The slow food movement and locavores have somehow made farming well, sexy again. I have to admit, I get far too much pleasure out of growing vegetables in 2 raised beds in front of my house in Denver, Colorado. If I had the room I would have chickens, goats, fruit trees and bees. There is just something about cultivating your own food. Combine growing food with traveling and it is easy to see why thousands upon thousands of people choose to WWOOF every year. I was able to become a WWOOFer in Ireland for 2 months with my wife a few years ago and am happy to report it is an amazing and unique way for someone to experience another country. It is also hard work but if you are up for a curious adventure then this may be for you.
What is it? WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The site and organization connects those who wish to volunteer on a farm for a few weeks or a few months with organic farms looking for volunteers in almost every country in the world. You can meet interesting people and learn about alternative ways of living. Some of the most popular destinations include Australia, France, Italy and Canada. Some of the most interesting locations include Cameroon, India and South Korea.
Who is it for? Anyone who wants to travel and is willing and able to do physical farm labor in exchange for room and board. You do not get paid. You are expected to work 4 – 6 hours per day with weekends free. This is the ultimate curious adventure. If you have ever been interested in quitting your desk job to grow food, well this is a great way to try the profession on for size.
What will you do and what is this like? I spent 2 months with my wife in the Irish countryside north of Dublin. I could hear and smell the Irish Sea out of my bedroom window. We were surrounded by endless fields of barley which we were told was grown for Guinness.
We worked for 2 men who happened to be gay, that had recently purchased this farm together and had no idea what they were doing. One was an opera singer and the other a financial adviser in the city. I loved them both because they were insanely curious and had decided to take a huge gamble. We had the privilege and honor of being a part of it.
There are as many different WWOOF opportunities as there are species of fish in the sea, so it is important to apply for those that speak to you and your unique personality. I was unique in that I was traveling with my wife and wanted a 2 month stay.
Our daily routine included picking up poop from the 4 alpacas on the land, feeding them, scraping and painting an entire barn, landscaping the garden, helping them pick out and move furniture they were selecting for a bed and breakfast venture on the property and anything else they needed.
When we were not working we drank tea (with milk of course), got drunk in small Irish pubs nearby, dined in the neighbor’s incredible old farm houses, gathered and ate blackberries while hiking around the hills along the Irish sea, learned about organic farming methods and visited Dublin every other weekend. Our hosts were incredibly generous and bought us beer and drove us around when needed.
Example Volunteer Opportunities – You may be on a farm with 10 other WOOFers or none. You may be making wine in Italy, picking olives in Greece, weeding in Nepal, sowing seed in the United States, milking a cow in China, or making cheese in France.
Ready to go? This is one of the only truly free ways to volunteer abroad (apart from a very small membership fee which depends on the country you choose and travel costs). All you need to do is decide on the country, secure the appropriate visa for your length of stay and browse through the posted volunteer opportunities on the WWOOF website here to see which farms speak to you.
A Word of Caution – I have spoken to many people who have chosen to explore the world and volunteer with WWOOF. Some experiences are amazing like mine and you should be prepared to work very hard. Some experiences have also been terrible. I spoke to a friend in Spain who had chosen to WWOOF in England as a way to improve his English and the farmer was simply using this as a way to get free labor. The farmer expected them to work 10 hours a day, the accommodations were very poor, the food provided was anything but local and it felt like a factory farm. The great thing is, you can leave at anytime.