By Laura Hurst
So you’ve heard about WWOOFing and you want to try it out for yourself. WWOOF offers the opportunity to be part of an alternate economy, a chance to deviate from a traditional vacation and an environment in which to meet new people and learn new skills.
Relaxing in the fields of northern Germany. Photo credit: Laura Hurst
Drawing from my own experience WWOOFing in Germany and from speaking with friends and fellow travelers who have spent time on farms around the world in Chile, Israel, Bolivia, Canada and Argentina, there are a few things the novice WWOOFer should know before embarking.
1. Do your research. You will be better prepared if you can anticipate the environment in which you will be living and what will be expected of you.
WWOOF websites vary by country, but most are well developed and offer valuable information. As a rule of thumb, the more information a farm provides the better. Most farms know to list their location, what they expect from WWOOFers, directions and information about arriving at the farm, if they can accommodate vegetarians or vegans and what additional languages they speak. Once you find a farm that matches your preferences, make sure to establish solid and friendly communication. I Skyped and emailed with farmers in order to get to know the family before arriving—they also wanted to get to know me as someone who would be living and working in their home.
Before you arrive, clearly establish how much and what kind of work the hosts expect of you, if they are going to pick you up from a bus or train station, your arrival date and what work you are or are not willing to do (such as working with animals or power tools). If you want to increase the cultural exposure, look for farms that host multiple WWOOFers. I had the experience of working with WWOOFers from Italy on one farm. The additional hands and the conversation pass time faster and ease the work.
2. Come with an open mind. This may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but it is the most important. You will learn a lot: about farming, about another culture and lifestyle and about yourself. Whether you’re loving it or feeling stressed, remind yourself that the experience is temporary: make the most of it. Try the food your family offers, scan the living room library for books (or if there are children, find some picture books to practice your budding language skills) and go wander and get lost in the village or woods nearby.
3. Come prepared. You’re going to be outside in the elements. Bring a sturdy pair of work or hiking boots, rubber gloves, a good hat and sunscreen. You’re a worker, but you’re also a guest. Bring a small gift for your host family. I brought small bottles of maple syrup from my native Pennsylvania for a cultural touch. Another WWOOFer I spoke with crocheted washcloths for a more personal gift. Bring a journal to record your thoughts and the experience—you’ll be grateful you did.
4. Enjoy the break from screens, cities and stress. WWOOFing provided me a lot of time to think. At first, I feared that I would be bored after finishing my work with nothing to do secluded in the countryside, but I soon found that having the time to read, to journal, to walk in the woods and to think were invaluable.
WWOOFers harvesting currants. Photo credit: Laura Hurst
This kind of opportunity is rare. In school, at our jobs and in our lives in general, most of us spend a lot of time plugged in. And it can get tiresome. WWOOFing afforded me a break from the drain of staring at a computer screen all day and sitting at a desk. Working with my hands and seeing my accomplishments at the end of the day—bowls of harvested currants or boxes of potatoes, a plot of land cleared of brambles and ready for sowing, a freshly sanded door—was rewarding.
5. Ask plenty of questions. Ask about the plants and environment. Ask for recipes. Ask how to say things in the native language (slug, wheelbarrow and branch were among my first German vocabulary words). Sonya Kowalczyk, a friend who WWOOFed in Chile after graduating college, advised, “Never be scared to ask questions—especially about work. Every question will help you to gain a deeper understanding of the farm, no matter how stupid you may think it sounds.” Chances are the farmer will appreciate the curiosity and effort—and reciprocate the questions as well.
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