WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a great worldwide volunteer network connecting prospective volunteer organic farmers, with organic farms in need of hands. I know people who have gone WWOOFing during gap years, or college breaks, or as a way to help fund long-term travel (me)!
There are literally thousands of organic farms participating in the WWOOF organization, in over 200 countries! That can make choosing a farm difficult if not overwhelming.
Fear not! As a seasoned WWOOFer, I’ve been on farms I’ve loved and farms I’ve… decidedly not loved. I’m here to help you choose a farm which will be the best fit for your volunteering effort, style, personality, and more!
*I’m assuming if you’re reading this you already decided to WWOOF, or are pretty sure you want to WWOOF. If you don’t know much about it, I have a short write-up about why it’s amazing here.
Which country do you want to WWOOF in?
Asking yourself this question is an obvious but important starting point when thinking about WWOOFing.
At times, not knowing where I wanted to travel next, a rad-sounding WWOOF farm literally determined which country I’d end up in (or at least, was a good tie-breaker). Other times, I already knew which country I would be in, and I needed to find a farm in that specific country.
Either way, you’ll also want to consider the number of WWOOF participating farms in that country. If you’re thinking of Australia, New Zealand, or the USA, you’re golden; each has over 2,000 farms. Some countries have fewer than 10 WWOOF farms!
Two other factors that I think matter when choosing a country to WWOOF in: how easy it is to connect with locals and your budget.
For example, I think it would’ve been extremely difficult to bond with locals in Turkey if I hadn’t spent two weeks working alongside them on the farm. I ate dinner at many of their homes and even learned some Turkish. I learned a ton about Turkish Muslim culture and daily life which I absolutely wouldn’t have if I hadn’t WWOOFed! While my WWOOFing experience in, say, Ireland was also rewarding, I don’t think it was essential to my experience of the culture.
Secondly, budget has been a consideration when decided whether to WWOOF or not WWOOF in a country. I wouldn’t have been able to afford backpacking in some countries for as long as I’d like, had I not WWOOFed. In other countries or regions, where the USD carries more weight, WWOOFing wasn’t absolutely necessary for my ability to travel there long-term. In those cases, I only WWOOFed if I was able to get a spot at my first choice farm.
I’ll discuss the struggle of snagging a spot at your first choice farms later. Once you have an idea of which country you want to be in, it’s time to think about…
What kind of work do you want to do?
Every farm expects you to put in the hours. WWOOFing is not an easy-breezy way to score free lodging and (often) food.
That said, the type of work varies a lot, and it’s worth thinking about what you want to get out of your WWOOF experience! For example, there are farms that expect mostly repetitive, fairly mindless work. I don’t mind this type of work at all, honestly. I got an amazing tan hauling olive branches up and down hills in Greece for weeks. A friend who WWOOFed in New Zealand said she mainly picked weeds her entire time there. If you’re at some sort of orchard during harvest season, you can bet you’ll be doing similar (i.e. identical) work every day.
On the opposite end of that spectrum, there are farms which give their WWOOFers a huge amount of diversity in their tasks. One day you’ll be weeding, but the next day you’ll be cooking, the next day you’ll be herding sheep, then building a mud hut… you get the idea!
Some volunteer work is extremely physically taxing, and other work is more mental. These are all considerations when reading about potential farms! You should get a good idea of what’s expected from you from the hosts’ profiles.
Are you a social WWOOFer?
Every farm obviously provides a fun opportunity to make friends from all over the world, but there’s going to be a ton of variation in the amount of socializing you’ll do on a daily basis.
Some farms require more human interaction than others, such as those located at eco-hotels or language schools, that sort of thing. At an eco-hotel I WWOOFed with, we interacted with guests and hotel staff super regularly. At one farm which doubled as a language school, we were actually required to practice English with the students as part of our volunteering.
Also, the number of WWOOFers a farm accepts at a given time affects the social atmosphere dramatically. Some farms literally accept a less than five WWOOFers at a time, so it’s a quieter experience. Some farms have space to accommodate well over 20 WWOOFers at a time! You decide what kind of environment you’re into.
What are you passionate about, WWOOF-wise?
Think about that little something extra you’ve always dreamed about a WWOOF farm having. Maybe you’ve always wanted to milk a goat. Maybe you’ve always wanted to eat a local tropical fruit right off the branch. This is your chance to look for a farm where you can do those things, because why not?!
Are you a horse lover? WWOOF at a farm with stables! (Terrified of horses? Definitely don’t do that… it works both ways)! Do you love working with your hands or want to learn some carpentry? There were a surprising number of farms looking for people to build eco-friendly structures! I’m always looking to learn more about permaculture, so that’s a keyword I always look out for!
Think about something you really want out of your volunteer experience, and keep and eye out for farms which will help you achieve that! WWOOFing should be an enriching experience for all parties!
Start emailing WWOOF farmers ASAP!
Start sending your emails to farmers as early as possible. Remember how I said we’d talk about snagging a spot at your fave farm? Yeah, WWOOFing is pretty popular, and if you think a farm sounds amazing there’s a good chance other WWOOFers think so, too.
You can find farm at WWOOF’s website. I recommend sending out feelers to hosts the second you know it’s somewhere you’d want to WWOOF! I’ve gotten rejected from more than a few farms, so there’s a chance you won’t get your first choice. No worries, that’s why you have back-ups, you savvy organic farm volunteering planner.
Also, emailing hosts is a good opportunity to get a feel for said host. If possible, I really recommend talking on the phone with them or Skyping them a bit. I know, I know, ugh. But I’ve gotten to farms and instantly knew the host was up-tight or had a poor opinion of WWOOFers (sadly, this is a thing), and wished I’d done this.
Happy WWOOFing, pals!
As with travel in general, you can do all the planning in the world and your real life experience could still end up wildly different from what you expected. Still, with a little help from this sagely wisdom, a positive attitude, and an open mind, your WWOOF volunteer experience will be everything you dreamed and more! At the very least, you’ll get a boss tan.
This is fantastic advice Kaisa! I’ve volunteered a fair bit on my travels but haven’t tried WOOFing yet. I’ll be bookmarking this to read in more depth whenever I find a program I’d like to do!
I have always been curious about this! What a cool way to meet people and get immersed in a country.