Since 1971, people are living and learning sustainable lifestyles thanks in part to WWOOF - World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Founded by Sue Croppard, WWOOF was created with the goal of giving city dwellers a weekend opportunity to re-connect with nature and support organic agriculture.
WWOOF organizations publish listings of organic farms and gardens that host volunteers - providing food, housing, and in-field education in exchange for help from the volunteers. WWOOF has now become an international movement across six continents and more than fifty countries with programs ranging from weekends to seasonal and year-long stays.
Sue Croppard, founder of WWOOF, intends that through WWOOF people can get first hand experience of organic farming, give assistance to organic farmers, get into the countryside, strengthen the organic movement, form links between city and rural dwellers, and "facilitate inter-cultural understanding between people of different nationalities".
WWOOF is used by many to live sustainable lifestyles; living on a self-sufficient farm allows someone to live without driving and paying for food that was shipped from hundreds if not thousands of miles a way.
Wwoofing is also a method for low-cost traveling - since it is a volunteer arrangement, a person does not need a visa to work in a foreign country. Staying at hotels and hostels can be very expensive especially for long periods of time.
Also, those who wish to work in environmental advocacy may have trouble finding adequate work that pays enough for city-life. Through work-stay programs individuals do not have to concern themselves with rent, food, and may even improve their health through the hours of exercise under the sun.
What does Wwoofing look like?
There are over seven hundred farms affiliated with WWOOF in the USA alone and hundreds more in the world. The WWOOF listing contains wide diversity in location and farm type. If one wants to make sure they get the food they want, it is good to work at the farm that grows it.
There are farms that demand strict vegetarianism and grow nearly all their own food and there are also farms that focus on raising cattle or sheep for meat and purchase and trade for the rest of their diet with other local farmers.
Charan Springs Farm in Cambria, California grows lettuce, broccoli, brussel sprouts, mushrooms, watercress, tangelos, blood-oranges, chard, and five varieties of avocados. Charan Springs also offers medicinal hot springs. There are typically around a dozen people staying at Charan Springs.
Some farms in the tropical regions such as Hawaii and Costa Rica offer housing and organic food in exchange for as little as sixteen hours per week of work. Wwoofers are not paid for their time, but the cost might be profitable to some to eat a purely organic diet and live on a fifty acre ranch a stone`s throw from the Pacific Ocean.
Rebekah, a "wwoofer" at One Love Gardens, a farm on the Big Island of Hawaii said:
"The simplicity of life at `One Love` was brilliant: bathing in the fresh mountain stream and eating almost only what we grew, turns me on to a blessed and sacred way of being. To know that this way of life is still possible and is happening, in our crazy 21st century world opened the doors of my mind."
However, not all organic farms sound like vacations and expectations of the exchange are made clear before a person comes to volunteer. While wwoofers may work a four day sixteen hour work week on the Big Island... at a bio-dynamic farm near Grass Valley, California wwoofers are expected to wake before dawn to work fifty hours a week.
Another farm called Heaven and Earth Farm in Nevada County, California offers organic food, housing which consists of a trailer or tent, and a $50 a week stipend in exchange for forty hours of work per week. The specifics are made clear in the WWOOF guide.
What can people learn with WWOOF?
Educational opportunities vary from farm to farm and depend on season and length of stay. If one comes to a farm during harvest time the work might be limited to picking fruit or preparing vegetables to take to market. However there are many different activities that go on at any given farm.
Food preserving, planting, marketing, community living, green construction, alternative energy, animal husbandry, and permaculture are just some of the skills wwoofers can learn.
Heated in Aprovecho
"A great experience, but it can get dirty," said Elizabeth M. of Dayton Ohio, having wwoofed throughout California and Oregon. "It can be like any other co-housing situation with conflicts and house meetings, sometimes things got pretty heated in Aprovecho". Aprovecho, in Cottage Grove, Oregon, practices sustainable forestry and researches furnace design.
For some, wwoofing creates space for meditation and work on personal growth; much of the farm-work such as weeding by hand can be done by a single individual, so the farmer may instruct the wwoofer where to work and leave to work somewhere else at the same time.
"These are the survival skills of pioneers"
Says Verona Bass of her UK wwoofing experience: "Some of the most satisfying moments are when I can do lateral thinking to solve practical problems, to use 'logistics'. Sometimes the right tool is lacking, or a wheelbarrow can't go over the terrain but some sort of dragging device will work better. I think these are the survival skills of pioneers, and we may yet need to become more inventive to re-use what we have available but in altered ways."
Bass continues, "Wwoofing slows me down. I engage with the moment in a way not easily achieved anywhere else. When I've been working with my head down, and I straighten up for a while, looking over a long quiet view of hills, fields, a loch, or an estuary, I breathe in and feel privileged."
For more information visit WWOOF.ORG.