World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF, was created in England in 1971 by Sue Coppard. The idea of volunteer workers and organic farmers coming together in a symbiotic relationship seems like the perfect expression of modern organic farming. And indeed the idea has spread to over 6,000 farms worldwide.
WWOOF is actually the network that connects volunteers with hosts. In return for about 4-6 hours of labor a day, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic farming and lifestyles. There isn't a global WWOOF group, but many different groups organized by country. Each group has slightly different fees and set-up, but operates in a similar way.
A person becomes a member of the WWOOF group in the country in which they wish to volunteer by paying a small membership fee. Membership is for 12 months. Once a member, or WWOOFer, they receive listings of organic farms who accept volunteers. Farms give a short description of their operation, the jobs they need help with (like planting, harvesting, animal husbandry or maintenance, or a combination), and often a description of the host. This may be distributed in the form of a hard copy member directory which also acts as a membership card (like with WWOOF USA). The book is usually updated several times a year, so it is best to order it shortly before you plan on leaving.
From here, it is up to the WWOOFer to choose a host farm and make direct contact with the host. It is important for both parties to feel comfortable with each other and have well laid expectations.
Once an agreement has been reached, the WWOOFer must travel to the host farm. If this means securing visas the WOOFer is personally responsible for completing that process. Once at the farm, the WOOFER should provide their WWOOF membership card and then adhere to the terms of their agreement with the host.
The usual length of stay is from one to three weeks, but it is up to the WWOOFer and host to decide on a duration that fits both of their needs.
It is possible to stay for as short a time as 7-10 days. Most groups determine that 2 nights is the minimum stay. To make stays like this work best, select a farms close to transportation to save time in travel.
It is also possible to stay longer. Some WOOFers have happily stayed as long as a year.
There are over 50 countries with WWOOF organic farms. You must become a member of the WWOOF organization in the country or region you wish to serve. Many of the regions are further broken down into WWOOF by country.
WWOOF is open to all nationalities.
There usually is an age limit on who can actually be a member. In the USA that age limit is 18 while in Australia WWOOFers may be 17. Some farms do allow members to bring children. This is something else that would need to be worked out between the WWOOFer and host.
WWOOFers must also be reasonably in good health. An athlete is not necessary, but someone who is willing and able to do the work is mandatory.
Prices range depending on different programs. Contact the country WWOOF list of your choice to find out. For example, the USA is USD$20 for a single membership or $30 for a double.
Freelance Writer from Seattle