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WWOOF 101

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Have you ever heard of travellers or backpackers talking of WWOOFing? If you've ever eavesdropped on a conversation where WWOOFing was the topic, and wondered what in the world this strangely-named experience was (NB: it has nothing to do with dog walking) then look no further. Here is WWOOF 101: A Complete Guide and Explanation to the ins and outs of WWOOFing.

Firstly, it would probably help to know exactly what WWOOF stands for as that clears a lot of confusion up. WWOOF is an abbreviation of "World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms" or "Willing Workers of Organic Farms". It is a worldwide network of organizations where volunteers help organic farmers in exchange for food and board.

Sounds pretty simple, eh? But there's so much more to it...

It's a learning experience that allows you to observe how organic lifestyles are followed and practised, while also seeing an alternative rural side to the country that you're traveling.

It all began back in the 1970's in England by one woman wanting to support the organic movement and gain access to the countryside. Sue Coppard was obviously onto a winning idea as the WWOOF movement took off with many organic farmers perfectly happy to take on help by people who were enthusiastic about the countryside and who didn't normally have the opportunity to get this kind of hands-on experience. And here flourished the concept of WWOOFing which has spread around the world and is a booming network of hosts, organisations and volunteers.

The key theme of this genius organisation is 'exchange'. Yes, it allows work to be traded for accommodation and meals, but it also enables WWOOF hosts and the volunteers to exchange culture and learn about each other's differing lifestyles. It's a learning experience that allows you to observe how organic lifestyles are followed and practised, while also seeing an alternative rural side to the country that you're traveling. By working with other WWOOFers as well, you encounter more cultural learning's and a more eye-opening travel experience from the many different cultures surrounding you.

WWOOFing in New Zealand

WWOOFing in New Zealand. Photo by ontarions

The WWOOFers, aka the volunteers, are needed to have some degree of genuine interest in learning about organic growing and ready to experience country living. By working roughly 4 - 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, WWOOFers earn their stay by helping their hosts with daily tasks that involve farming or gardening activities. The WWOOF hosts (aka the farmer/landowner) can be anyone from commercial producers to individuals/communities/alternative co-operatives who have organic interests, such as permaculture or bio-dynamic growing methods.

The hosts are spread around the world in roughly 99 countries, from North America to Australia, and from Africa to England! While there is not a one single international membership to encompass all the countries; guidelines and standards are maintained in order to keep the WWOOF organization safe, enjoyable and relatively consistent. WWOOF Independents are countries that don't have a national organisation so require a different membership. Feedback is an important factor as it enables WWOOF to constantly improve and grow, so share your experiences, whether they are good or bad. Input and suggestions from members are what allows this flexible network to expand!

The countries that have their own national WWOOF organisation publish lists of organic farms, smallholdings and gardeners who offer varieties of tasks and experiences. In these countries, such as the United Kingdom or Australia, you need to contact the organisation and pay a small fee to subscribe to them. Memberships usually last a year and give you access to the database of hosts (some are online, others are listed in a paperback catalogue), and some organisations include insurance in the membership fee. But every country is different so it is always recommended to check the official WWOOF website for links to the particular country that you are interested in.

While traveling and WWOOFing, it is recommended to try and book yourself into a host's abode at least a month in advance. Some places are incredibly popular or busy so they may not reply immediately or have space for you at short notice! The databases have all the contact details of each host and a brief description of their property and what they do. Emailing or calling is the usual method of contact, just be sure to have your membership number at hand when chatting to them.

WWOOFing in Mareeba, Queensland

WWOOFing on a coffee farm in Australia. Photo by john7buck

A huge range of work can be done. There's Llama farming, gardening, fruit tree tending, cattle herding, grape harvesting... you name it! Pick the host which has the most attractive work to you and pick up the phone.

The length of stay varies as many hosts may state that there may be a minimum or maximum amount of nights. Usually, two nights is the minimum as it gives both the volunteer and host an opportunity to get to know each other and it lets the volunteer get a feel for the new environment. The maximum stay is established through mutual agreement between the host and WWOOFer as a trial period is usually recommended to see if either party involved are enjoying it!

Check with them what you might need, like a sleeping bag or gardening gloves and sturdy boots, and why not bring some mementos of your life to let them learn a bit about who you are. If you plan on WWOOFing for a while, why not shake it up a bit and go to a variety of hosts so you can get the most from your trip and see different areas of the country.

WWOOFing has benefited the wider organic world incredibly as thousands of hours have been contributed to help hosts and their work. New experiences are shared and education in farming has made this concept an incredible way to travel with a difference and really live a country's rural side. How else can you experience a new culture and environment while receiving board and food with a side of organic education?

Now hopefully, if you hear someone mention "let's go WWOOFing" or "would you be up for a bit of WWOOFing?" you'll know exactly what they're talking about... And whilst on the road traveling, what's stopping you WWOOFing with them?

Sophie Saint left for a world of backpacking after graduating and hasn't really been home since! After coming to Australia for some working holiday traveling, she had to undergo WWOOFing in order to get her Second Year Working Visa. Staying close to her base in Melbourne, she went through Warragul, Malden and Ballarat and did everything from weeding plants, apple-picking/eating fresh fruit straight off the trees, feeding chickens and angry goats, fruit drying, zucchini picking... What an experience! She saw a whole different side to rural Australia that wouldn't have been possible if it hadn't been for the whole WWOOF scheme.

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WWOOF 101