Imagine waking up in a rustic farm house in the Norwegian countryside. The smell of coffee floats out of the kitchen, you open a creaky wooden cabinet and grab a mug. Sitting down to an early morning breakfast with your local hosts, eating eggs from the chickens out back while sun streams through a thick glass window, you get ready for a day of work on the farm.
Outside your host leads the charge as you spend a crisp Norwegian summer day tending to sheep and planting potatoes in a small family owned field.
Working alongside your local Norwegian hosts you learn the secrets of organic farming in exchange for free meals and a place to sleep.
Welcome to WWOOF, an acronym which stands for World-Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms.
What does WWOOF do and the Basics of WWOOFing
According to their website “WWOOF enables people to stay and volunteer on a variety of organic properties. Volunteers (WWOOFers) help for 4-6 hours a day, and hosts provide the food and accommodation. This is a good way to experience, learn and share different ways of living.”
In this short section I’ll cover the basics of WWOOFing, best practices for doing it the right way and a few other work exchange options outside of WWOOF that you can explore.
Before you read on, it might be good to ask yourself if you are at all interested in farms or working on farms. If not, your day to day existence might really suck.
Personally I have not WWOOF’ed, which is why I interviewed an experienced WOOFer here. I have helped out around my Norwegian girlfriend’s fathers farm and have very much enjoyed it but that’s different than working on a farm for weeks or months. Here are some action steps as well as some things to consider.
Step #1 : Joining WWOOF
You’ll notice when you go to the main page of their website, there are many links to various countries at the bottom, each with their own individual WWOOF sites.
What’s up with that?
This is because WWOOF is organized locally. To participate you must first decide which country you want to go to then join the WWOOF organization of that country. We’ve listed all of these countries in the toolbox section at the end of this chapter.
Joining WWOOF usually costs around the neighborhood of $30 USD. Before you randomly pick your dream destination consider this…
One hugely important thing many of the WWOOF sites fail to address in depth are the visa issues surrounding farm volunteer work. It seems that generally, you need some type of work permission visa to WWOOF in most countries even through you are technically only volunteering and not being paid wages. Simple tourist visas won’t cut it.
Lame rules if you ask me.
If you get caught working without a visa in some countries there can be some unwanted consequences, you’ll have to weight the risks. Also, your travel insurance may not cover a work related injury.
When choosing a destination it may make more sense to look into visa options first then go where you can.
Don’t get discouraged. It may be as simple as just making sure you use the right language when crossing the border and dealing with those pesky inquisitive agents.
On the flip side, plenty of people fly under the radar and just do it. At Zero To Travel we would never ever suggest breaking the rules of course (did we just do that? oops!) We recommend going the legit route but you gotta do what you gotta do.
In regards to work visas, here is what WWOOF USA suggests:
“It may benefit you to first secure your visitor visa, and then join WWOOF-USA. Please keep in mind that WWOOF is NOT paid work or volunteering. WWOOF members are guests of hosts. Most WWOOFers enter the USA under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) through the online ESTA system or on B-2 visitors visa. NEITHER OF THESE PROGRAMS ALLOW PERSONS HOLDING FOREIGN PASSPORTS TO WORK, VOLUNTEER OR EXCHANGE TIME OR LABOR FOR ANYTHING. The United States has extremely strict labor and immigration laws that prohibit foreign nationals from “working” or “volunteering” in the country without a valid work authorization and visa. Members from outside the United States utilizing the WWOOF-USA network are encouraged to avoid misunderstandings with immigration officials by explaining that you will be visiting a variety of places in the USA to learn more about the United States and its various sustainability movements.”
Foreign WWOOFers who have wrongly explained that they will be “volunteering” or “working on farms” have been denied visas, been denied entry and deported from the United States. If you are traveling from another country, please be aware of this important distinction: you are a VISITOR, not a WORKER or VOLUNTEER.”
For more information on work visas do some google searches or begin your research on WorkPermit.com
Step #2 : Finding Good Host Farms
Once you are signed up, have visa’s squared (or some kind of plan to skirt the border issues) you’re ready to find a host farm.
Each WWOOF site should provide some type of directory where you can shop farms.
Before you commit to anything in life you want to do your best to make sure it’s a good situation for you.
This article provides a great resource for getting your first WWOOFing gig.
The Reality of WWOOFing
The Norwegian farmhouse scenario described above could certainly happen as a WWOOFer. Of course you could also end up sleeping on a straw mattress in a moldy basement, learning absolutely nothing from the locals while busting you butt on a farm all day only to come home to heaps of crappy food and an ungrateful host.
If you want to hear a few nightmare WWOOFing stories check out I Learned to WWOOF the Hard Way by Raphaela, a seasoned pro a fearless traveler blogging at DirtyVagrant.com
The good news is that is seems most people have a good experience overall. Just be smart about finding a farm that is a good fit for you. If something isn’t working out when you arrive, find another farm and move on.
The Final Word
WWOOFing will most certainly provide you with unforgettable experiences, good or bad (most likely both!).
As a WWOOFer you
- Live with and like a local
- Spend quality time in new places
- See things that most tourists don’t
- Learn about organic farming
- Save money on accomodations
- Have interesting adventures
Sounds like something you may want to try out? You can always try it in your home country first before taking the plunge internationally.
Sure you can research if for weeks, or you can give it a try and see what happens. It just might change your life.
List of countries individual WWOOF sites
Alternatives to WWOOF
A list of independent countries that “do NOT have a national WWOOF organization”
Find jobs and opportunities in exchange for room and board
A work exchange web service