A first-timer’s guide to WWOOF-ing

Photo by TinyFarmBlog

If you’re seeking a deeper connection to the land and local economy, WWOOF-ing takes you right to the source.

First night at the farm

Some time very late I was startled by a rustling, no, more like a crunching sound, coming from the woods behind my tent. I sat up and reached for the knife Don had given me the previous morning. “If something decides to poke its nose into your tent, you want to be able to poke back,” he’d said.

The thing kept coming closer, so close I heard it brushing up against my tent. I could smell it then, a pungent, musky odor. Scared out of my wits, I slapped the side of the tent and let out a smallish scream (I didn’t want to wake anyone up), and heard it run away.

I woke up at first light to the crowing of the neighbors’ rooster and peaked out of the tent cautiously, half expecting to be greeted by a bear or a mountain lion.

Then I saw them – three deer, three little Bambis with their spots still on, munching away at the flora behind my tent. They raised their heads when I came out, stared for a moment with expressions of sheer panic, and then bolted.

Greatly relieved (and only mildly humiliated), I got dressed and prepared for a day of work on the farm.

What is WWOOF?

Farmer and philosopher Wendell Berry once quipped, “Our model citizen is a sophisticate who before puberty understands how to produce a baby, but who at the age of thirty will not know how to produce a potato.”

One of my goals as a WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) volunteer, was to make sure that the second half of this statement would not apply to me.

Wwoof-ing, as it is known by WWOOF volunteers (or wwoof-ers), is a great way to take a relatively inexpensive trip that’s also an incredible learning experience. A WWOOF working vacation can range in length from a week or less to an entire season or more.

Through the WWOOF website, potential volunteers purchase a list of farms in the country in which they want to wwoof.

Artichoke flowers in front of Author's tent. Photo by Jim Proctor.

It is up to volunteers to make their own arrangements with hosts for length of stay and the terms of the exchange. Typically, volunteers agree to work for four hours a day in exchange for room and board. Accommodations range from a simple tent site to a private room. Likewise, the type of labor and skills required range widely. As with everything WWOOF-related, it is up to volunteers and hosts to make arrangements that work for them.

Elkdream farm

I first met Don and Elin of Elkdream Farm at a diner in Eugene, Oregon. Over eggs, we talked about the sorry state of eating in America, the possibilities of permaculture, food production in a post-oil world, and the challenge of shifting from urban living to homesteading.

The couple had lived in San Francisco for many years until a dock fire cut off shipments of food into the Bay. Within two days, grocery store shelves were empty.

The author with Don, Elin, and Kory of Elkdream farm.

That experience, and the grim reality that oil shortages would produce similar shortages in the future, convinced Don and Elin that it was time to find a place where they could grow most of their own food. They have been in southern Oregon for 17 years now.

I chose Don and Elin’s farm because it was small and diverse. I was attracted to the homesteading element of their operation; they describe themselves as being almost fruit- and vegetable- self sufficient, growing all year round in what Elin describes as less a farm and more “a large garden”, rotating crops to take advantage of different parts of the growing season and increase soil fertility.

When I arrived at Elkdream, the plum trees were bearing fruit, apples were beginning to ripen, and wild blackberries were everywhere. There were also green beans, artichokes, potatoes, lettuce, grapes, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, collard greens, sunflower seeds, rose hips, lavender, blueberries, and garlic.

I spent my first afternoon on the farm harvesting potatoes (Take that, Wendell!), digging through straw and dirt for the golden spuds that lay there like Easter eggs, unconnected to anything. The potato plants had flowered and died weeks before, leaving only the mature tubers just below the ground.

We worked with simple tools – a shovel, a wheelbarrow, a spade – reveling in a quiet interrupted intermittently by logging trucks traveling back and forth from a clear cut up the road. Elin would shake her head in disgust each time a truck drove by.

During my time at Elkdream, I became accustomed to the quiet rhythm of life on a farm. Early mornings harvesting and mulching and planting; long, lazy afternoons reading and resting, avoiding the intense heat of the late-summer sun; hearty dinners Elin and I cooked together with fresh fruit pies for dessert. In the evenings, we might work again, or Don would prepare me a bath of solar-heated water in their large, outdoor bath tub.

Don and Elin took an active interest in sharing their knowledge with me. When I arrived, they presented me with a packet of reading materials. We had frequent discussions on everything from how to farm with less water to the excesses of the American lifestyle. By the time I left Elkdream, I felt a deep connection to Don and Elin and to their way of life.

