The picture above was taken at a farm in New Zealand where we lived and worked for 2 weeks using a scheme called WWOOF.
If you haven’t heard of it before, you’re probably asking yourself “what the Hell is WWOOF?”
I was confused too when I first heard about it. Simply pronounced ‘woof’ (like what a dog does), WWOOF is an acronym for ‘Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms’.
Despite the unusual name, WWOOFing turned out to be an incredibly rewarding experience and something I’d recommend to anyone – especially those travelling on a tight budget.
As a WWOOFer you can work on an organic farm in any one of 99 countries, and in return the farm owner (or host) provides you with food and accommodation. On top of that, you gain first-hand experience of organic farming methods, and life in a rural setting. Perhaps most importantly, however, working on a farm for weeks on end will take you a long way towards being absolutely, positively, shredded.
WWOOFing in New Zealand
After emailing back and forth for a few weeks prior to our arrival, our hosts were good enough to pick us up from the airport in the small hours of the morning.
We were welcomed to the farm with a cup of tea, breakfast, and it was suggested we took a nap to recover from our flight. I think it was right then that I knew we were on to a winner.
After the nap we got cracking and I had my first experience of using a sit-down lawn mower.
Over the following weeks our hosts kindly showed us how to use lots more farmyard machinery (including a chainsaw), and taught us a great deal about organic farming in general.
The majority of what they produce is used to feed themselves, and they even have their own well that pumps out 30 gallons of mineral water per minute. I was amazed to learn that one cow produces enough meat to feed 2 people for an entire year!
Being from a city, it’s easy to forget that such a sustainable way of living is even possible.
Before starting on the farm, I was genuinely worried that there wasn’t going to be enough food to satisfy my out-of-control appetite (otherwise known as the black hole). Well, as it turned out, there was more than enough. We were regularly cooked for using the abundance of fresh produce from the farm that tasted far better than anything from the supermarket.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, our hosts also helped us plan the rest of our trip in New Zealand using their invaluable local knowledge. We picked up plenty of tips that tourists might otherwise miss.
All in all, our hosts couldn’t have done more to make us feel right at home, and that’s what made our experience so special. Aside from going in with the right attitude, the hosts you choose to WWOOF with can make or break your experience.
You’re going to be living, eating and working with your hosts for the duration of your stay, so it’s worth spending some time finding a farm that’s right for you.
Finding A Farm
To get started, visit http://www.wwoof.net and find the specific country you would like to WWOOF in. Each country has its own website and network, and there’s usually a small fee for joining.
From there you need to set up a profile page by uploading a photo and writing a bit about yourself. It’s almost like Facebook for farmers… Farmbook? No? Anyway…
Before contacting any hosts, it’s important to consider why you want to WWOOF.
Die hard WWOOFers will tell you that you that you’re wasting you’re time unless you’re truly passionate about organic farming. In reality, WWOOFing is about a lot more than that, and as long as you’re open to learning and experiencing different lifestyles you won’t have a problem finding a great farm.
Check out the farm’s principles and what they expect from you. Some farms are looking for 4 hours work a day (that’s what we did), whilst others look for as much as 8. It’s quite apparent that some farms are businesses that are looking for labour and nothing more, whereas others are small, family-run farms that need a helping hand and would also like the company.
After finding a farm that looks the part, you need to send them a message. Let them know when you want to stay, why you chose them and a bit about yourself. That’s it. It’s not a job application, but think about what you would want to know if you were a host.
Generally speaking, you don’t need to apply too far in advance (a month or so is fine), but we applied to a number of farms to keep our options open. We heard back from most hosts within 24 hours, and within a week we had arranged our stay.
Making The Most of Your Stay
If you’ve never done anything like WWOOFing before, don’t be put off if things aren’t initially as you expected. I’ll be the first to admit that it takes a bit of getting used to, but once you get settled in you really begin to see the value in the experience.
We regularly cooked for our hosts, and always tried to do that little bit extra to thank them for taking us into their homes and feeding us. If something beyond the pre-arranged 4 hours of work needs doing, lend a hand. After all, every hour spent doing farm work is an hour spent getting more shredded.
Have you been WWOOFing? If you’ve got any stories or are considering doing it yourself let me know by using the comments below!