants to be of at least an average fitness level and to be interested in learning about organic growing, country life or ecologically sound lifestyles.
It gives people the chance to try something very different from their normal routine. Zoe Weinstein decided to do something which used her ‘hands’ before starting to study Library Science at the University of Illinois. To save money she stayed in her country and WWOOFed at a dairy farm in Gratsbury, Wisconsin. She learnt new skills such as how to tube a lamb as well as some basic veterinary knowledge, which included how to tell if a lamb was starving or had polio. Very recently she has been on a garden farm / bakery in Stockingbridge, Michigan and still wishes to do more WWOOFing in the future.
Another American who is going to take advantage of the organisation is Elinor Hickey, who is taking part in Livingston, Montana, so she can do something new in a new place and to give her “big muscles and character!”
Users have to join the organisation of the country they wish to travel to, this includes a membership fee (for WWOOF UK it costs £20 for a single person or £30 for a couple). This fee also covers insurance.
Members then have access to the ‘list’ of organic farms, gardens and smallholdings and organise their stay at one of the available placements. When contacting a host, volunteers can determine their work and how long they’ll stay. In exchange for the work (on the UK site, it advises volunteers to be prepared for 25-30 hour weeks), volunteers get lodgings and food.
The host plays an important role in the experience a person has while WWOOFing. They decide what work needs to be achieved, and the type and amount of food which they provide. This can vary and so it is advised to try and establish expectations on both sides. All over the internet there are comments of positive experiences WWOOFers have had with their hosts; Abigail Smith said: “My WWOOFing host is the most adorable middle-aged lady ever. I just taught her how to use her new GPS.”
People taking part in this so called ‘voluntourism’ find the experiences hold a great amount of variety and enjoy the experiences. Deanna Deacon tweeted: “Today I milked a cow, chased some chickens, fed some pigs and dug up an entire garden. Sooo happy I’m WWOOFing in #newzeland.”
Where can I WWOOF?
Opportunities are literally available all over the world. Here are just a few examples of what are available:
In Greece there is a placement to help with a rare breed of horses (including the need for light-weight riders), and helping to set up an organic garden, creating compost out of the horse muck. The main chores include mucking the horses out, feeding, fencing training and handling.
On the Hawaiian island of Maui, there is an aquaponic (a sustainable food production system combining aquaculture and hydroponics) farm. It’s situated inside the rainforests of East Maui where there’s a strong community of artists, farmers and families.
Kat Walker has been tweeting about her experiences in the Australian outback, where she has WWOOFed. One day she said: “Morning run along an old airstrip in the outback, at sunrise, kangaroos jumping beside me..! So cool!” An opportunity available in Australia is in the Bush working in a garden. Main chores include harvesting, weeding, helping with firewood, making walking tracks and helping with the landscaping.
These examples are only a drop in the ocean compared to the number of opportunities available, but these already show the variety of both locations and work included.
Last year there were over 4,500 WWOOFers registered with WWOOF UK, and there are around 15,000 registered in America. These numbers clearly demonstrate the popularity this organisation has gained leading to people all around the world taking the chance to get to know the culture of the area they’re staying in by working and living with local people. In addition, volunteering experience is an excellent asset for CVs or university applications, therefore, WWOOF helps to get the most out of your gap year – helping both budget and future prospects.