As a bit of a nomad a common question I get asked is “So what are you doing next and where are you going?”. I’m in the UK right now and I was asked a similar question by my mother’s husband Steve. I told him “When I get back to New Zealand in early September, we (meaning my partner Lara and I) are going WWOOFing”. Steve replied “WWOOFing!!!! Is that like dogging?”. Luckily it isn’t and luckily Steve was joking but he still had no clue what it was. I am completely shocked that WWOOFing is something so few people have even heard of.
If it’s not some form of car park deviance, then what is WWOOFing?
WWOOFing is the term to describe the act of partaking in the WWOOF program.
WWOOF doesn’t seem to have a 100% unified meaning. It did start out as Working Weekends on Organic Farms when it was created in 1971 in the UK. Since then the abbreviation has and is used to represent World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or Willing Workers on Organic Farms with the first seemingly being the most common.
WWOOF exists in around 99 countries world wide and they are all loosely affiliated with reasonable similar standards. Basically it’s a database of organic based farms and businesses that you can contact and go and stay with. In exchange for an agreed amount of volunteer hours you get free accommodation and usually three solid meals a day. The head organisation in each country requires a membership fee for full access to the database. You receive a hard copy book with all the contact details, locations and a loose description. Now with the digital world this is usually online too with access to reviews and experiences from fellow WOOFers. The strength of the network helps make a safe, well treated and reliable experience for all involved.
A banjo and a backstory…. My WWOOFing plans
I must admit part of the allure of this whole WWOOFing stuff is it makes me feel a little like the Littlest Hobo “maybe tomorrow, i’ll find another town, duh, duh”. Going from town to town helping out sounds pretty cool to me! I’ll have to get myself a banjo and a backstory to go with it if I am serious about this hobo/drifter lifestyle, surely I can’t be any good at this if I am not running from something!
On a serious note I love the feeling of freedom from location and only doing certain tasks and being in a certain place for a short time. Suddenly the world is an open game with opportunities like WWOOFing.
Lara and I have been living in Auckland, New Zealand, since January 2012. Sadly much to do with money and situation we have not had the chance to see the beautiful country as a whole. Plans to travel seemed a tad expensive and during a conversation with another friend she reminded us of the opportunities available if you WWOOF. She traveled around New Zealand and Australia many years ago. Another friend of ours also recently spent some time in Italy as a WWOOFer.
So we started looking into it and decided to join the WWOOF program in New Zealand. For around $40 NZD we joined as a couple and received our book.
I had to come back to London for weddings so Lara decided to start WWOOFing whilst I was gone. She has been working / living / eating and playing in an awesome organic vegetarian cafe (Driving Creek Cafe) in the Coramandel region of New Zealand’s North Island for the past 5 weeks. She loves it, it’s beautiful, she eats awesome food and hangs with awesome people. All this practically for free.
The image attached above left is the Driving Creek cafe, where Lara is currently WWOOFing. It’s a beautiful and awesome location and an experience she is very thankful for. No, the dude in the picture is not Lara!
When I return to NZ we have our next WWOOF host lined up. We’ll be heading to a place called The Animal Sacturary to look after rescue animals including donkeys, Polynesian pigs, hedgehogs, goats, native birds and who knows whatever else they will have. We met Shawn and Michael in Auckland before I left and they are truly lovely and caring people, I can’t wait.
Beyond that we don’t know yet but it’s likely we’ll be looking for something on the South Island.
How much is it costing?
With the need to worry about accommodation and food gone suddenly life becomes a lot easier. We have the yearly membership which at present is a shared $40 NZD, as you can sign up as a couple on one membership. Additionally I plan to continue my online work in free time. So, if we WWOOF at a place without internet I may need to purchase a 3G modem for my laptop. That may cost around $75 per month in New Zealand. Then there is travel to consider. I guess that can be estimated at around $50-$300 per move every 3-6 weeks. Any other expenses are for pure fun, eating in town and going out for drinks and tourist activities. This will need to be budgeted on a stay-to-stay basis. The basic outcome is that WWOOFing can be very cheap. Other expenses could be for replacing clothing ruined by hard work and getting out quickly if a place turns out to be bad, not a very likely situation though.
The future of WWOOFing for us
Now that Lara has WWOOFed and from friend’s who have WWOOFed we know that the experience can be extremely positive, with some funny negatives. As it’s available in more than one country it really opens up the world for cheap travel.
New Zealand will be over for us in March when Lara’s visa comes to an end. From then on who knows but WWOOFing is certainly a viable option and already I have been searching to see what kind of movement exists around Berlin, a part of the world we are both very interesting in living in.
Further info and questions
Are you sure WWOOFing isn’t something deviant? – I know it sounds weird but it’s totally legit!
How do I find out about WWOOF in my country or a country I want to visit? – The main website I seem to be able to find is WWOOF.org. In the UK their address is WWOOF.org.uk and in New Zealand WWOOF.co.nz. The main .org WWOOF page seems to have the most links to various WOOF sites around the world.
What experience do you need? – Honestly, I have never worked on a farm although I do have kitchen experience. If you are reasonably fit you’ll likely have no trouble finding somewhere and any experience you do have can often be useful as the opportunities are far and wide. You could be helping in a cafe, mucking our horses on a farm or helping build an eco center.
What are the downsides? – You are required to do some work and sometimes it’s quite hard. You shouldn’t be working more than 30 hours a week but may be in isolated conditions. You have to use your own judgement and not rely on a host for everything. It is possible, going to the home of someone you have never met, that a situation could be slightly dodgy. Of course the WWOOF online review / experiences and forums can help you stay safe in your decisions and if a place is deemed to be bad it shouldn’t survive long on the WWOOF list. It’s like anything in life, you just have to be sensible and careful.
So, if you have any other questions or want to give me your WWOOF experience or feedback I would love to hear from you. Hopefully if someone mentions they are WWOOFing from now you’ll understand and not think it involves an illegal activity!