WWOOF Exchanges: What to expect?
February 20, 2015 4:33 PM   Subscribe

I am very curious about WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) exchanges, as a prospective volunteer for short-term periods of time. Before I spend $40 to become a member, can anyone who has worked with WWOOF (either as a volunteer or as a host, but especially as a volunteer) shed light on what to expect? What to do versus what not to do? I'm in the US and will probably want to first consider locations here, but am by no means looking to rule out opportunities abroad!

I saw the January 2015 post about "Where to WWOOF?" but am looking not just for recommendations on where to WWOOF, but what I should expect and extensive details on what other WWOOF volunteers' experiences have been.

I want to do this for 1) travel opportunities (I can accept working on a farm as part of this opportunity, if it means free lodging) and 2) improving my experience and knowledge in agriculture, which greatly interests me but which I do not intend to enter as a career.

Some things to note / specific questions I have:

- I'm deeply curious about many forms of farming, especially vineyards, but am not an experienced farmer by any means. I have some basic foundation knowledge and do a lot of vegetable gardening in the spring and summer, mostly in containers. Does this lack of experience hurt my chances as a desirable volunteer? If so, what can I do now in my free time to ameliorate this supposed deficiency?

- I enjoy getting my hands dirty; likewise, I take seriously things like hard work, discipline and self-improvement. I don't whine. I'm in good shape, mentally and physically, and I'm up for this.

- I have a full time office job and, because of some debt I am working to pay off, would not be able to do this more than 1-3 weeks a year while I am using my vacation leave. The fanciful and passionate side of me (I tend to be impulsive, and in recent months have suppressed much of my impulses in an effort to eliminate my bad habits and improve my quality of life) would love to kick the office job to the curb for a year and just WWOOF from one farm to the next, but I'd need savings to do that, and I don't have the type of savings necessary to do this long term. But someday, sure!

- I will probably start local (Virginia/US east coast) to get my feet wet.

- What have been the most rewarding things about volunteering for WWOOF?

- What have been the biggest disappointments/or just not-so-great things about volunteering for WWOOF?

- Is this really an invaluable way to travel and see the world; to meet other people? Tell me your experiences. Should I be considering other methods and if so, what would you recommend? Anything that builds a skill or skills is a plus.

- Are there alternatives to or similar programs like WWOOF, or any other exchange programs with the same level of (seeming) accountability?

- Are there any WWOOF hosts you would recommend and if so, why? Were there any non-US countries that you had especially great experiences in?

- I speak intermediate level Spanish and am working on improving my fluency; should I assume that it's rude and presumptuous to try to volunteer in a country where I don't speak the language? Or do the hosts acknowledge if English is spoken at their farm? I am willing to learn new languages in preparation.

Above all, anedcotes and experience/insight are what I'd love to hear! DETAILS!! Feel free to memail me if you want to privately share opinions about any hosts/the experience over all.
posted by nightrecordings to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
I WWOOFed for 3 weeks, 9 years ago, so this information might be dated. I will say that I found those 3 weeks to be incredibly rewarding, and even now at age 30, I find those few weeks when I was 21 continue to bring dividends!

I'll also say, before responding to your specific questions, that conversations with friends and other WWOOFers have revealed that every experience is unique; you see one WWOOF, you've seen one WWOOF.

Does this lack of experience hurt my chances as a desirable volunteer? If so, what can I do now in my free time to ameliorate this supposed deficiency?
You'll have the opportunity to view profiles of various WWOOF hosts and to correspond with them before your stay. This will allow you to discuss expectations with them. For the most part, if someone signs up to be a WWOOF host, they do so with the understanding that many/most of their volunteers will have limited experience. I wouldn't worry about it too much. You can always ask!

What have been the most rewarding things about volunteering for WWOOF?
I volunteered at a small, rural family farm near Cáceres, in Spain's Extremadura province. I've done a fair bit of traveling, but this was far, far off the beaten path and it was a, uh, "high-octane" experience for me as a young traveler: nobody spoke any English, the town was not especially accommodating to foreigners (though my hosts were absolutely wonderful), on top of which there were no street signs and the roads were labyrinthine. This is all to say, it was very rewarding to find that I was adaptable enough not only to handle this foreign environment--but to enjoy myself, too! I gained confidence in my own ability to adapt to the unfamiliar, and that served as the gateway drug that allowed me to try out many other new things (including living in Malawi for 3 years).

