By Claire Mathieson
How would you like to spend the summer on foreign land, soaking up the sun and receiving free room and board as you trade frenetic, smoggy Manhattan for a bucolic, sustainable farm? World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a partnership between national organizations whose mission is to pair volunteers with organic farmers. A volunteer, or WWOOFer, puts an average of six hours a day into the host’s farm in exchange for food, housing, and the opportunity to learn how an organic farm operates.
In 1971, Sue Coppard, a London secretary, founded WWOOF in England as Working Weekends on Organic Farms, hoping to get urbanites into the countryside. From four people working at Emerson College’s bio-dynamic farm in Sussex, it grew into Willing Workers on Organic Farms as people started to volunteer more than just their weekends. In 2000 its present name was adopted to avoid legal and immigration problems caused by the word “work,” although some countries have kept the former name.
Ninety-nine countries participate in the program, 50 of which have their own organization and the other 49 of which are listed as WWOOF Independents. In order to participate, a prospective volunteer pays a small fee to the organization of the country they intend to WWOOF in and gains access to the listing of registered organic farms. Responsibilities vary drastically by farm and can include anything from grape picking on a vineyard to building a fence. Once a volunteer decides which farm most appeals to them, they simply contact the host to express their interest. As a volunteer you are responsible for your own transportation to and from the farm, but once you arrive your general needs are covered. WWOOFers tend to be accommodated in a family style, often eating with their hosts and other volunteers. Although the experience differs depending on the farm, volunteers usually have an ample amount of free time to explore the area. A volunteer’s stay on a farm can last anywhere from days to years.
Because of the myriad of possible hosts, it’s important to clarify your responsibilities beforehand, making sure you know what you will be expected to do and how many hours a day you will work. It could be a lot of fun to organize a trip with a friend, and you’re bound to meet fellow WWOOFers from all over the planet, equally intent on immersing themselves in a world many of us have come to know only through Farmville and the weekly famers’ market. Whether you’re interested in picking dates from palm trees in Southern California or caring for horses in New Zealand, WWOOF can be a great way to experience the world for little money and get a hand in the blossoming organic movement. Check out WWOOF’s website (http://www.wwoof.org/index.asp) to learn more and find a farm.
Claire is a Sophomore at Barnard and is features editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.