WWOOF for fun farming experiences

Mar 3, 2023

Folks often yearn for more. Some want more wealth, others more possessions. But many of us just don’t want to miss life. We wish to find life’s meaning by sharing what we’ve learned – and we want to learn more.

The World Wide Web that became the ever-present internet, tethered to many through smartphones or other devices, was intended to bring folks closer together. But often it’s instead led to more isolation. Isolation has always been possible on the land; now it’s possible in a crowd of people.

People who live and work on farms know it’s often difficult to take a break. Livestock and crops must be tended. Chores never end. Unexpected projects, like repairing storm damage, frequently tie us to home. While the best way to fight isolation is to ask others to come to us, how can we attract them? The answer is WWOOF!

Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms – WWOOF – began in 1971 in the United Kingdom as an effort to link visitors with organic farms. Now in about 130 countries, WWOOF is a truly worldwide effort with goals of educational exchange and building a global community of people who know about ecological farming practices.

“Our organization exists to help connect people to farmers – people who grow food,” said Tori Fetrow, outreach and marketing manager for WWOOF USA. “It can connect people to communities, different cultures and new experiences. We exist to help facilitate connections between people who want to visit farms. We call those visitors ‘WWOOFers.’ We help connect them with experienced, passionate growers all across the country and all across the world for a hands-on education and cultural exchange.

“We have around 1,500 hosts (in the United States.) A host can be an organic farmer, gardener, rancher or a homesteader. They might have a sustainable living project. Hosts are ready to teach visitors about what they are doing, and the organic practices they use.

“Hosts join WWOOF because they are eager to pass on their knowledge. They’re excited to pass on what they know to the next generation. Often younger individuals are WWOOFers. Many hosts are also looking for helping hands for the season or for a particular project.

“Hosts provide each WWOOFer three meals a day and some type of living accommodation. We often hear from hosts that they are unable to leave their farm. Our organization can bring people to their farm – not just from all over the United States, but from all over the world. WWOOFers exchange ideas, culture and even recipes with hosts.

“The majority of people who become WWOOFers have no prior agricultural experience. Many are stepping onto a farm for the first time. They need an eagerness to learn, a positive attitude and an openness to new experiences and new ways of life. We hear regularly from people who join our organization that they want to connect with nature and spend days outdoors away from computer screens. Many are looking for new skills. With the diverse network of farms hosting, there’s probably a place that can teach them about any skills they seek.”

A WWOOFer spends about half of each day helping on a farm. The rest of the day is hers or his to do with as they wish.

“Some people use WWOOF to travel cost-effectively on a budget,” Fetrow said. “Since meals and accommodations are part of the exchange, WWOOF can be a low-cost way to travel here or abroad. Many WWOOFers want to become immersed in a new culture and meet new people while helping out and contributing something to a farmer.

“First a person needs to know where they want to go. Our organization is in 130 countries around the world; each country has a WWOOF organization that is run on a national basis. Each national WWOOF organization collaborates with the others. Perspective WWOOFers browse host farms on the WWOOF website of the nation they wish to visit; they purchase a membership with the WWOOF organization in that nation. When WOOFERS find a farm that interests them they send a visit request; this starts a conversation with the host farmer. We encourage clear communication between hosts and WWOOFers. The program is designed to be flexible; there is no minimum or maximum length of stay. All arrangements are made between the WOOFER and the host farmer. That way experiences can be tailored to fit a participant’s schedule and interests.”

Riley J. Clare has been a WWOOFer in Ireland, Northern Ireland, England and Scotland.

“WWOOFing was a chance to live in cadence with other people who were deeply attached to their place (on the land),” Clare said. “I felt like a guest – a visitor who is treated with warmth and allowed into many aspects of life. By connecting with other people, living with them and working with them, I developed a much-different relationship than I’d have had as a tourist.

“All the farms I was on were small organic farms. Most were permaculture so I was doing weeding, watering, planting, transplanting and some work with animals. I worked with pigs, chickens, goats and donkeys.”

In the United States accident insurance is included with a WWOOF membership, providing coverage for accidents that can happen on a host farm, Fetrow said. The organization also offers additional coverage that’s affordable short-term traveler’s insurance.

“Sometimes people have the idea they have to go far away to WWOOF,” she said. “Recently I spoke with a group of WWOOFers who were on a farm just an hour from their home. There are many opportunities to WWOOF close to home and connect with a nearby farmer. Many people are using WWOOF to create connections with local farmers. Opportunities can be as close as our own backyard and as short as a couple of hours.”

For folks who yearn for more in life, WWOOF can provide community and connections with people from across town, or from the other side of the world. Visit www.facebook.com/wwoofusa and wwoofusa.org for more information.

This is an original article written for Agri-View, a Lee Enterprises agricultural publication based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit AgriView.com for more information.

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