Those 3 weeks also gave me an appreciation for how freaking magical farming is, and how enjoyable it can be. Granted, i haven't done much with that since, but the idea of farming or gardening seems much more attainable.

What have been the biggest disappointments/or just not-so-great things about volunteering for WWOOF?
My experience was almost entirely positive. I do wish I'd spent more time. 3 weeks is the minimum length of time I'd recommend to really get into the swing of things. It wasn't until my third week that I really began to get a feel for it.

I speak intermediate level Spanish and am working on improving my fluency; should I assume that it's rude and presumptuous to try to volunteer in a country where I don't speak the language? Or do the hosts acknowledge if English is spoken at their farm? I am willing to learn new languages in preparation.
As above, you'll be able to ask any questions of your hosts ahead of time. I wouldn't assume it's presumptuous to try and volunteer somewhere where you don't speak the language, but it's going to be difficult if you and your hosts can't communicate.
posted by duffell at 6:23 PM on February 20, 2015


I'm not a WWOOFer, so I can't give personal experience. However, I did discover a well done blog by a couple of local WWOOFers that details their relatively recent foray into this lifestyle from otherwise 'normal' beginnings - as volunteers the past two winters while it's cold here in MN, but as hosts this past summer. It's very interesting and detailed, and might give you some insight. You can probably contact them through the site as well, they sound like they would be happy to communicate. All their experiences thus far have been domestic though.
posted by SquidLips at 6:52 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, the thing about WWOOF is that it's really just a mechanism for people to find each other. That is, for volunteers to find places that need volunteers, and vice versa. There isn't, as far as I can tell, any kind of vetting process for the farms. A rough analogy might be asking, what is it like to own a dog from the ASPCA? Well, it really depends on the dog.

That said, I have WWOOFed several times. Longest period was for 4 months, shortest was for 1 week. In general it was really, really hard work. These were not "do this for a couple of hours and then go explore the countryside" situations, they were "wake up at the butt-crack of dawn and sweat like crazy for 8 hours, then make communal dinner" situations.

For me, it was worthwhile. I learned a lot and found the experiences were good for getting me out of my normal frame of mind. And I met a few really interesting people.

You won't need experience for most openings. Plenty of places will take you on short-term. If you want to develop language skills as part of your experience, just say so when you get in touch with the hosts—I bet most people will be into it and happy to help.

Bring sturdy footwear!
posted by Mender at 11:12 PM on February 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I remember looking on here for help before I did my first WWOOFing trip :)

I WWOOFed with my sister for two weeks in Fukuoka, Japan on an organic farm and english learning center. The experience was the best part of our trip, hands down and I cannot recommend that you do it enough. I also wish we had devoted more time and stayed longer.

It was fairly difficult to find a farm willing to accept two female foreigners with no farming experience and no WWOOFing experience in our time frame and in our location. I had to message maybe 20 different farms before I got a few positive responses. We sent a couple, seriously, maybe two? back and forth messages about ourselves and the farm. It wasn't in depth and we didn't really know what to expect, but we still hopped on the train and headed out into the middle of nowhere.

They picked us up at the train station and took us further away to the home, which was separate from the farm. Our responsibilities were to help at the farm in the morning with the husband and wife, collecting eggs, weeding, and picking peaches (omg...I'm drooling remembering the peaches.) before going home for breakfast. After breakfast we had a few hours of downtime to prepare lunch for the day and then go back to the farm. We would make bread, weed more, and then go to the english learning center at the farm and sing and dance with 2-3 year old children for two more hours. Then we went to the local elementary school and practiced english with the local students. From then on we had free time for the rest of the night, which we usually chose to spend with our hosts or walking in the countryside.

Our host only ever asked us to do one thing, something that gave us a good feeling. If that was more chores, okay! If that was walking the dog, okay! If that was sitting in the sun doing nothing, okay! It was actually this that made the experience so much more then just volunteering on the farm because he taught that it was in our hands to make choices that gave us good feelings and if they weren't doing that, they weren't good choices and not worth doing.

