Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
For starters, what exactly does WWOOF even mean? WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and is an online resource which helps connect volunteers with organic farmer hosts. In return for volunteer help, hosts offer room, board, and the opportunity to learn about organic farming and sustainable lifestyles.
Volunteering abroad on an organic farm (or WWOOFing) can be a great way to learn more about organic farming, experience a new culture, forge lasting friendships, travel abroad on a budget, and gain valuable hands-on experience in sustainable farming practices from people who live, drink, breath, and (of course) eat organic. From produce to poultry, big farms to small gardens, cheese-making to pearl-diving; these are only some of the adventures that may await you!
This all sounds incredibly intriguing, but how exactly do you go about setting up this adventure of a lifetime? With some time, a little bit of research, ample planning, and the right expectations, getting yourself on your way to a great overseas farm experience is a breeze.
Here are some of the things that I have kept in mind as I’m gearing up to head out on my own WWOOFing expedition in France (and perhaps beyond).
9 Steps to Start WWOOFing Abroad
1. Give yourself plenty of time. This is the biggest tip I can give you. Before you even get started, you want to make sure to give yourself as much time as possible. When you’re cooking up an incredible organic experience overseas, time is the secret ingredient.
I’m all about spontaneity, but with a trip overseas, setting aside plenty of time to think about, plan, and set-up your trip can make a huge difference. Aim to start the planning process at least 3 months before you expect to arrive at your farm destination.
Also, if you’re for sure going to be going overseas and don’t have your passport yet, this may be a good time to go ahead and get that process rolling. Passports are pretty notorious for taking their sweet time to be processed. The sooner you get it, the better.
2. Ask yourself what it is that you want from the experience. Have realistic expectations. Are you interested in raising goats and making cheese? Perhaps you’d like to work at an eco-lodge and learn more about yoga and meditation. Maybe rainforest horticulture or sub-Saharan herding is more up your alley. The choices and experiences are nearly endless when it comes to WWOOFing. So to narrow down the possibilities and make your search more efficient, ask yourself some questions.
What are you the most interested in learning more about? Growing fruits and vegetables, working with animals, bee-keeping, self-sufficiency, permaculture, eco-lodges, spiritual retreats, making products such as cheese or jam, and the list goes on.
Are you wanting a very specific experience or a varied experience? This is important to keep in mind as some farms may specialize in one thing or bring you on to do a specific task, while others may herd animals, grow vegetables, raise bees, and make cheese and would be happy to let you participate in all of these activities.
Would you like to work on a farm alongside a large group of volunteers or at a place with very few volunteers?
What kind of accommodations are you looking for? Are you ok with sleeping in a tent for a couple of weeks, or would you rather have a room of your own with AC and running water?
Do you have any allergies or dietary restrictions?
3. Think about where you might like to go. How long. What season. Culture. There are literally thousands upon thousands of farms to choose from. To be honest, I was completely taken aback by just how many choices there were. Don’t waste the hours that I did perusing through every continent, every country, and every town. It was completely and utterly overwhelming. Let me walk you through how I would have done the process differently and leave you with a few tips.
Consider a region you would like to learn more about that provides you the best opportunities to learn about your interests. For me, I was interested in working on my French, so obviously French speaking countries are at the top of my list. I also wanted somewhere that I felt comfortable and assured that I could get around if I wanted, so I decided to go with France over the other French speaking countries.
I wanted to experience the Mediterranean, yet leave myself the option to travel north into the mountains, so I chose Montpellier. I then searched for farms near Montpellier on WWOOF France. Through this method, I was able to narrow my search down to three farms. Adapt this strategy to your own search and I think you’ll find that you save yourself hours of fruitless searches.
4. Register with the WWOOF site for the country of choice. Now that you have a pretty good idea of where you’d like to end up, it’s time to register with the WWOOF site for the country of your choice. My registration fee for WWOOF France was just over $25. After you register, you are given access to the contact information for participating WWOOF hosts in that particular country.
5. Contact the farms you are the most interested in. Ask tons of questions. This is super important and could make the difference between the trip of a lifetime and a torturous disappointment. In my opinion, it’s not possible to ask too many questions. Here is a list of questions, just to get you started:
Are their open volunteer opportunities for my availability?
How many hours will I be expected to work, how many days a week, and what days can I expect to have free?
What are my expected responsibilities? Will they vary?
How many people would I be working with?
How long would you prefer a WWOOFer to stay?
Are meals provided and are they shared? (This is also a good time to ask if they can accommodate any special dietary restrictions you may have and/or what a meal generally consists of)
What are my sleeping arrangements? What are my living arrangements?
Is internet available for WWOOFers to use? Is there cell phone service?
What skills can I expect to learn?
How do I get to your farm/lodge/home from the airport/bus stop/train station?
What should I bring? What should I not bring?
What questions do you have for me?
This is only a small sampling of the absolute infinite number of questions you can ask. The more questions you ask and the more answers you get, the better prepared you’ll be. Once you find a host you’re satisfied with and have locked in a stay be sure and let any other hosts that you contacted know that you will be staying somewhere else.
6. Buy your plane tickets. There’s not much more to be said about this one.
7. The little things…with big impacts. Now it’s time to do the little things that make a big difference. Check with your health insurance company to inquire whether you are covered while travelling and what your coverage is. If you’re not covered, you may look into purchasing travelers insurance.
Also be sure and let your credit card companies know where you will be travelling and during what time frame. This will lessen the chances that your credit card will be accidentally flagged, leaving you without access to your account.
Don’t forget to pick up a plug adapter for the country you are visiting and remember that plug adapters are NOT voltage adapters. If you are travelling to a country which uses a different voltage than your own, you may need a voltage adapter as well.
Add international coverage to your current cell phone plan, unless you plan to buy a Tracfone overseas.
If it's an option, it may be a good idea to exchange some cash into the currency of the country that you are visiting. I've learned the hard way that there are not many ATMs or places to exchange currency readily available at your destination.
8. Pack for where you’re going. Keep in mind where you are going. What will the temperatures most likely be while you are there? Is there anything that your host is willing to provide? Is there electricity? Obviously, you don’t want to pack swimwear to the desert or a hairdryer to somewhere with no electricity. I found the most effective method was just to ask my host what I should and should not bring.
9. Celebrate and get ready for an incredible experience. Sit back and bask in the awesomeness that is soon to be yours. Be sure and tell all of your friends about it, perhaps inspiring them to WWOOF abroad, in which case you can share all the ins and outs of putting together a successful experience of their own.
Also, be sure to follow my future blog posts as I WWOOF through France for the summer. I look forward to hearing from all of you as you work towards your own incredible experiences abroad!
Now, as they would say in France, “Bonne chance et bon voyage!”
Read all of Russell's adventures (and misadventures) WWOOFing in France by clicking here.Photo by Katrina McClure