Destination Wednesday: WWOOFing It

wwoofers-horseridingBy Lisa Bellavin

If someone approached you and asked you whether you WWOOF, you’d probably give them a look and say, “Sorry, I don’t bark in public.” But then you’d feel silly after discovering that WWOOF is actually an acronym for a popular and growing section of the travel industry.

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a movement that links sustainable farms with volunteers who work their way around the globe, giving their time and agricultural talents in return for room and board.

nb028_nina_2Volunteers live on host farms and assist four to six hours a day with activities like sowing seed, cutting wood, feeding livestock, and making compost. Farmers in turn help WWOOFers learn about organic agriculture techniques and support their alternative, nomadic way of life.

Potential WWOOFers have a lot of farms to choose from. There are currently more than 11,000 host farms and 80,000 willing workers WWOOFing in more than 100 countries around the world – and more than 2,200 farms needing WWOOFers in just the United States.

So how do you get started? First, visit a website that features host farm information, such as wwoofinternational.org. Click on the country you’d like to visit and enter your information to join that particular country’s WWOOF organization. Once you become a member (it costs $40 annually in the United States), you can access an online database of participating farms and state your preferences – short or long stays, the type of farm (dairy, garden, orchard, vineyard, ranch, and more), dietary preferences (vegetarian, vegan, or omnivore), lodging type (yes, yurts are available), and whether children and pets are accepted. Then you register for your favorite, book your tickets and make your travel plans.

11059839_10206320334105334_2729741941398527123_oWe recently spoke with Hanna Zakrzewski, a WWOOFer who spent time on a farm in Steuben, Maine, this summer.

BHTP: What made you want to become a WWOOFer?

Zakrzewski: I found out about WWOOFing while searching for opportunities to learn more about sustainable farming/gardening. I’ve always found it important to know where my food products come from, and I thought there was no better way to get involved than volunteering at an organic farm to experience the harvest first-hand. Being a WWOOFer is also a very cheap and fun way to travel. WWOOFing is a work-exchange program so I was compensated for my work with delicious, fresh produce, a cozy bedroom, and great company.

BHTP: What suggestions or advice would you give a first-timer?

Zakrzewski: Plan, plan, plan. Especially if you’re going to be in a remote area. Scope out the area on a map, and decide what you’d like to do on your days off. If you won’t have a car during your stay, find out if there’s a bus service available or make sure you’re fine with keeping yourself occupied on the premises. Contact your host early on to start planning your stay and communicating your interests. My hosts were very interested in my goals and hobbies and they were very personable. It’s important to keep the communication open and find a good fit so you can assure your time spent volunteering will be fun and rewarding. Also, be prepared to work hard and learn lots. In my experience, my hosts and I worked hard and played even harder.

dinnertime-tanzaniaBHTP: Why is WWOOFing important?

Zakrzewski: WWOOFing is important because it offers direct insight into organic-farming practices. Even if you have zero background in gardening or farming, many hosts will welcome you with open arms as long as you are willing to put in quality work time. I learned multiple ways to ward of pests and animals without the use of pesticides and how to mix a killer compost, but above all I learned about the discipline, community, and resilience that encompasses organic and sustainable farming. I believe WWOOFing is a wonderful experience for people of all ages and interests.

i12-8058-lena-with-wombatWWOOFing is your chance to learn new skills, meet new people, see the world, and make a difference. For more information, visit wwoof.net or wwoofusa.org, and don’t forget insurance – it’s a requirement for visiting some farms. Get a quote with us online at bhtp.com.

Lisa Bellavin is community-relations manager for Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.