So here’s the dream, whether you’re right out of school looking for a gap year adventure (I know gap years haven’t really ever taken off in the U.S. but you know—a time to explore the world before engaging or re-engaging with it as an adult); an empty nester ready to once again put the focus on yourself; a free spirit of any age seeking horizons you’ve not yet seen…wouldn’t it be flat-out perfect to travel and find a place to stay free of charge, really get to know the folks there and get involved in their everyday lives, and move on when the call of the road again raises its voice (or you have to be back at work Monday).
WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (once upon a time it was known as “Willing Workers on Organic Farms” and originated as “Working Weekends on Organic Farms”), and it is an international network that links volunteers with organic farms and growers across the globe who will exchange your willingness to work for room and board. WWOOFers find farm hosts who need extra hands to help, and in exchange for 4-6 hours of chores, they are given a full day’s food and accommodation. Farm chores aren’t always easy or glamorous, but some can be—you could find yourself asked to help with wine or cheese making, baking bread, or similar fun stuff, or often more manual labor like sowing seed, cutting wood, mending fences, milking, feeding, harvesting. You know—the Old MacDonald stuff you read about in picture books as a kid.
Most WWOOF stays are in the one-to-two week range
You negotiate directly with your host about your length of stay—some WWOOFers are nomadic and move from place to place after a day or two at each organic farm, some have been at one spot for as long as six months. Most WWOOF stays are in the one-to-two week range.
The database of welcoming hosts covers programs in more nations than you would imagine—there are particularly strong programs throughout much of Western Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand, but let your dreams soar as you peruse opportunities in several African nations, the Americas, Asia-Pacific, and more. The most recent statistics show 1,421 host farms and operations in the United States, and nearly twelve thousand worldwide. That’s a lot of travel and exploration opportunities where you truly get to know a region, a family or host, fellow WWOOfers and other workers, and certainly a lot about yourself. Every year, tens of thousands of volunteers WWOOF.
Volunteers must be at least 18 years old for almost all of these opportunities, some farms will accept children (it is up to the discretion of each host) and there is no upper age limit as long as working 4-6 hours is something you can do. To start your search for this particular sort of community immersion experience, most folks begin with the country they’d like to visit, then explore WWOOFing invitations and opportunities there—so how about you?