WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms) 101
If you have ever wanted to learn about organic farming, there are few better ways to do it than to take part in WWOOF.
WWOOF stands for WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
Through this program, you can get hands-on experience practicing organic farming techniques which you can use in your own garden.
One of the best things about WWOOF is that it is not expensive. Aside from an annual membership fee, there are no special costs involved except for your basic travel expenses.
What is WWOOFing?
As its name implies, WWOOF is a global phenomenon, but there are specific WWOOF organizations in different geographic areas in more than 132 countries.
As an example, if you want to go WWOOFing in the United States, you would need to sign up for membership with WWOOF-USA.
Together, these national organizations make up the Federation of WWOOF Organisations (FoWO), which was founded in 2013.
WWOOF itself however dates back to 1971 when the first such organization got its start in the United Kingdom.
The goal of WWOOF is to share knowledge of organic farming techniques so that individuals and businesses around the world can contribute to more eco-friendly, safe, healthy and sustainable agrarian practices.
You can rest assured that these motives remain pure and uncontaminated, just like the organic farming practices WWOOF promotes.
How so? Hosts of WWOOF volunteer farms do not charge participants who come to work and learn on their farms. In fact, they provide room and board.
How Does WWOOF Work?
Let’s say that you have decided to go on your first WWOOFing adventure.
To get started, you will purchase a membership in your respective country.
So if you live in the US, you would buy a membership in WWOOF-USA.
A WWOOF-USA membership lasts for a year. As of the time of this writing, it is $40 for one person or $65 for two who will WWOOF together.
Once you have paid for your membership, you will be able to participate.
You can search for a participating farm close to your location, or you can visit any of the member farms listed in your WWOOF’s directory.
WWOOF-USA alone has more than 2,118 participating organic farms and gardens ready to welcome you.
So no matter where you are located, you should be able to find a convenient host.
Keep in mind that different hosts have different needs.
So location should not be your only criteria when choosing where to WWOOF.
You should also pick based off of scheduling requirements as well as the types of produce and livestock present.
Generally speaking, you can expect to be working about 4 to 6 hours a day, 5-6 days a week.
You can search for an opportunity which is flexible in this regard if necessary.
You also can select a timeframe for your stay which works for you.
If you only have a day to WWOOF, you can look for a local opportunity.
Otherwise, you can look for an opportunity which lasts several days, several weeks, or even several months. Some opportunities last even longer.
If you have children or pets, make sure that your host is open to their presence before signing up.
It is also worth pointing out that you do not have to actually be a resident of a country in order to participate in a country’s WWOOF program.
So you can sign up for WWOOF-USA as a foreigner. But it will be up to you to obtain the proper documentation to enter the country. There are hosts that speak other languages than just English. So even if you are not fluent, you still may be able to find an opportunity which works for you.
What Do I Need to Go WWOOFing?
Aside from time, you do not need a whole lot in order to participate in WWOOF. Here are the basic requirements:
You must purchase a WWOOF membership.
You will need the necessary documentation (i.e. passport or visa if you are a foreigner) to enter the territory where you plan to WWOOF.
You may want to consider investing in travel insurance.
It is strongly recommended to have medical insurance.
It will be up to you to cover your travel expenses.
Even though room and board will be provided to you, you’ll probably want to bring extra money along for miscellaneous expenses.
You will need to arrange for transportation.
Clothing which is suitable for farming, gardening, and working with livestock is necessary.
Don’t forget about the essentials like sunscreen, a canteen, and so forth.
It’s up to you to entertain yourself on your off hours.
There are a couple more things to note.
The first is that this is not a paid work opportunity. It is an almost-free learning experience to become more conscious of ecological farming practices. As such, if you have bills back home to cover, you will need to have the finances in place to do that while you are WWOOFing.
The second thing worth mentioning is that unfortunately, much of the work involved in WWOOFing is physically demanding.
As such, if you have a disability, you may have a difficult time finding a farm or garden where you can participate, especially on an extended basis.
There may be hosts who have work you can handle, however. To find out, you will need to contact them individually and ask.
