How To Volunteer With WWOOFs
Although volunteer travel has been booming for the last few years years, WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), or as it is known in some locations, Willing Workers on Organic Farms, is one of the last great strongholds of inexpensive volunteer travel. It’s the real deal. It’s the alternative to spending thousands of dollars to build houses in Thailand or hundreds of dollars to nurse cuddly baby jungle animals.
WWOOF is a dynamic program available in almost every country around the world where you can spend your time working on an organic farm or project for room and board. The range of hosts and projects is exhaustive, and you’re sure to find something perfect for your travel plan. You can use the opportunity to learn about a particular type of organic farming, such as working on a vineyard or sheep station. If, conversely, you’re more interested in the culture and people of the country, you can seek out a host who sounds like a fascinating person who can offer you a peek in to the life of a local in Australia or Bolivia or France.
It’s Not About the Money
Your cost should never include any more than the membership price for the country/countries in which you plan to WWOOF and transportation to your host’s home/farm/commune/caravan. There are hosts out there who will agree to your stay, but then ask that you pay a small contribution toward the household expenses. If you’re working 6 or 7 hours a day and being provided with a bed and 3 squares, you’ve done more than enough to contribute. This sort of charge goes against the spirit of the program and should not be encouraged.
Choosing a host whose expectations are in line with yours is a key factor in determining whether you’ll find WWOOFing to be the rich and rewarding experience it should be, or a short stint in hell.
The Seven Types of WWOOF Hosts
1) Free Labor
Sadly enough, some WWOOF hosts are just out to save a buck. This is astronomically more likely to occur in developed countries with high labor costs where it is cheaper to fork over your room and board than to pay a hired laborer the minimum wage. Listings for this type of host are easily spotted by the requirement of long work days, little time off, limited interaction with the family and a lack of cultural activities. This is not the norm, but it is something to be aware of when choosing a host.
2) The Cult
Often you’ll find WWOOF listings for a group of people who have an established commune or independent community. Should you be in the market for an independent, sustainable community, look no further. This sort of host group generally has more strict rules and regulations than individual hosts. If you want to work a bit and party a lot, this type of host will probably not be your best fit.
3) The Philanthropist
This particular host has you around because he or she is really excited about the organic movement and is passionate about cultural interaction with people from all over the globe. If you’re lucky to find a philanthropist host, you can expect to earn your keep but to also enjoy a significant amount of time exchanging ideas and knowledge with your host family. You’ll work hard, but you’ll have the chance to learn and play hard too.
4) The Student
Oftentimes hosts will list for WWOOFers who have certain skills or knowledge about anything from carpentry to permaculture. These hosts may be new to the field of organic production or they may just need a chicken house build. Either way, those of you who have specialized skills that may in any way apply to organic farming will have a much easier time finding a host. If you can teach them, the hosts will welcome you with open arms. Should you be knowledgeable in the field of organic farming, get out there and spread the love with these hosts.
5) The Hostel
Unfortunately, some hostels and B&B’s have caught on to WWOOF as a sort of “backpacker trap” to lure unsuspecting backpackers in to a paid room. They list for help in the hostel or maybe helping out with the kitchen garden. But once you contact this sort of host, they inevitably don’t have space for a WWOOFer but are more than willing to take you on as a paying guest. Again, this is not the norm but it is something I have come across several times while WWOOFing.
6) The Family
Many hosts listed in various WWOOF member countries are families, complete with children and pets. As such, this flavor of host is more likely to accommodate WWOOFers with children and may provide a more comfortable experience for a woman WWOOFing solo. These are generally good folks who could use a little help around the house and like to expose their children to other cultures. If you’re WWOOFing with this sort of host, take a spice blend or something from your home that you can use to make dinner one night.
7) The Linguist
Linguist hosts can be either of two types: an expat or a learner. Say you grew up in Northern California and you suddenly find yourself married to a Spaniard and living on a farm in Catalonia. This type of host may be a bit homesick and looking to speak his or her native language. Other hosts speak more languages than a polyglot, and are happy to accept WWOOFers who are proficient in the language they are learning at the moment. If you’re fluent in Japanese or Chinese or Arabic, this could be the place for you.
How to Score a WWOOF Host
First, you have to decide where you’re going. Countries with more developed WWOOF programs have country specific organizations you must join. The fee to join is nominal but if you’re planning to WWOOF in several countries who have national organizations in place, you will need to join each. Countries who do not have many hosts may be found under WWOOF independents. Once you’ve decided where you’re traveling, you’ve got to do the ground work.
You’re probably going to have to contact scores of WWOOF hosts to find one who will have space for you, so be prepared. This is especially true in high cost, popular travel destinations during the busy season. Read each host’s listing and expectations thoroughly and decide what you can deal with realistically. If you can’t sleep in a tent and use a compost toilet, don’t waste your or your potential host’s time.
If you seem like a good match, contact them (probably through email) and provide an introduction to yourself. These hosts receive numerous requests and you want yours to stand out. This is your cover letter and resume (or CV) to get the volunteer “job.” Talk a bit about why you want to work for them in particular and mention a thing or two from the listing. Be personal, be fun, and let your host know how hard you plan to work for them. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back from every single host, and good luck!
About the Author
Carrie Thompson is a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, but now spends what little time she has on American soil in fancy Brooklyn marvelling at the variety shows and plethora of baby strollers. Carrie began her freelance career writing for BusinessTravelLogue and CarribbeanLogue. Her work may also be found at BootsnAll, IrelandLogue, AustrailiaBlog, WhyGo Austraila and The Expeditioner.
Also by Carrie Thomspson:
Posted on June 24, 2012 by Matt Stabile