Seriously, I can't tell you how much WWOOFing meant to my sister and I. I know I'm not doing my experience justice and I'm sorry for that. I hope you do it. It's scary, especially in a country where you don't speak the language, but it is so worth it if you make a good match.

...and now I'm off to write that couple a letter and see if we can come back next summer.
posted by Marinara at 8:43 AM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I spent about a month helping out at a guava farm in a village close to Chiangmai in Thailand. This was five years ago. My hosts were lovely and took me round places I wouldn't know to go to. I also experienced aspects of local life that wouldn't otherwise be accessible to me. I learned how to say please and thank you and all that in Thai and that was a good thing but not speaking the language wasn't a big issue. I was happy to get up early and do what I was asked to do; I was also expected to tag along to everything but that was fine by me. Not being experienced wasn't an issue because I mostly had to do the same repetitive task for hours each day. I loved my whole time there and would highly recommend WWOOFing based on my experience.
posted by mkdirusername at 2:35 PM on February 21, 2015


I've WWOOFed, worked as a paid apprentice/employee on several farms, and have managed volunteers on farms (though not specifically WWOOFers).

Does this lack of experience hurt my chances as a desirable volunteer? If so, what can I do now in my free time to ameliorate this supposed deficiency?
No; most farms don't expect WWOOFers to have much experience. Shorter term visits are well suited to basic tasks anyway. Also, each farm will have their own ways of doing things. However, depending on how much free time you have you could look into doing a Master Gardner class or attending some courses/lectures/tours/whatever through the nearest big university's ag extension office or your state organic ag organization.

- I enjoy getting my hands dirty; likewise, I take seriously things like hard work, discipline and self-improvement. I don't whine. I'm in good shape, mentally and physically, and I'm up for this.
This bodes well. Can you follow directions? Work quickly and efficiently? Have a long attention span/high boredom threshold? OK with hot/cold/wet/mosquitoes? YAY.

- I...would love to kick the office job to the curb for a year and just WWOOF from one farm to the next, but I'd need savings to do that, and I don't have the type of savings necessary to do this long term.
This was my dilemma too. Try WWOOFing, and if you like it you could look at paid apprenticeships. I found mine through ATTRA. MeMail me if you have questions about this.

- What have been the most rewarding things about volunteering for WWOOF?
I learned a lot about myself, about farming, and met some great people. Oh, and some really amazing food too! Also, you'll get to see some neat local stuff, go to farmers markets maybe, and see really beautiful rural landscapes and scenery.

- What have been the biggest disappointments/or just not-so-great things about volunteering for WWOOF?
It's like any other job sometimes - there are weird/mean people everywhere. Lowest points were harvesting beets in the snow and spreading manure over a tomato field by hand because the manure spreader broke.

- Is this really an invaluable way to travel and see the world; to meet other people?

Absolutely. I have also done the backpacking thing, studied abroad, and done other types of work overseas. WWOOFing was the best =)

- Are there alternatives to or similar programs like WWOOF, or any other exchange programs with the same level of (seeming) accountability?
Not for something so short term. ATTRA internships are more likely to be full season. I've seen other websites that listed volunteer opportunities but not with any checks and balances. The benefit of WWOOF is that if anyone behaves really poorly (host OR volunteer) they can be removed.

- I will probably start local (Virginia/US east coast) to get my feet wet. / Are there any WWOOF hosts you would recommend and if so, why? Were there any non-US countries that you had especially great experiences in?
Yes, there are a couple farmers I've worked with in Virginia/East coast that were awesome. I don't know if they're official WWOOF members, or what they're situation is w/r/t shorter term workers but it'd be worth asking. MeMail me for details. I also WWOOFed in Japan, and it was awesome.

- I speak intermediate level Spanish ...should I assume that it's rude and presumptuous to try to volunteer in a country where I don't speak the language? Or do the hosts acknowledge if English is spoken at their farm? I am willing to learn new languages in preparation.
You'll know if they speak English or not, and whether they're comfortable hosting someone they can/can't communicate with. You'll contact hosts directly to organize the experience, and can talk about language barriers and stuff. I would also address work hours and tasks, transport, time off, diet, household duties, etc.

