What in the World is WWOOFing?
Where I come from people build fences around their property and hang rustic signs on the door warning, “We don’t call the police” with a picture of a shotgun pointed at you. No lie.
But thank goodness there are places different than where I’m from.
I signed up for the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) program the day after I touched down in New Zealand, knowing the premise, but little else. Individuals and families open their homes to complete strangers, feeding and housing them in exchange for help around their property.
You can imagine my skepticism.
However, having survived for months going from lifestyle plot to sheep farm to vegetable garden, gone are the days of hesitant suspicion. WWOOF is part of my story and I’d have it no other way.
Say you’re from a hometown like mine and the only WWOOFing you’ve ever heard of is from your dog, Mrs. Wiggles. If you’ve not yet considered the possibility of having your food and accommodation sorted while you experience the local lifestyle, then I’m your Huckleberry. Here are the questions you’re asking about WWOOF. They are the questions I once asked, too.
Organic farms? Is this hippy culture?
Everyone associated with WWOOF is interested to some degree in sustainable living – growing their own food, raising animals, and generally caring about the environment. You might meet families who live in earthen homes made of solar panels and granola, teach yoga classes, and have wardrobes full of patchwork skirts. Some awesome stories come from those experiences. But most will be people who simply like to meet strangers, practice hospitality, share what they know, and need a bit of extra help around the house.
Is WWOOF available in the country I’m traveling to? If so, where do I start?
Start here: http://wwoofinternational.org/
You’ll find links to over 100 countries where WWOOFing is available. There is no international WWOOF membership, rather a network of participating nations committed to the same values and practices. Each country has different requirements and procedures for the whole process, so be sure to do some research.
Eighteen is typically the minimum age requirement with no upper age limit.
Expect to make around a $50(U.S.) investment for an annual membership which will quickly pay for itself several times over.
How do I decide where to go? Can my hosts be trusted?
Once you’ve got a WWOOF membership, you’ll be given an I.D. #, access to the WWOOF website, and a book which gives a current list
of all WWOOF hosts for your country. After you set up your profile, you can browse hosts by region and begin contacting them about
WWOOFing. Each host will have a short profile to give you an idea of what your time will be like and what is expected of you, so you
can make informed choices about where you go.
Each country has different requirements for becoming a host, so any normal precautions must be taken when dealing with strangers. In New Zealand, for instance, WWOOFers and hosts can leave recommendations and comments about the places they stay/people they meet, so that both parties can get an idea about who they’ll be with.
Alright, walk me through getting here to there.
You’ll find a host you like. Their names and contact info will be listed and you’ll call. Tell them who you are, what you’re calling about, and ask if they have any availabilities for WWOOFers. For my first placement, I needed a host within a couple of days and ended up calling 30 hosts before I got a “yes.” I learned my lesson and promptly planned my hosts for the next three weeks. Allowing a few weeks’ notice helps on all ends. It goes without saying to never show up at a host’s doorstep unannounced.
Also, before you agree to WWOOF, understand clearly the expectations on both sides and arrange the details of your stay.
How will I get to the place I’m WWOOFing if I don’t have a vehicle?
Ingenuity, I suppose. That and public transportation, hitchhiking, or walking. This is something you’ll need to work out with your host beforehand. Usually, they’ll be happy to pick you up in a nearby town or from the bus stop close to their house. Whatever the case, show up when you say you will. If for some reason you can’t, let them know.
I have dietary restrictions or food allergies – will these keep me from WWOOFing?
Not completely. Some hosts are willing to accommodate. The ones who won’t aren’t for you. This is another detail you’ll want to work out before you agree to WWOOF with a certain host.
How long will I stay at each place?
Some like you to stay a minimum amount of time – say a week or two – which is a fairly typical expectation for WWOOFers. Some are happy to have you a few days and some you’ll fall in love with and want to stay with for two months.
If they feel the same, they just might oblige.
What kind of work is expected of me? And for how long each day?
A typical workday is around 4-6 hours, but as with all other details, varies between hosts. But this isn’t a free ride, so be prepared to put in the effort it takes to validate your stay.
My personal work experience as a WWOOFer includes, but is not limited to: painting a room, painting a house, digging a ditch, weeding a garden, mowing lawns, waterblasting a house, cleaning the inside of houses, weeding another garden, planting pumpkin seeds, feeding chickens, and clearing a walking trail. Sometimes it’ll be the un-fun jobs they just don’t have time to get around to. Smile, take the rake, look up, and remind yourself where you are and where you would be otherwise.
What supplies will I need in order to WWOOF?
I’ll save you the suspense: you’re going to get dirty. Have some appropriate clothes and shoes to do the job well without getting fussy about your brand new merino shirt getting stained. They’ll provide the other equipment for your tasks.
What will the accommodation be like?
Your guess is as good as mine. Some will be 5 star. Others, no star. My wife once renovated an abandoned caravan we then used as our own accommodation. Château de awesome.
What will my experience be like?
I’ll be honest, some will be better than others. If things are all going horribly wrong, no one is forcing you to stay. However, you should attempt to honor your commitments as best as possible, even if it’s less than ideal. You have the ability to choose what kind of time you’ll have. I have no doubt that if you go in with a servant attitude and an open mind, you will walk away with some of the most rewarding experiences of your trip. Trust that wherever you end up is right where you need to be. And enjoy.
Call me crazy, but this is actually something I’m thinking about. But, you didn’t answer all my questions. Tell me more!
Calm down there, Crazy. There is more you need to know, but you’ll discover those answers by research and experience. Or if you’re dying to know more of my personal experience, you can contact me at the info below. I’m happy to share.
Now set down the shotgun and go plant a tree with a stranger.