WWOOF. It sounds more like something a dog would do than a human. But to some two-legged creatures, WWOOFing actually means more than “hello.” WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or Willing Workers on Organic Farms, depending on who you ask. It’s a cultural-work exchange opportunity for people interested in volunteering on organic farms and learning how to live sustainably.

How it works

The setup is simple. Decide what country you want to woof in, visit the website, pay a small fee to gain access to the directory, search for a host then contact them to arrange a date.

There are no formalities. Most hosts don’t even ask your last name. Just show up and work about four to six hours a day for a few days or a few months. In exchange, the host provides simple accommodation and meals.

As with any exchange, both parties will want to offer their best to each other. WWOOFers should want to truly be there, hence the inclusion of the term “willing” in WWOOF. An interest in learning about organic agriculture, therefore, is a must. Also, have a look at “Is WWOOFing for you?” to clarify whether you’ll enjoy the experience or not.

In exchange, hosts will integrate WWOOFers into the daily routine so they can gain hands-on experience learning about organic farming and the sustainable lifestyle. Given the transient nature of WWOOFing, hosts can’t teach every person that comes for a few days, but the longer a WWOOFer stays, the deeper the experience becomes and the more opportunity there is to learn.

Choosing a host

WWOOF hosts are not monitored, so you have to use some discernment when making your selection—it’s not unlike any other Internet-facilitated activity such as Internet dating, Couchsurfing or Meetups.

Though most hosts appreciate the exchange and truly want to provide WWOOFers with a wonderful cultural experience, some may want to take advantage of the arrangement. They may ask you to do an excessive amount of work, request you to do dangerous or “odd” jobs or not provide adequate accommodation or food. And there are WWOOFers who take advantage of the arrangement as well, so in some circumstances hosts have become jaded and lost their desire to provide an authentic exchange. As with anything, ask around to get personal recommendations.

Most of these farms are rather isolated, so transportation is an issue. If the arrangement doesn’t work out, consider how to communicate with friends and family and how to easily leave if necessary.

Though in most cases, everything works out just fine. Organic farmers are a kind, loving bunch who want to live self-sufficiently and in tune with nature. They’re fulfilled by their lifestyle and want to share it with others. WWOOFing offers an incredibly unique experience to live and learn a different way of life from people who have experience doing it, not just talking about it. So if you’d like that authentic experience for yourself, no need to get on your hands and knees, WWOOF!

Read a personal essay about WWOOFing in SUSTAINABLE SANCTUARY: Living off-grid and in tune with nature

image: NH567 (Creative Commons BY-NC)