Above all, anedcotes and experience/insight are what I'd love to hear! DETAILS!! Feel free to memail me if you want to privately share opinions about any hosts/the experience over all.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:27 PM on February 21, 2015


Sounds like you fit the profile of most WWOOFERS (not super experienced, enthusiastic but not looking for a career) which is great. Most hosts are not looking for experts. That said, the combination of your lack of experience and short time frame will probably rule out some placements but certainly not all. You'll have a better experience at a farm that isn't looking for someone to take on lots of responsibility anyway. The worst places I WWOOFed were those that were really just looking for an employee but weren't willing to actually hire someone. The best were those that had a clearly defined program for volunteers, like a set number of hours per day, or a set number of days off each week (even if the hours or days might shift according to the work). I had an overall great time WWOOFing in Hawaii and found it a great way to see the islands which was more rewarding and affordable than just touring. Some Hawaii hosts list themselves with WWOOF USA but many more register with the separate WWOOF Hawaii.

To answer a couple other questions:

- What have been the most rewarding things about volunteering for WWOOF?
Getting to enjoy the really amazing parts of farm life without the financial stress of actually making your living this way.

- What have been the biggest disappointments/or just not-so-great things about volunteering for WWOOF?
As mentioned, WWOOF does not really deeply vet or train it's hosts, they basically just maintain a relatively up-to-date database. (Also, there are different WWOOFs depending on the country/region you're looking at and their policies may vary. It's not centralized.) Therefore I worked for extremely horrible hosts (exploitative, mean, had to leave early) and other really lovely, organized, caring people. You're not volunteering for WWOOF, you are volunteering for individual farmers who will have widely varying personalities/mental states/social skills and experience managing other people. Correspond with the people you'll be working for and work for people who are open, helpful, and easy to correspond with. All that said, I think WWOOFing is really worth it and provides a unique opportunity!

- It's not presumptuous to WWOOF in places you don't speak the language, most farms will communicate in their listing or when you correspond with them what languages they speak. It's something worth asking if it's not clear.

Final thought: you may also be able to find and apply to farms that take volunteers without going through WWOOF (internet searches and looking at the websites of farms in the areas you're interested in working), just not as many.
posted by dahliachewswell at 7:55 PM on February 22, 2015


I've only wwoofed in Europe, but on a few different farms, nothing over a month.

- What have been the most rewarding things about volunteering for WWOOF?
The people you meet. I'm still in touch with some of the families I worked with and it's a really great experience if both parties get along. I loved doing physical work and getting tired then enjoying a simple meal together.

- What have been the biggest disappointments/or just not-so-great things about volunteering for WWOOF?
It's still free labor, essentially. This is something to keep in mind from the beginning. People usually have an idealized view of farm work and that it's just picking picking strawberries and smelling flowers all day, but be ready for endless weeding, hours of the digging, and other very repetitive activities in the sun. I wwoofed on my first farm for 10 days did nothing but weed everyday, but i had a good time because the hosts were good people and worked alongside us. I've had friends who've wwoofed with terrible people taking advantage of free labor. It happens.

- Is this really an invaluable way to travel and see the world; to meet other people? Tell me your experiences. Should I be considering other methods and if so, what would you recommend? Anything that builds a skill or skills is a plus.
This is great if you are interested in farm work, but there are other sites that host work exchange programs that cover a wider array of skills. HelpX and Workaway are just two of them. you can also seek out your own. I emailed a random vineyard in france and ended up working with them AND getting paid.

- Are there any WWOOF hosts you would recommend and if so, why? Were there any non-US countries that you had especially great experiences in?
I had a great time in southern france.

- I speak intermediate level Spanish and am working on improving my fluency; should I assume that it's rude and presumptuous to try to volunteer in a country where I don't speak the language? Or do the hosts acknowledge if English is spoken at their farm? I am willing to learn new languages in preparation.
This should all be in their profile.
posted by monologish at 2:45 PM on March 3, 2015


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