WWOOF is the acronym for WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms, an organisation that offers opportunities to volunteer in organic farms. Testing a rural agricultural lifestyle to promote an ethical economy is the experience that WWOOFing offers.
You require no previous farming experience. Once you are allocated your WWOOF host family, you will spend your time experiencing practical and sustainable farming/gardening methods. Some typical daily tasks you may find yourself doing include: taking care of farm animals, harvesting, cooking, making cheese, wine making, baking bread, gardening, pruning, etc.
The initial idea came when we were in the UK, about 15 years ago. We live and work in Germany nowadays. The idea of WWOOFing came again two years ago and then we decided to gather information. There are various reasons we chose to woof. The main one being to experience a totally different style of holiday, learning things while helping people and visit parts of France that we did not really know. This also saves on travel costs while learning new skills in organic farming. It is also a very useful way to experience how farmers live and work.
Our first WWOOFing experience was during summer 2020, during the first year of the COVID-19 crisis and just after the first lockdown in Europe. France was the obvious choice as we also wanted to visit family; UK was a bit too far and complicated due to travel restrictions and we are not fluent enough in the language to envisage Germany.
We enjoyed our week WWOOFing and decided to renew the experience we had in France during summer 2021.
Anyone who wants to do some WWOOFing can do it at one location or several ones, it doesn't really matter. In our case we booked 5 locations in a row, one week each. It allowed us to achieve several goals simultaneously: we wanted to visit various parts of France and experience different types of WWOOFing. And indeed each experience was a different adventure from all the others.
Yes, there are. You have to be clear about where you are going to sleep. Many of the WWOOF hosts don't have rooms in houses or caravans for WWOOFers. In this case you have to sleep in a tent, which we did not want to do. We chose places where we would sleep, at the very minimum, in a caravan without sharing with anyone else. Most of the time we slept in houses. For example, during our first experience in 2020 we slept in a hut, at the edge of a forest. In 2021 we stayed first in a caravane and then in houses.
WWOOFing usually entails 5 hours of work per day for 5 days if you stay for one week on-site (or 25 hours work for 7 days).
In one of the stay, we could not stay more than 5 days out of the 7 days we booked, thus we worked only 3x5 hours plus a few odd hours. Initially, we requested to stay 7 days and the booking was accepted. But once there, the host told us that we couldn't stay at the weekend due to family reasons. We considered that the amount of working hours should be reduced to reflect the 5 days stay instead of 7. We felt that it was not really what she had in mind, but that went ok at the end. For us it was not a real problem as we were in Normandie and it gave us the opportunity to visit the small city of Honfleur before to move to our next WWOOFing, but one can imagine that for some on tight budget and planning one location immediately after the other one, it might be difficult to be without a place for 2 days.
One thing also to keep in mind, is that in theory meals are not provided for the days you don't work. However, it's always possible to use the kitchen and you have to keep in mind that things are not really formal, so you can make your own arrangement.
All the hosts we had were nice, even the one who seemed a bit surprised that we did not work every single day. But there may be small problems, for instance it can be because one is not used to working manually like this, or perhaps some mood incompatibilities; so one must remember that it is possible to discontinue the stay- this can be initiated from either side.
You have to check beforehand the type of work you will do. It is not always very clear in the description, so you must clarify this with the host over the phone before committing. Obviously working in a farm requires putting your hands in mud, etc. I know that sounds obvious but we heard a couple of tales of WWOOFers who did not know that, or just did not want to help much. It can be physically tiring to do farm work for several hours a day. For us it was fine because we are not the sort of people who can sit the whole day doing nothing on the beach.
The organisation of the day depended upon the host. On our first WWOOFing, we worked 5 out of the 7 days. The host gave us each day a basket for breakfast and we were starting work at 8am, until 12pm. Then we had lunch, free time afterwards until 6pm where we were required to work again for 1 hour. But in another location, they asked us to do 6 days, but only 4 hours a day in the morning.
At the end of the day we really enjoyed the activities and we were not focused on the number of hours.
Sometimes you are not the only WWOOFer, there may be other people from totally different backgrounds than you. Many people are happy about this, as we are, but perhaps others are not. We found that it was nicer to work with other WWOOFers as it gives opportunity to share more experience.
Meals are a good opportunity to be together too. During our WWOOFing in Brittany in 2021, we were preparing lunch together, and the afternoon was free to play board games, discuss, visit, etc.
The profile of the other WWOOFers was diverse, but with many choosing a break in their career or have anti-globalization views. One young lady was living in a van and wanted to help people while getting different experiences. Another one worked previously in a charity and had just resigned. A young couple of students came and while one was finishing her study, the other one had decided to stop his IT cursus.
Our third WWOOFing was in Vendée, on the west coast of France. The host told us that they did not know if they were going to stay. One of the buildings was an old orangery, the garden was left wild; apparently the owners had a theory that they did not want to disturb plants. Only 5% of the area had some garden crops on mounds but for the rest, vegetables were growing amongst weeds and taller bushes. The host was fond of nettles and we needed to remove brambles that could prevent them to grow. They were nesting crows, had multiple rescue cats and dogs.
Near Bourges, in the centre of France, we stayed in a big mansion, really well maintained, mostly dedicated to growing flowers and trees.
Our last WWOOFing was in Normandy. A large renovated farm buildings was occupied by a biology teacher with 4 hectares of land. Beside his work as a teacher, he was growing plants for his own use based on a permaculture system and was also building himself small appartments in the farm to be able to host African refugees. We did some veg picking and jam with him.
In many cases the host is not very well-off, therefore it is possible that the accommodations they offer may be a bit challenging. When you arrive onsite things most often are different from what you expect. You also meet very different people, both the hosts and the other WWOOFers. There is a wide social mix. The key word is adaptability.
You have to work obviously, so you don't have 100% free time. It is better to be in good physical shape (but nothing exceptional is required). As the lodging and the food are included, this makes very cheap "holidays" and you have plenty of opportunities to visit around.
If you are interested in all organic farming or permaculture, I would definitely recommend the WWOOF adventure. It is a very unusual experience, so you get to tell good stories. We have no project at the moment, but we'll definitely consider doing it again in the future.
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