And I was even sleeping soundly in my tent.

Resources and recommendations

Although WWOOF is the biggest, most popular organization to offer farm work exchanges, there are many others.

  • 1. Transitions Abroad offers a list of international farm work programs that includes WWOOF and others.
  • 2. Help Exchange is another organization that connects volunteers with farms and ranches, as well as hostels and even sailing boats.
  • 3. For those seeking an experience living in community, there are several eco-villages that offer internship opportunities. For more information on eco-villages, see the Intentional Communities website. Larger eco-villages such as Earthaven , Dancing Rabbit, and Lost Valley offer educational internships that focus on building, planting, and organization.
  • 4. Idealist.org offers a searchable data base of internship and volunteer opportunities in a variety of fields, including farming and agriculture, in all 50 states and around the world.
If you go:

Choose your farm wisely. If you don’t like animals, pick a farm that doesn’t keep them. Likewise, if you’re dying to learn how to milk a cow, don’t go for a farm that only grows vegetables.

Be clear about your arrangements with your host. Make sure you know what kind of work you will be doing, how much work you will be expected to do each day, what meals will be included, and where you will be sleeping.

Choose when to go. If you go early in the season (late spring – mid summer) you will probably be doing different work than if you go during the harvest (late summer). Since Don and Elin plant throughout the year, I was able to do multiple kinds of work, but this may not be the case at all farms.

A few essential items to bring: good work gloves, a sun hat, sunscreen, shoes and clothes that can get muddy.

Related Articles

9 tips for WWOOFing in New Zealand 1

10 WWOOFing Opportunities in Ireland 21

4 questions to ask before WWOOFing 26

  • Uncle B

    Here in Lakefield Ontario, Canada, we are encouraged by law to go organic this year, and this is going to make gardening a little more challenging than before. I grow squash among other things, and my concerns are towards eradicating vine borers. I do compost, and use some companion planting, but to suddenly have to go totally without pesticides is going to be a challenge for sure!

  • Cathy

    Sounds idyllic. I wonder how long it took them to learn how to farm efficiently enough to be somewhat self-sustainable. I agree, unfortunately, with Wendell Berry that most of us do not possess the knowledge to grow in order to feed ourselves—something that is even more difficult in climates where growing year-round is impossible.

  • Peter

    I encourage travelers to consider volunteering at farms while they travel. As a former host in the WWOOF program, I hosted guests at my farm in Nicaragua. Eventually at the farm, we decided that we would only host guests on a "work exchange" basis after a few weeks as a paying guest, because many guests were unable to adjust quickly to the Nicaraguan work environment. As a result, the farm was removed from the official list of the WWOOF organization. I strongly encourage volunteers who go to poorer countries to donate some money to the farm in their adjustment period, because the reality of providing food and shelter is not appreciated or properly compensated-for by the low productivity of the guests.

  • http://abundancefarm.com Peter

    I encourage travelers to consider volunteering at farms while they travel. As a former host in the WWOOF program, I hosted guests at my farm in Nicaragua. Eventually at the farm, we decided that we would only host guests on a “work exchange” basis after a few weeks as a paying guest, because many guests were unable to adjust quickly to the Nicaraguan work environment. As a result, the farm was removed from the official list of the WWOOF organization. I strongly encourage volunteers who go to poorer countries to donate some money to the farm in their adjustment period, because the reality of providing food and shelter is not appreciated or properly compensated-for by the low productivity of the guests.

  • Sarah Hill

    WWOOF is a great organization. With WWOOF I was able to travel my way around Australia and New Zealand for 16 months. I met wonderful people, had amazing experiences, and still keep in touch with many of them. I was introduced to bee-keeping, dairying, birthing cattle, milking goats, pulling invasive plants, and of course new foods and ideas on farming and life in general. WWOOF is available in so many countries, that any traveler looking for more than the cookie-cutter tours and hotels, should definitely look into it.

  • Melodee Monroe

    Those in climates that prohibit year-round crops would be wise to cultivate the art of canning. I'll bet the people living on these farms/large gardens know how to can and would be willing to share the info.

  • http://www.rubylane.com/shops/melodeedesigns Melodee Monroe

    Those in climates that prohibit year-round crops would be wise to cultivate the art of canning. I’ll bet the people living on these farms/large gardens know how to can and would be willing to share the info.

