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WWOOFing 101

Food

Maybe you've heard a recent college grad or your ever adventurous friend mention in passing conversation that she has plans to WWOOF for a few months in New Zealand or Tanzania and you've wondered to yourself what the heck is WWOOFing, but you've nodded along pretending you know what she is talking about because you wanted to pretend like you were in the know.

WWOOFer in a vegetable garden. Photo credit: WWOOF International

Well, WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or Willing Workers of Organic Farms. The site connects farmers looking to host with would-be apprentices looking to gain hands-on experience on organic farms. In exchange for about four to six hours of work per day, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodations and opportunities to learn. Currently, there are more than 75,000 WWOOFers who travel to more than 100 countries on six continents to get a taste of farming life.

If you've always wanted to learn and live on a farm, it's a great way to do so because many WWOOF hosts will take volunteers who have little to no experience, as long as they have a positive attitude and are ready to work hard. Hosts are usually flexible on the length of your stay from a few days to a few months, though many are looking for longer term commitments.

If you have your own farm, garden, vineyard or orchard and follow organic or sustainable principles, WWOOFers might be a great way for you to get some much needed help and maybe even expand your operation. Many hosts practice permaculture or biodynamic farming. Some hosts are individuals, others are families and a few are communities or eco-villages.

WWOOFer feeding geese. Photo credit: WWOOF International

The nature of the work is very site-specific, so aspiring apprentices should look at host sites' profiles to decide what kind of work they are looking to do. Generally though, volunteers can expect to complete tasks like sowing seed, making compost, gardening, planting, cutting wood, weeding, harvesting, packing, milking, feeding, fencing, making mud-bricks, wine making, cheese making and bread making.

The arrangement is usually a win-win because many small-scale farmers do not have the money to hire more people, but they are happy to share their knowledge with neophyte farmers, who gain skills they can use on another farm or in starting their own farm.

Most WWOOF groups require volunteers to be at least 18 years old, though some take people who are younger. There is no upper age limit. As long as the volunteer is fit and well enough to work for four to six hours a day, hosts will happily take them in. Many couples, friends and even parents with children choose to WWOOF.

WWOOFer feeding sheep. Photo credit: WWOOF International

The organization is structured on a national level, so volunteers need to join WWOOF in the country or countries they intend to visit in order to view the profiles of the host sites in that country. Subscription fees to access a country's WWOOF site range anywhere from $0-$72. Once they find a host they are interested in, volunteers are encouraged to contact that host to find out if his or her site will in fact be a good fit for them.

WWOOF Hawaii says the ideal WWOOFer is someone with "a positive, can-do and self-motivated attitude, who works well with others, and is passionate about doing his or her part within the organic farming movement." But be prepared. Organic farming requires a "great deal of weeding and physical labor." Luckily, the rewards of supporting regenerative, organic agriculture are numerous.

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