Once you have scheduled a WWOOF visit, it is simply a matter of showing up and performing the labor you have agreed to in exchange for your room and board and education.
How to Plan for WWOOFing
I have gone over the basic requirements for WWOOFing, but it is worth talking a bit more about planning your trip.
Here are some tips to ensure that you have the best possible experience:
Think first about your goals. What is your main reason to WWOOF? Are you trying to learn techniques to use in your home garden? Are you hoping to open a farm of your own and launch a business? Are you looking for a more affordable way to travel and experience a location you would not be able to visit otherwise?
Consider pairing up goals (i.e. practicing a language while learning farming techniques), but know what your priorities are.
Ask yourself how much time you are able to dedicate each day, and how many days a week you are willing to work.
If you are disabled, be realistic about what you are capable of. Do not over-commit yourself.
Do your research on the farm or garden you are considering, and take some time to get to know the host before you make a commitment. The longer you plan to WWOOF, the more critical this becomes. The personality of your host could have every bit as big an impact on your experience as the location that you choose the type of work you are doing.
Ask what supplies will be provided to you at the site versus those that you need to bring yourself.
Now let’s talk about what is expected of you when you arrive to WWOOF.
Do try and do your best to work on the schedule requested of you and to take on the tasks you are given. But if there is a task you cannot do, or do not feel comfortable doing, you may politely decline. Indeed, you should not do anything that you think might be hazardous to your health in any way.
Treat your work on the farm with the same seriousness you would a “real” job. Your host has agreed to take you on as an untrained volunteer, but the farm probably is your host’s livelihood. Treat it with the respect it deserves.
Ask what type of accommodations you can expect before you agree to come and work at a farm or garden. In some cases, you might expect a nice room, but in others, you could find yourself essentially camping. Hosts are required to let you stay on the grounds, but they are not required to furnish hotel-level accommodations. Do not complain if the accommodations do not meet your expectations. So long as they are hygienic and not hazardous and are more or less as advertised, you are expected to accept them.
Be ready to adjust to ongoing changes. Even though much of the work done on a farm or in a garden is routine-based, farmers and gardeners must regularly change their plans in response to weather and other factors outside their control. That means that what you end up actually doing when you arrive at the farm could be a lot different than what you had expected. That is just how it goes.
If you are asked to do household chores, you should. Everyone is expected to help with food preparation, cleaning, etc.
Be mindful and respectful of cultural differences if you are traveling abroad to WWOOF. This is a great opportunity for you to participate in an exchange of ideas and customs.
Q: How do I view WWOOF opportunities available?
A: Sign up for a membership at your regional WWOOF organization (i.e. WWOOF-USA), and create a username and password to sign into the website. This will allow you to view current opportunities in the directory.
Q: What payment method can I use?
A: That depends on the WWOOF organization you are signing up for. WWOOF-USA accepts credit or debit card or money order.
Q: Can minors WWOOF?
A: Yes, so long as a parent or legal guardian is present.
Q: What if it isn’t working out?
A: If you are not having a good WWOOF experience, you can simply leave. It is possible you will get negative feedback if you do so, but this may not happen if you are communicative with the host. You also can complain about the host if necessary (i.e. if you were being harassed).
The host has the same right you do to end the WWOOF at any time. If the host feels you are not working out, you can be dismissed.
Q: Can I use WWOOFing to help me immigrate?
A: No. The reason is that technically, this is not considered to be work or volunteering. It is considered to be a form of “educational tourism.”
If you are coming to the USA from abroad to WWOOF, look up detailed information about how to obtain the proper documents for entering the country. This can get more complicated than you might think, and it is easy to get rejected if you apply incorrectly.
Q: How do I actually set up a WWOOF?
A: Sign up for a membership, fill out your profile, and search the online database for opportunities. If you find one that interests you, contact the host. Explain who you are, why you want to WWOOF with them, what skills you bring, and ask any questions you have. If the host is interested in having you, they will respond, initiating a more involved conversation.
Get Started with WWOOF Now
Ready to embark on your own WWOOFing adventure and learn organic farming and gardening techniques?
Whether you are looking to work for a day near home or for months abroad, there is a WWOOF opportunity waiting for you.