Let’s Get WWOOFing

Do you have any regrets?  I have one.  A few years ago a couple of friends were looking for a summer adventure.  When they stumbled upon an opportunity to live for free in Hawaii for two months, I was more than intrigued.  When they explained they would be conducting manual labor for six hours a day, I became a little less than totally enthralled.  But, regardless I would have loved to join and still look back with regret on my missed chance to share with them one of the best, and most enriching times of their lives.

Have you ever wanted to try new things, learn from experts in the field, and meet great new people in exciting locations?  World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a unique program that allows you to do just that.  Matching willing workers with farmers in need, the WWOOF program has presented an innovative way to help two particular segments of the population.   WWOOF works by offering volunteers the opportunity to work on organic farms all across the globe.  In exchange for their work, WWOOF host farms offer the volunteers free room and board.  WWOOFers’ stays can range from days to weeks to months, but they are required to work four to six hours a day.  Similarly, their accommodations can range from a backyard tent to a bed and breakfast style suite.  It is the equal partnership and common exchange of services that has made WWOOF a successful and replicated program.

The WWOOF program was started in 1971 by a city resident in London.  The program was inspired by her (and many other city dwellers’) desire to escape the city and witness the countryside.  Sue Coppard first established WWOOF as a weekend farming trip, where people from the city had the opportunity to travel to the countryside and work in exchange for fresh air and knowledge about farming.  This mutual exchange gained popularity quickly.  The program from the start was able to recognize the needs of both the workers and the hosts, and operated under the mindset that constant improvement and feedback from participants would make the program better.  Because of this philosophy and equal partnership, the WWOOF concept can be, and was, replicated around the world.

Just under forty countries have a national WWOOF registering program and thirty others have independent WWOOF farms.  With this scope, WWOOFing is possible in a huge variety of places.  The basic structure makes this program sustainable and duplicable as it spreads across the globe.  Due to the rising number of participating countries, an international WWOOF convention was held in 2000 where delegates from 15 WWOOFing countries met to discuss a base guide for what it meant to be a WWOOF host and what it meant to be a WWOOFer.  Additionally, the convention expressed their commitment to helping developing countries increase their WWOOF farms and opportunities to willing workers.

Farming abroad has brought concerns about the nature of the work and has called into question the role of these workers as migrant or immigrant workers.  Although its originators and promoters see the program as a strictly volunteer based service, many countries where WWOOF farms exist or hope to exist look unfavorably upon the program as overstepping working laws.  WWOOF programs have been successful in many countries at negotiating the terms of the program to be bone fide cultural exchange and learning programs.

It is this cultural exchange and learning that makes WWOOF possible in so many locations.  WWOOFers tend to seek adventure in their time spent with the program.  Many individuals, friends, and couples use the WWOOF program as a way to travel and see new and interesting places.  With the free room and board, WWOOFers are capable of travelling to destinations they wouldn’t otherwise be.  For the WWOOF host farms, being able to share their lifestyle and choice of farming organically with as many people as possible serves as a fantastic incentive for their participation in the program. Although a WWOOFer might only be participating for one week, the lessons learned from their time organically farming will be remember throughout their life.  When WWOOFers spend their time on these farms, they are more likely to advocate for organic farming both as a consumer and as a political participant.

Although the program has outstanding merits on many accounts, it does seem to fall short in some respects.  Some participating farms may be seriously struggling to continue their work in organic farming.  Without the help of WWOOFers, many farms would be unable to hire labor to complete the necessary work.  In this way, WWOOFing presents a unique opportunity to help struggling farmers, but it fails to address the long term problem small, organic farms face in the U.S. and abroad when placed in competition with subsidized and imported alternatives.  This is why it is important that the work of the WWOOFer does not end at their last farm, but rather, that they take the skills and cultural knowledge and apply it to their daily lives.  By encouraging others to participate in the program, past WWOOFers can continue to offer the physical support to farms in need.  By advocating as a consumer, past WWOOFers can affect business as well as government decisions about the path our country and developing countries are taking on food production.

WWOOF’s success and spread has certainly been made possible by the hard work and commitment of host farms and workers.  Their combined efforts to share in an experience have mutually beneficial results.  If you are interested in becoming a WWOOFer, you can join at https://www.wwoofusa.org/Join.

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