  • keerthi

    i want to work here

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  • Mark

    I went HelpXing in New Zealand and had some wonderful experiences and made some great new friends

  • Lea

    hi sarah! I also like to go to New Zealand in April and I'm interested in your experiences! Were have you been in New Zealand? Did you travel from farm to farm? How were your experiences with the host? I think WWOOF is really a great possibility to get to now a country and its people!

  • Hal and Rennetta

    We have started an organic farm on the big island of Hawaii and are interested in the help from anyone who wants to trade labor for good accomodations, hot showers, nice sleeping arangements (large tents) and good food. Interested in questions and comments.

  • Joseph and Emma

    Hal and Rennetta, My friend and I are looking for a farm to work on this summer (June through August) and would love to come to Hawaii. If you are still interested in two workers we would be grateful to learn more about your farm and talk about working and living with you this summer. Joseph

  • Jenny

    I am about to WWOOF in Europe, starting in March in the south of France, then going to Italy, Poland, Germany, Spain, and several other countries on the "WWOOF Independents" list. If anyone has advice on good or bad farms in any of these places, please share your thoughts.

    • chris

      Hello Jenny,
      I do not have any suggestions for you at the moment but I, like you, am going to go WWHOOFing in Italy but not until the fall. I am older, semi retired really, but never to late to learn. If you come up with any helpful hints or ideas would you be so kind as to keep me in the loop.
      Much appreciated,
      Christine

  • ben

    please could anyone recommend any good WWOOFING farms in Australia and New Zealand as i am travelling there this summer from the UK and am seriously thinking of becoming a WWOFER. many thanks

  • Quin

    I’ve been considering doing WWOOF now for at least a couple months. I’d prefer to do one farm for several months, even as much as a year (maybe more if all the stars align) though it seems smart to have some back-up farms in mind in case there are personality conflicts.

    I’d really like to know what others think are the most important things to bring considering it’s a different country and not urban so not likely to have even a corner store but also with the idea that going to a different continent limits available baggage.

    It would also be nice to know what to expect a host to provide. Seems sunscreen, gloves and maybe a hat would be almost equipment just as a shovel or hoe. But I’d also be keen to know what sorts of clothing/shoes people would suggest to take.

    Thanks for this great post with all the resources and to anyone who provides additional info.

  • http://www.holesinmyrainbows.wordpress.com Shannon

    This is a great article! It’s motivated me to seriously look into WWOOF-ing.

  • Matan

    Hey Laurie !
    my name is matan, i m about to go to spain to wwoof for like 2 monthes, and all my plans are stuck because wwoofing spain is replying my back after registring and sending them money through the net, i cant reach them through phone or mail.. and all i want is their access code to contact the farms.

    Can u help me with this pliz?

    if u know nothing about contacting wwoofing – spain, maby you have mails of some farms there??

    if u could pliz reply my by mail. Ill thank u So much ! :))

    Good day
    Matan Burstein

  • maf

    What a fantastic site..well done to all the authors and creators.
    If you can’t bear heading off to wwoof on your own, then check out this
    new pocket book I’ve found at http://www.wwoofing.co.uk

    ‘The Practical Guide To Wwoofing’ by A.Greenman

    download or paperback

    enjoy and goodluck

  • http://www.ojocaliente.com Bill

    Very informative article. Claudia and I have hosted Wwoofers for quite a few years with highly variable results. Sometimes personalities just don’t mix well; other times we just feel taken advantage of when the Wwoofer doesn’t honor his time commitment and begins looking for the next host on our phone after being here only two weeks rather than the promised two months. Our two successes have been wonderful: one of them has been back now for the fourth time; the other is a young couple with two children under 3.

  • http://www.wwoofing.co.uk adam greenman

    Hi folks,

    I quite agree Bill with the point about personalities mixing well.
    For that reason, based on my own experience of wwoofing in dozens of places – I really recommend fairly short stays at first to check out how the wwoofer and host relationship goes, perhaps 1-2 weeks. As you mentioned , wwoofers are always welcome back if they do fit in. I have then returned to places for several months.

    All the best all you wwoofers.

