Totally Teen Travel may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post/page at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!
I’ve been working hard to try to find affordable volunteer programs for young folks. Somewhat surprisingly, most coordinated programs involve a hefty fee for the volunteer to participate. This is usually because the program organization fields year-round staff and support personnel. They also need to pay to advertise their programs, and they sustain a lot of related costs such as transportation and office overhead. Other than the Peace Corps and its ilk, inexpensive volunteer opportunities have been few and far between. Until I heard of WWOOF, that is.
What is WWOOF?
“WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a worldwide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange, thereby helping to build a sustainable, global community. As a volunteer (or WWOOFer as we call them) you will live alongside your host helping with daily tasks and experiencing life as a farmer.” – wwoof.net
Although you will not be paid, you do receive free room and board as well as the opportunity to get to know fellow participants from all over the world!
The program was founded in 1971 by a London secretary looking to take an active break from smoggy city living. WWOOF farms, located all throughout the globe, seek help with a variety of sustainable living tasks. You can choose to collect honey, feed farm animals, harvest crops, bake bread, build yurts, or so much more. There’s really no limit as to what you can do as long as an organic farm has a need for it!
If this style of international volunteer travel intrigues you, your first step should be to the movement’s primary website, WWOOF.net, which serves as a centralized, worldwide online source of information for the program.
Having read up on the WWOOF program itself, your first order of business is to determine the country – or countries – of your sustainable living dreams. Contemplate which three or four countries you’d most enjoy volunteering in, and then click on their respective links. These links will take you to each country’s WWOOF website.
Once you’ve clicked on these websites, be prepared to take some notes. You will need to join your favorite country’s WWOOF membership program, which costs approximately $30-40 per person per year, but don’t pay it yet. Take note of the amount each of your countries charge prior to signing up.
The Fun Part
The next thing to do is to search for available farms. You should be able to locate a “Find/Preview a Host” type link on the homepage. Each of these links should then allow you to filter the results. You may select, or de-select, the type of volunteer work you’d prefer to do, the type of living arrangement, whether they will accommodate special meal requests, etc. Find a volunteer situation that looks good within each of your chosen countries; make a note of its host number so you can find it again. Perhaps you will find nothing suitable in one of your potential countries; if so, you’ll need to knock it out of consideration.
The Big, Bad WWOOF: Questions to Ask
Once you have located some appealing farms, fork over the membership dues to the WWOOF country that corresponds to the farm(s) you’ve found most appealing. With these paid, you will be provided contact information to get hold of a farmer and set up a stay. WWOOF does not coordinate stays! Here is a sample of some questions you should ask of each host before committing to a placement. Think of some of your own needs, and inquire about those, too!
- What will my schedule be like each week?
- What kind of help do you currently need? Is any experience required?
- Is there a minimum or maximum stay allowed?
- In what language do you prefer to communicate?
- What organic farming/growing and sustainable living practices will I be able to learn?
- Can you accommodate vegetarian or vegan diets?
- Is your farm in a remote location? If so, would I have access to a bike or car to travel into town?
- What local sightseeing and leisure activities are available?
- Is there cell coverage & Internet access from your home?
- What measures are taken to help ensure volunteers’ safety?
- Is there anything in particular you should bring with you?
Armed with answers from each prospective host, select the farm that appeals most to you. Re-read the country’s WWOOF website and make especially sure you comply with any unusual requirements. All good? Get back in touch with your desired host and set up your stay. It’s that easy!
Other Things to Know
Now that you have a situation lined up, you will need to make note of any and all contact information (email, phone numbers, addresses) for the country-specific WWOOF organization itself. Keep it in a safe place – one where no Internet connection is necessary. In the unlikely event you have any problems with your host farm and can’t resolve the issue directly with the farmer, you will want to have this information handy.
Obviously you’ll also need to research expenses you will need to undertake prior to arrival at the farm. Travel and health insurance are both incredibly important. In addition, you will have to pay for all transportation to your host’s nearest air or rail station; your host will hopefully (but not necessarily) arrange to pick you up from there! You’ll need some spending money for your time off, and you’ll need the funds to make your way onwards eventually.
Ensure you bring every conceivable item with you that you would need, considering that there likely won’t be a Walgreens right around the corner. So bring an adequate supply of any medications and your favorite toiletries. You’ll also need sturdy, waterproof clothes and shoes. Boots and gloves are highly advisable, along with a sleeping bag and NON-ELECTRONIC ENTERTAINMENT.
The minimum age to WWOOF on your own is 18. There is no maximum age if you claim a minimal amount of physical fitness. Minor children are welcome if they accompany their parent or guardian, but if this is your situation be sure to very carefully check with the host country’s laws and regulations. In addition, host farms may or may not welcome young workers; check with them individually.
One Last Word
The last advice I’d give, should WWOOFing provide an appealing means for you to get out there and see the world, is to keep “The Golden Rule” forefront in your thoughts and actions. As we discussed, WWOOF is not a regulated volunteer organization. That’s why it costs so little to participate, remember? So “be a person.” Everyone is expected to act with full consideration of others’ safety, pride and dignity. Share your needs and wishes with the farm family, staff and fellow WWOOF participants, but be respectful of others’ criteria as well. This includes advising your host of any change of plans in arrival dates and/or times, for example.
Also if there are any problems, do communicate them to the parties involved. If nothing can be worked out, you are welcome to leave the farm. By the same token, understand that the host farm is welcome to show you the door. Getting in touch with the country’s WWOOF personnel is also advised; they can remove parties from future participation if warranted.
Where would you most wish to WWOOF, and what would you most like to do while WWOOFing? Let me know in the comments!
For further reading: