Interested in harvesting coffee beans in Thailand? Growing olives in Greece? Working on a vineyard in Australia? And doing it organically, all for the price of a plane ticket? Then consider WWOOF.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a steadily growing network that connects volunteers with organic farmers and smallholders in all 50 states and 108 countries. In exchange for free unskilled labor, WWOOF hosts provide food and accommodation as well as hands-on experience growing organically.
Founded in 1971 by a London secretary who wanted to spend some time in the country, WWOOF teaches volunteers about ecologically sound lifestyles and offers them a chance to immerse themselves in a new landscape and culture. For their part, volunteers are expected to have a genuine interest in learning about organic farming and a desire to live an ecologically sound lifestyle.
Alan Yedid (CGS’08, SMG’10) and his brother worked on a small farm in Redwood Valley, Calif., last summer through WWOOF. They stayed for 10 days with a farmer and his family residing on a 1,000-acre biodynamic vineyard with nine other families. The Yedids and four other volunteers helped the family farm their own personal plot, working Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with weekends off. The work, which included planting, putting up fences, milking goats, making cheese, and shoveling manure, was physically demanding, but rewarding, Yedid says. In keeping with the program’s educational mandate, the farmer explained the significance of each task.
Yedid found the experience refreshing, he says, and he learned a lot about food and “what life is like outside of the city.” Living with the farmer and his family felt strange at first, he says, but “you definitely feel a connection to the family when you leave.”
WWOOF is a worldwide organization, but WOOF membership is by country. Students interested in volunteering should first decide what state or country they’d like to work in. A small membership fee, which varies from location to location, provides descriptions and contact information for host farms. After joining, volunteers contact hosts directly to arrange their stay, which can range from a few days to a few months.
Volunteers typically work four to six hours a day, performing duties like weeding, bread making, planting, or building. Some farms are commercial producers while others are simply large gardens. There are some nonagricultural listings as well, such as a beekeeping farm in Italy, a bed-and-breakfast in Switzerland, and a wolf sanctuary in Oregon. Some farms host several volunteers simultaneously, others just one. Hosts are required to “provide clean, dry accommodation,” which can mean anything from a spare bedroom to a tent.
Volunteers are strongly encouraged to communicate with their host before they arrive to learn in advance such details as duties, living arrangements, and working hours.
Yedid advises those interested to “be open-minded” and “come ready to work hard.” He says that if he could do it over again, he would have stayed on the farm longer. The experience makes you “feel like you’ve accomplished something…It was one of the best experiences of my life.”
Erin Thibeau can be reached at email@example.com.