There is a time and place for travelling traditionally: sleeping in hotels, eating in restaurants, etc. And then there are times when you want just a little bit more than the traditional experience. That’s where WWOOFing comes in.
Known as “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms” and sometimes “Willing Workers On Organic Farms,” WWOOF is an international organization that connects wilvolunteers to organic farms across the world in exchange for food and lodging.
According to www.WWOOF.org:
Formally called Working Weekends on Organic Farms, WWOOF came into being in Autumn 1971, in England, when a London secretary, Sue Coppard, recognised the need to provide access to the countryside for people like herself who did not otherwise have the means or the opportunity, and who were keen to support the organic movement . Her idea started with a trial working weekend, which she arranged for four people at the bio- dynamic farm at Emerson College in Sussex through a contact in the Soil Association. The weekend was a great success and things gathered momentum very quickly. Soon many more organic farmers and smallholders were willing to take people keen to work on this basis (WWOOFers). It seemed that many people were just desperate to get into the countryside. Hosts and workers made new friends and enjoyed the experience of working in common in an exchange of assistance and knowledge.
There are now WWOOF organizations in countries as different as Sierra Leone, Nepal,Israel, France, New Zealand and Mexico. Our resident wordsmith, Jaime, had the opportunity to WWOOF in Italy for six months in 2008, and the experience changed her life forever. She made toys from olive wood and tended raspberries in Tuscany, made jam from acacia flowers in Piedmont, harvested grapes near Bologna, sold sweets made from ancient grains at markets in Liguria, corralled goats in the Dolomite Mountains, and helped build an agriturismo in Umbria. All the while, she enjoyed a room in the resident family’s house as well as delicious meals at their table.
“The work wasn’t always easy,” says Jaime, “But I got to learn so much about organic growing and about the Italian culture from the inside. The experience also gave me a lifelong appreciation for the people who grow and harvest the food that I eat back home. Let’s just say I’m willing to pay a lot more for strawberries and tomatoes than I ever was before!”
So. Are you ready to sign up? All it takes is visiting the WWOOF mother site at www.wwoof.org to find the site for WWOOF headquarters in your desired country. Then, pay a small fee (around $25-50) to receive a list of all participating WWOOF farms and their contact information, as well as brief descriptions of the farms’ crops, approach to farming, living conditions, and any other special considerations (like whether or not the hosts speak English). From there, you are responsible for calling the farmers and setting up your stay. Have kids? No sweat. Many farms encourage families to visit and work together for a learning/growing/bonding experience unlike any other.
There are plenty of well-spoken bloggers out there who detail their WWOOFing experiences; just Google “WWWOOF blog” and you’ll find more than enough information to get you started planning your next trip. Bon voyage and happy WWOOFing!