WWOOF, linking organic famers and volunteers.

 Anyone looking to gain practical, on the ground experience of organic or biodynamic farming or permaculture and wanting to add some “colour” to their CV should give some serious thought to World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farming (WWOOF)

WWOOFThis grass roots movement started 40 years ago in the UK when a London secretary, Sue Coppard, eager to get out into the countryside at the weekend – but lacking the necessary funds – came up with a bright idea. Aware that the organic farms she longed to visit often required an extra pair of hands she wondered whether she could help out in return for some food and a bed for the night. A farm willing to host a trial weekend was found – as well as several other helpers – and WWOOF was born!

Since that day the concept of WWOOF­ing has spread far and wide. National groups in 50 countries around the globe currently provide almost 12,000 farms with 80,000 enthusiastic volunteer helpers.

The idea is a simple one – an interested party subscribes to the national WWOOF group in the country where they live (or wish to visit). The scheme is open to everyone aged 18+ (younger in some countries) and there are no entry requirements other than being reasonably physically fit. Once a subscription fee has been paid (generally less than $50) the volunteer is able to access a list of host farms willing to open their doors and to share their skills with “amateurs”.

Number of requests received by hosts in Jan/Feb 2012

wooftabelTypically most volunteers (or WWOOFers as they are known) help out on the farm for 4-6 hours per day in return for food and accommodation. Some will visit for a weekend, others for a week or two, a few may stay on for several months (or, very rarely, years!). Each experience is unique and tailored to meet the needs of the host farm and volunteer who arrange everything directly with each another. There are slight variations in the experience from country to country out of respect for local culture, laws or traditions.

The benefits of this simple exchange are multiple and complex. Both parties get some basic needs met: either help on the farm or a place to stay. Beyond that WWOOF can help potential new young farmers and growers discern their next steps. Visiting volunteers can share good practices they have seen elsewhere with their host. In addition to the practicalities of farming, WWOOF also provides a cultural exchange and widens the horizons of all involved. For the host farmer trapped on his farm by milking schedules or harvesting regimes the scheme brings the world into their parlour, whilst volunteers get to experience real life in the countryside or, if travelling abroad, taste the real thing rather than a sanitized tourist board version. As a result new friendships, sometimes even marriages and babies have been known! For some WWOOF is a life changing experience, introducing them to new ways of being and of seeing the world.

So where should a potential WWOOFer start? Visiting www.wwoof.org or www.wwoof international.org will give a flavour of what is possible. The key is to focus on the country or countries you wish to visit and then follow links to the relevant national website.

However a plea must be made here. Your own country needs you too! WWOOF started as ‘Working Weekend on Organic Farms’; as travel has become cheaper and the possibility of visiting remote places has become more real for larger numbers of people, the acronym was changed to World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. This change contains an inherent contradiction. As supporters of organic farming – are we not keen to reduce our carbon footprint? Is it really necessary to travel half way round the world to learn about these things? Before booking that flight – take a look at the opportunities in your own back yard.

If you do chose to travel abroad – make sure you have some basic knowledge of the language in the country you are visit­ing. You want to make sure you understand what you are being asked to do! A WWOOFER who pulls out the carrots and leaves the weeds to spread is unlikely to be welcome to stay for very long.

Also you could consider visiting some of the less popular countries. The table compares and contrasts the number of contacts received by hosts in some countries. Applying to hosts in less popular countries will give you a greater likelihood of success in securing a stay with the first or second host you contact.

If you are already a farmer and think you would benefit from being part of this network – just get in touch with the WWOOF group in your country. Joining usually just involves filling in a simple form. If you find that there is no WWOOF group operating in your country – get in touch with us. We are always looking for co-ordinators to set up and run new national groups. This article could be the start of a whole new chapter in your life…

More information: www.wwoofinternational.org 

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