First published October 2008, updated July 2011
Cities can certainly make you feel trapped and disconnected from nature. You can even feel disconnected from your food as so much of what we eat is pre-packaged and heavily processed.
Many folks with a bit of yard space are turning back to planting their own vegetable gardens, a tradition we lost in this country in the 1970’s. This return to the back yard plot isn’t just about producing food, it’s about independence; a quiet, peaceful rebellion against Big Agriculture.
But one of the problems of veggie gardening today is that big business has taken over that as well. Mutant seeds are more popular than heritage and heirloom seeds. A good ole’ smattering of cow dung and other natural fertilizers have been bypassed by complex chemical and fossil fuel based fertilizers in glossy packaging.
Even if you don’t have the space to grow vegetables, have you ever yearned to dig in the soil and learn about food-raising practices of old, which are basically just what organic farming is based on?
You don’t need to attend expensive courses to do so!
No, it’s not a dog with a stutter – WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or Willing Workers On Organic Farms. It’s an organization, actually a network of organizations, throughout the world that connect folks with organic food raising in a very hands on sort of way.
WWOOF has been around since the early 70’s. It’s a simple concept whereby organic farmers offer food, accommodation and training through experience in organic lifestyles – in exchange for volunteer help.
It looks to be a very interesting way to travel around the country, or even overseas! WWOOF opportunities are available in literally dozens of countries on all continents.
How WWOOF works
The overseeing WWOOF organization for a particular country (there’s no global WWOOF group as such) offers lists of organic farms who accept volunteer help in a variety of areas – whether it’s planting, harvesting, animal husbandry or maintenance; or perhaps a combination of all of the above and more.
The volunteer helpers, which are known as WWOOFers, purchase membership in the country they are interested in and then get access to those lists which detail all the opportunities. They choose a host farm and make direct contact with the host to hash out the details.
In terms of fair exchange, 4 – 6 hours of labour is suggested, depending on the type of tasks involved.
How much does it cost to be a WWOOFer?
To get access to the lists depends on the country you’re interested in. In the USA, membership is USD$30, which entitles you to access listings and contact details for over 1000 organic farm opportunities.
In Australia, membership costs AUD$65, which gets you the Australian WWOOF Book listing 2200 farm opportunities & 12 months membership with insurance.
Can the kids join in?
It appears they can in some cases – and it would make a great experience for your kids. WOOFer members must be 18 or over, but some farms will let members bring their children; a few even pets! It’s understandable given the safety and liability issues that some would refuse though, as these are real farms with lots going on.
How fit do you have to be?
While you don’t need to be a triathlete, it is expected you’ll be in reasonable shape – after all, you’ll likely be doing a lot of bending at the very least. Being a WOOFer is a great way to get in some *productive* exercise!
How long are WWOOF stays?
They can vary greatly from a couple of nights to a couple of weeks – some even as long as a year. It’s just down to what you negotiate with the host farm.
So if you’re looking for a very economical working holiday + organic farming training + exercise; it appears that WWOOF might be the ideal solution! If you own an organic farm and need a hand, getting involved with WWOOF may help
The umbrella site for various WWOOF organizations are the world can be found here.
Have you been or are you a WWOOFer? Please share your thoughts your experiences below!