WWOOF! It might sound like a dog barking but it stands for “worldwide opportunities on organic farms”.
For travellers, the WWOOF organisation lets you travel the world and experience local culture on a budget. For hosts, the deal is you provide room and board in exchange for free labour.
You might be working on an organic mushroom farm in Brazil or a Buddhist community on the East Coast of Australia. This is not a jolly day out – you are expected to work hard. Yet many travellers find it very rewarding. For some, the allure is learning about organic gardening, while others are keen to experience local culture from within a family (or other household) environment and practise language skills.
But how do you get the most out of WWOOFING?
I asked my aunt Michele, who runs a permaculture design business called Edible Landscaping and has hosted WWOOFERs for the past five years to work in her permaculture garden and orchard near Cardiff in South Wales. Here are her tips.
She advises asking a lot of questions before you leave: how many hours you’re expected to work, how isolated the place is, whether you are expected to do housework. In general, she advocates that WWOOFERs should behave like a house guest and contribute a bit to running the house, even if it’s just to help clear up after dinner. Her number one piece of advice is to bring the right clothes – for South Wales that means waterproof outdoor gear like rain jackets and Wellington boots.
She says it’s important to feed WWOOFERs well, particularly if they are doing hard, physical labour. She advises giving WWOOFERs a structure to work in – for her it’s five days on and two days off – giving them very clear instructions for what you want done and letting them know they can have breaks. Her best investment was buying a caravan for them to sleep in, rather than giving up her study with the sofa bed.
In five years, Michele says that the vast majority of WWOOFERs have been lovely. She finds the work they do in the garden very useful, while her children have had the opportunity to meet young people from all around the world and have benefited from the cultural exchange.