WWOOF – so what the heck is it anyways?

WWOOF, wwoof…woof?… did you bark up the wrong tree?

Well, if real-life, practical organic farm experience is what you are after – then you have found what you were looking for.

The WWOOF organization (stands for “World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms”) is a large, international idea and small, local organizations facilitating exchanges between WWOOF hosts and WWOOFers.  The volunteers (who can be anyone from young hippie kids straight out of high-school who are travelling the world on a budget to retired couples who like the farm life) come to help out on an organic farm and in exchange are housed, fed, and welcomed by their hosts.  It’s an opportunity to exchange, learn and grow – not to mention a neat and money-savvy way to travel and really get to know the heart and land of the country or region you are visiting.

Organic farms that register with the WWOOF organization in their country can be “farms” that partake in everything from regular fruit and vegetable production, raising livestock, working with eco-construction to making traditional goat cheeses.  All can be classified under the “organic”, “alternative” or “Permaculture” headings.  In researching potential places to volunteer at, I’ve come across farms that are vegan, yoga and meditation oriented, musical, involved in tourism and hospitality and even a rare animal type “zoo” I once read about located near Bordeaux, France.  To say the least, it’s important to take the term “farm” lightly.

WWOOFers harvesting some carrots

The type, length and difficulty of the work performed by the volunteers also varies.  A lot depends on the host and what they expect from WWOOFers and how flexible they are with these expectations.  Some farmers prefer that volunteers stick to a schedule, that they work from 8h until 13h (for example) and then have the rest of the day to relax, take a walk into town and socialize at the local cafe or go to the beach.  Some allow volunteers to feel into the process more intuitively and to provide help when it’s needed and to take time off when they want to.  Some days you might work for 6 hours and another day you might work for 2… it’s OK.  The tasks assigned to you also varry; from cleaning the chicken coop and harvesting cabbage to making compost and the (every so cautiously suggested by your host) … infamous weeding.  A lot too depends on the interests and energy of the volunteer – I thoroughly enjoy WWOOFing and learning about everything my hosts are involved in, and I’ve been hosted by amazing people who, in many cases, have become good friends.  As a result, I’ve been involved in lots of fun stuff like giving presentations at local schools (talking about life in Canada at elementary schools in Poland), getting involved with country theatre productions and even translating my host’s webpage into other languages.  Truly, when the connection between hosts and volunteers really clicks – the sky is the limit!

Different countries organize their WWOOFing differently.  It’s important to understand that WWOOFing is an idea and a concept shared by all hosts and volunteers internationally, but there is no one governing body regulating it.  In some cases, you have to pay a small fee (ie. 15 Euros for WWOOF France) to gain a 1 year access to the host database without which you wouldn’t be able to call or email potential hosts to arrange for your stay.  Other countries will provide you with access to this information for free (ie. WWOOF Poland).  Some countries with few farms registered go under the larger banner of “independents” in where you can pay to register and gain access to a ton of different farms in dozens of smaller countries.  Googling “WWOOF” along with your country of choice will quickly provide you with more information.

for more info start with perusing: www.wwoof.org

And if you are wondering if there are Permacultural homesteads or farms that accept WWOOFers – yes there are!

photos of my stay on a Permaculture farm in Poland (near Lublin): http://www.flickr.com/photos/jestemat/sets/72157627681869394/ 

For volunteers to be able to find and get accepted by their potential hosts takes some intuition and common sense in the start, and it’s a skill that comes to every WWOOFer with a bit of time and practice.  I’ll be posting more on how to find your ideal host, how and what to write in your proposal email to get accepted to their farm and how not to freak out if you don’t immediately fall in love with your host (or they with you)!

I urge you to delve into WWOOFing: a new and exciting way to discover the natural world and to meet very interesting and alternative individuals!

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