A few weeks ago I wrote about the Farm School in Central Massachusetts as an option for those who have the money and want to put it to a semi-traditional education in farming. I wanted to continue in this vain for several more posts about different options to get your feet, or your whole bod, wet in farming. I'm calling it Farm, woman! because I like directives, but you can ignore the title if you are a man or don't like being told what to do. I presume that many of you have an interest in farming or in growing a little vegetable garden, or simply love cute baby animals based on your coming here to read about it. So pardon the presumption if this isn't universally true. For those of you whom it is, I wanted to present to you these options because it is so much easier to get sucked into farming than many think.
The farming intro I am presenting you today with is Wwoof-ing. WWOOF (or the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is an organization that puts willing (but not necessarily experienced) farm hands in contact with farms that need and want extra labor. You use wwoof as a verb and a noun. You are a wwoofer. You wwoofed in Brazil last winter. You are wwoofing in the south of France this summer. You can wwoof nearly anywhere in the world, including right here in the United States. Generally how it works is that you pay for your transportation and then the host farm will give you room and board in exchange for x number of hours a day (usually around 4 or 5hrs). I have never wwoofed myself though we have often entertained the idea of setting up a wwoof program on our own farm. Nick wwoofed on a banana farm in Australia when he was a senior in high school. My sister Fiona wwoofed in Argentina.
Because I don't have the first hand experience, I wrote my sister to ask if she would share a little bit about her own. She obliged as younger sister's ought. What she wrote back is as follows:
Wwoofing is a great opportunity to travel with intent. The first time I went to South America I traveled backpack style with two friends and we jam packed a route that took us from Buenos Aires through Chile and up to Lima, Peru in six weeks. When planning the trip the map was an open invitation to go any where in the world…well anywhere in between our points of arrival and departure. The trip was amazing, unforgettable, one of the first of its kind for me. But I remember multiple days where we would watch a movie in our hostel or make dinner and go to bed, or go to the same café for three days in a row before we switched cities because we were so tired or drained from 24 hour bus rides and operating outside of our comfort zone 24/7. At the end of the trip I realized I wanted my next travel to be a little different. I wanted to dig deeper into the place I was visiting. I wanted to connect with land and people and maybe feel a bit useful too.
I found that opportunity through wwoofing. There are a few things in this world that really make the basics count. Farming is one of them, you get dirty, you work till you are starving, and sweat in the sun, and by the end of the day you are truly exhausted. The kind of exhaustion that makes you melt onto horizontal surfaces. You look at bathing, eating and sleeping through a very simple lens. You need them. And that is refreshing.
To wwoof in a foreign country, or in our own, you need to get a wwoof membership for that country or region. Three years ago I paid 45 dollars for a year membership to Wwoof Argentina. The membership will give you a list of Wwoof affiliated farms, their contact information, and a basic write up of what a wwoofer should expect from that farm. Some farms ask for a more lengthy commitment (a month or more is typical.) Others are okay with folks coming by for a week.
To get the most accurate idea of what to expect, be explicit in your emails and questions to the hosts. How many hours a day of work is there? What type of work can you expect to do? (I ended up working more on cob houses than I ever did on gardening or animal husbandry) Do you have to pay for food? There is also a spectrum of community experience. Some farms will ask for just one wwoofer at a time. Others want 10. Think about what you want out of the experience. Do you want to gain hard farm skills; live communally; travel with intent and connection? Figuring out what type of experience you want most will help you narrow down your options.
Of course, there is a deal of variation between what you have planned for and what it will actually be like when you arrive. I have heard of many instances when the host farm is much different than what was expected. This was true for the farm I worked on as well. From my experience the most successful wwoofing is done when you go into it with an open mind and welcome the unexpected! You are walking into someone else’s life. It is dynamic and filled with details and components unknown to you! And you are filled with dynamic bits and pieces and working cogs that are as of yet unknown to your hosts. Getting to know your hosts and their community and becoming a person to them is, I think, one of the most rewarding aspects of traveling as a wwoofer.
As we are rounding out the winter and heading feet first into spring, I wanted to present to you this option of how you can immerse yourself in farming this year, whether it's for just 2 weeks or 2 months. If any of you have had experience with wwoof-ing please share with us about the good, the bad, and the advice.
*top photo credit to Nick