WWOOF, or, “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms,” is what happens when you mix soil-loving and broke vagabonds with farm-owning, overworked stay-putters. You love the homestead experience (but only for a little while) and they love free labor (even if only for brief periods of time). It works out for everyone. WWOOF is a craze that caught on like wildfire in the travel community similar to the way Couch Surfing did. For a while nobody knows about it, and then all of sudden people are using it on nearly every continent in the world.
WWOOF is made up of hosts and guests. Everyone has to be signed up as a member in order to participate. Hosts are those who run farms, all of which are organic. If you’re not organic, you can’t play. And generally those who do participate (both hosts and guests alike) are committed to sustainable, low-impact lifestyles. Obviously, the degree to which that is carried out varies.
A host provides high quality food and safe, clean accommodation to WWOOF guests, who in return work for four to six hours per day on the host’s organic farm. The idea is that hosts and guests connect over the shared passion for organic farming and sustainability. It’s essentially an experiment in communal living with strangers for short, or occasionally long, periods of time.
WWOOF Around the World
WWOOF operates in over 300 countries worldwide. Looking to go somewhere off the beaten path? You can WWOOF in Kazakhstan, Serbia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Venezuela and Bangladesh, to name a few. You can also cut your expenses in half or more if you prefer to see Western Europe or the United States. The locations that aren’t currently participating are those with closed borders to everyone, like North Korea, or those that are in the midst of warfare and chaos. Other than that, the world is essentially your WWOOF oyster.
Obviously, Wwoofing isn’t free. Yes, your meals and accommodation are covered once you’re at your destination, but you still have to cover all travel expenses plus any accommodation and nourishment en route to the farm. That being said, joining the WWOOF community means you can travel around the world for a much more reduced end cost. You’ll be working hard, but you’ll also have opportunities for profound cultural exchange and the opportunity to make lifelong friends on the same path.
Realities of Experience
Just because it’s founded on moral principles doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a positive experience. Some organic farms do happen to be run by assholes, and they use WWOOF guests as a free labor source ripe for exploitation by providing cheap food and poor accommodation while insisting on long hours. If this happens to you, leave. It’s your time that you’re volunteering and there’s no reason to put up with that kind of treatment. While you’re at it, put in a complaint to WWOOF headquarters so people are aware of what is happening.
On the flipside (and the far more common occurrence), people report that the WWOOF experience is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They make those profound cross-cultural connections, gain a better understanding of the world and their place in it, forge lasting friendships, acquire a new knowledge base and skill set and in general have a fine, fine time – so much so that it isn’t uncommon for “guests” to become so inspired by the lifestyle that they go on to create their own organic farms and WWOOF-hosting properties.
So, if you dig digging in the dirt, traveling on the cheap, sharing laughs and working hard for a shared purpose, pop on over to the WWOOF site and start your search.
By Bryan Schatz