There isn’t a better way to travel around the world with a purpose than by volunteering! In this series on alternative tourism we are covering popular international volunteering programs for young people to participate in. If you feel that you’re ready to share knowledge with others, learn new skills, and boost your life experience, read on! In this article we will talk about WWOOF, a worldwide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational exchange.
About the Organisation
WWOOF is an exchange network that operates in many countries on all continents. Volunteers help local hosts on their farms in exchange for accommodation, meals, and the opportunity to learn new skills. Examples of tasks may include building and restoring buildings, helping with organic restaurants, dealing with animals, working in eco villages, brewing and producing foods, and many more.
Interested hosts invite travelers to stay at their places of business and work for about four to six hours a day in return for a unique experience. There is no minimum or maximum duration of the program as it is up to the volunteers and hosts to negotiate how long the stay will be.
History of WWOOF
WWOOF began in 1971 in the UK, when a London secretary, Sue Coppard, while looking for a way to connect with nature, came up with the idea of offering a local organic farmer some help in exchange for food and a place to sleep. Her first visit was a great success – and the idea spread.
Formally called “Working Weekends on Organic Farms, WWOOF changed its name when the demand for longer periods arose, giving rise to “Willing Workers on Organic Farms”. Since then, in recognition of the worldwide nature of the organisation and the confusion caused by the word “work”, WWOOF now stands for “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms”.
How to Join the WWOOF Movement
WWOOFing opportunities are in different countries, so first you need to decide where in the world you want to go. You can WWOOF in more than 120 countries worldwide – check the complete list of destinations on this page. If there is no WWOOF organisation in your country, join WWOOF Independents. In order to get access to information about hosts and offers, you need to sign up for a one-year membership. Depending on the country, there will be a registration fee of $20-50. There are discount fees for two people who WWOOF together.
Membership will allow you to contact hosts to arrange your visit. There is no international WWOOF membership. If you want to visit more than one country, you will need to sign up as a volunteer in each country that you plan to visit. Depending on the country where you volunteer, the membership fee includes your personal accident and liability cover. It is the responsibility of the volunteer to obtain required visas and cover travel and personal expenses.
Each farm description will provide information about the hosts and their farm as well as their expectations. Additional information is provided regarding accommodation, type of work, examples of work, weekly routine, and food arrangements.
Criteria for WWOOFers
As a volunteer (or WWOOFer as we call them) you will live alongside your host helping with daily tasks and experiencing life as a farmer. As a host farm you will open your home to receive visitors from your own country or abroad who want to connect with the land and support the organic movement. “Farm” is a rather loose term as locations may include eco-communities, commercial farms, vineyards, and back-garden vegetable plots.
Please keep in mind that WWOOF is not paid work but is a cultural and educational exchange. Most WWOOFers travel using a tourist visa; however, it is your responsibility to determine the correct visa type for your visit depending on the country you wish to visit. Most WWOOF groups use the lower age limit of 18 as in most countries people below 18 are considered by law to be children. However, hubs like WWOOF Germany, WWOOF Portugal, WWOOF UK, and WWOOF Italy accept volunteers below the legal age given a letter of consent from parents or a guardian.
WWOOF Switzerland leaves the decision up to the farmer, while you have to be 20 years old to WWOOF in Turkey. When you figure out which country you’d like to WWOOF in, reach out to the organization to make sure you’re the right age.
There is no maximum age for volunteers, and some hosts prefer more mature WWOOFers who possess specific skills. Volunteers should account for all expenses associated with international and local travel, accommodation en route, insurance, toiletries/medicine, cellphone plans, internet access, sightseeing, and additional equipment, e.g. seasonal clothing and sleeping bags.
There are no specific language requirements as hosts usually list the languages they speak as part of the application on the website. Mature volunteers may also find hosts that allow WWOOFers to bring along their children.
How to Choose a Farm
- Contact the host and get a feel of the types of tasks that will be required from you. Discuss how much time needs to be devoted to work daily and whether there will be days off. You can also ask whether they have specific house rules and if they’re fluent in English. It is very important to understand the expectations upfront
- Compare your skills to what a host needs help with. WWOOF could be a great opportunity to learn new eco-friendly skills, share working practices, and learn new methods for a potential eco-project of your own
- Review the comments about the host. To ensure that what’s on paper corresponds with the actual picture, it is important to check references left on hosts’ profiles. See if there were any complaints and additional information that needs to be addressed
- Think through the logistics. When choosing a farm, consider the travel time and ticket prices for certain airports. If you’re on budget, explore your transfer options and find out whether your host will be able to help you with local travel to the farm
Is WWOOFing Safe?
Hosts are required to complete a detailed application, and are evaluated case by case. WWOOF operates a great deal on trust and relies on host/volunteer feedback. Complaints are taken very seriously and may cause immediate suspension of membership or ultimately expulsion if found to be true. Both WWOOFers and hosts can report if other members are not what they claim to be. The majority of complaints concern not liking the food or accommodation, working too many hours, or disagreement due to personality clashes and unknown expectations. You are under no obligation to stay if you feel uncomfortable or are not happy with the situation. When travelling, you should always have a back-up plan in place, and enough emergency funds to help you out if necessary.
All in all, WWOOFing is a great way to explore the world on a budget, learn new skills, and give back to the community. This program will fit the students on a gap year, eco-activists, and those seeking to expand their understanding of farming and eco-business.
Photos: Shutterstock / edited by: Martina Advaney
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