    Wwoofing grounded me at the same time as rocking me to my foundations.
    Praise to the founder – Sue Coppard 1971

    Adam Greenman
    ( author of ‘The Practical Guide To Wwoofing’ )

  • Foxy Moron

    I am getting started a bit late in life with my travels… I was a teenage mom and spent all of my twenties and early 30’s raising babes… I am now 36 and have decided to become a WWOOFer….. I have picked some farms in Ireland and can’t wait to go as it will be my first time to leave the US… I can’t wait to dig in the earth and smell the dirt, feel the sweat run down my back as I help build rock walls, dig trenches and harvest veggies…. all while getting to see a beautiful country and meet great new friends….wish me luck!

  • Bethany

    WWOOF is a great organization and perfect way to travel for those who have the time and willingness to meet diverse people. I’ve had only positive experiences and with these helpful tips I hope others do as well!

  • http://www.iwishgapyear.com Nicole

    If your want to volunteer on an organic farm for your gap year or a career break you should check out this project http://www.iwishgapyear.com/projects-abroad/gap-year-in/jamaica/community-farming in jamaica!

  • James

    You’re a TA in Geography and you think Eugene is in Southern Oregon? Fail!

  • Deborah

    matan, did wwoof spain ever get back in touch with you?? i was considering signing up but saw your post and was a little concerned… i would really appreciate if you could let me know (also, if you have specific farm recommendations)! thanks, deborah

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  • http://www.gamblingjoy.net/ gambling joy

    it is really a good article what you have posted and WWOOF is a great organization and perfect way to travel for those who have the time and willingness to meet diverse people..

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  • Jonathon Hamilton

    hey! i think that this programme is amazing. i am really intrested in taking part in wwoof, but havent got the first clue on how to take part in this great thing.

    i would greatly appreciate it if someone could inform me on how to par take in this as it would be benificial to me.
    yours faithfully

    Jonathon.

  • Jonathon Hamilton

    *others.

  • http://www.man-goes.net Gary

    I am a british expat who has lived in Thailand for 20 years. Looking to set up a farm in Laos and open to ideas. Around 40,000 sqm of rice paddy. looking for a permaculture farm to be developed. Anyone willing to help physically or with suggestions?

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  • Kim

    They met at a place in Eugene. The farm is in Pleasant Valley I believe…which is Southern Oregon.

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  • Angela

    Can someone tell me about health insurance if you are traveling from US to France? Has anyone ever experienced any health problems or accidents while wwoofing in France? If so, how did you deal with it?

  • valery

    please can anyone tell me if it’s possible for me leaving with no means to live , to be able to travel and work where i will choose . who will handle my visas fee and ticket of plane thanks

    • Cherry Darling

      dear valery,

      Travel gives us many opprotunities to learn, experience and grow.  However we first must  be confident and capable to be able to embrace and facilitate these benefits.  Get a job, work hard, research, make a plan, GO, reap the rewards and feel amazed that you did it all yourself.  Unfortunately your question above makes me think you are not ready for the challenges ahead at this time.  Good Luck!

  • http://www.wwoofbook.com Adam Greenman

    Hi, I wwoofed and worked myself around the world over a period of 10 years.
    2000-10. I offer a free resource, 25 QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS about wwoofing at:

    http://www.wwoofbook.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4&Itemid=6&lang=en

    The frequently asked questions are 1 chapter of 26 that I published in a paperback and ebook.(www.lulu.com) I have shown the founder of Wwoof, Sue Coppard and she said it was a “Delightful and informative read, accessibly and humanly wriiten – it almost reads itself to you”. Go well.
    May the road rise up to meet (from Celtic blessing)

    Adam Greenman

  • http://www.permaculturefarming.org Permaculture Farming

    Excellent post on Permaculture Jobs Australia! I really enjoyed reading it, and my site is about Permaculture Farming so I’m not just saying is lightly. Keep up the great work!

  • http://www.permaculturefarming.org Permaculture Farming

    Thanks for this great post on Permaculture Jobs Australia, I was searching for something along the lines of this and in the top 20 results at google, yours was the most informed and well presented. I was wondering, do you think Permaculture Farming would make a great topic for a future post here? Or did you do that already?

  • Blue_pipes07

    Good Evening, I’m Jonnipher D. Denosta, from philippines, i want to be a volunteer as a farmer cause i want to learn more and can have a lot of experience that’s why im offering myself as one of your volunteer partner as a farmer but im telling you now, i don’t even have money so support everything that i need to process all requirements,even fare to my flight ticket, i can not afford to buy it cause im a poor but i want to help people to whom needs me. please email me blue_pipes07@yahoo.com im really serious to be one of your volunteer on the farmer. Godbless and Take Care… More Power…

  • Abaeli2003

    I want to be a volunteer for farming. I want you to write me at abaeli2003@yahoo.com
    I am from Ethiopia.

    Thank,

    Elias Abate

  • Masryanimanurung

    Good Evening,
    well
    I’m going to introduce my self,my name is Masryani.I come from Indonesia.
    Now,I get study in medical faculty of unsyiah.
    really I’m very interested in farming.
    because I thing farming is a root to get a best medicine to help many people that need my help.
    so I’m seriosly want to be a WWOOF volunteer.
    please email me how to join as a volunteer at masryanimanurung@gmail.com

    thx before

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CYRCXIOCREGP6R7GO4AWCM7NIA JO

    Hello Friend…..
    I am very much interested in working with your organization and help poor people.
    I like to learn farming methods and ready to work hard.
    Can you give all the details to come there and join as a volunteer please specify how much money i want to spend because i think i don’t have enough money to spend so i will try to arrange it and come there. i need accommodation, and everything so please let me know every needs and joining date. I am from India, Kerala so you can calculate the fare amount also na Please send me a mail if you are thinking i am the right person to work as a farmer and volunteer my mail id jyothyshaiju@yahoo.com thank you very much

  • soumandra

    hi i am soumandra from india i am adventures and daring person i always like to do different things. i want to travel whole world so i need some body with i can see the whole if you have information regarding this plz post at ksoumandra@yahoo.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/thomsonwithnop Max Thomson

    would you advise WWOOFing alone or with a buddy for the first time? or is it like most travel, dependant on the person? x

  • moomoo

    the idea looks fantastic but details is not clear to me the question is what can i do if  am interested how can i choose farms and how to connect with

  • http://kellireneephotography.wordpress.com/category/little-outspoken/ Kellireneephotography

    Great article! Here is another that may interest readers, though it is not so positive…the pitfalls of wwoofing…  

    http://kellireneephotography.wordpress.com/category/little-outspoken/ 

  • Jvl2013

    A warning about wwoofing:
    I just wanted to give a heads up to those who are thinking about working on a wwoof “farm”. I worked on 5 different sites, only 2 of which could be called farms. Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself  into. I ended up cleaning out a womans garage, so that she could have a f***ing yard sale. Make sure you wwoof for the right reasons, and know exactly who you are dealing with.

  • Eyie Gutierrez

    hi,i’m eyie Gutierrez i want to work abroad as volunteer but how if i cannot afford any expenses? but i’m willing to be one of your volunteer farmer worker.,by the way i’m from Philippines. here’s my e-mail add. hayryx_15@yahoo.in THANK YOU!

  • Jacopo Bertola
  • Anonymous

    GO TO WWOOF.ORG FOR MORE INFO! THERE ARE HOSTS AND EVERYTHING THERE.

  • Cole Davis

    Thank you for sharing! I’m seriously thinking about quiting my job and trying this.

  • Manikya Rajesh

    for this where can I register?

  • Biruk Bekele

    Dear Sir/ Madam:

    My name is Biruk Bekele. I am
    studying business management in Hawassa University here in Ethiopia. I have a
    cousin name called Beletshachew Dawit she is studying Civil Engineering in
    Addis Ababa University. We both have been working with Environment when we were
    high school and working some other volunteer jobs. We have now a vacation time, school is closed
    for two months. We need to give an International Volunteer and we really would
    like to share our culture and our knowledge. It is therefore with kindest
    ambition to request you place us to give international volunteer!

    We will be looking to hearing
    from you soonest

    Please contact us at: birukhochisso@gmail.com
    0r call us at: +251-912988819

  • Niranjan

    Hi

    I am interested in volunteering for usa, Can anyone pls help me how to get into that !! thanks niranjan183@gmail.com

  • Andrew Sobole

    Hello. My name is Andrew. I am a musician and traveller. I have done service work on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona and New Mexico. You can likely gather, I am from the States. I am looking for opportunities to travel to South America, and ideally, be able to work and absorb the culture through music. I have money but being able to have stable accommodations would be a great help. I am a hard worker, and would be happy to reciprocate with labor. Does anyone have any suggestions?

    Andrew