This last year, my boyfriend and I spent about 6 months volunteering on organic farms through WWOOF, the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Through our experiences, we found how out how important it is to ask specific questions of a potential host before making a commitment to them. Here is how you can have a good WWOOFing experience.
The first thing you should do when considering a WWOOF opportunity, is to think about what you want to gain from the experience, and what you might be able to offer a potential WWOOF host. For example, are you truly interested in sustainable living or organic farming or are you just looking for a free place to stay while you visit the area? If you just want a free place to stay, you might consider joining www.couchsurfing.org, or looking for an inexpensive alternative such as hostels or camping. Your chances of an enjoyable WWOOF experience decrease greatly if you are not interested in the work, as both you and your host will more than likely be disappointed. Next, search for hosts that offer opportunities to work at something that interests you. Once you’ve narrowed this down, you can begin contacting potential hosts. Many hosts are very busy working on their farms, and may not be able to reply to emails quickly. You might initially send emails to potential hosts, then contact them by telephone if you don’t hear back within a reasonable time period (about a week). Consider the tone of the host whether by email, or telephone. If they are friendly and open in their conversation, more than likely they will be friendly when you meet them. If the host does not want to answer a question you have, you might not want to volunteer with them.
Here are the questions you should always ask your potential WWOOF host in order to have a good WWOOFing experience:
1) How many hours am I expected to work? Is it a set schedule, or are the hours flexible?
2) Which meals are included (breakfast, lunch, dinner)? Are the meals fixed, or will I be expected to cook for myself or others? What type of meals are prepared (vegan, vegetarian, meat based, etc.)? This question is very important, as you might find yourself hoeing, weeding or digging for long periods of time and you want to be sure to have the energy to do this. If you are on a special diet, make sure it can be accommodated by the host.
3) Do you have specific projects assigned to volunteers? Are the projects based on the volunteers skills/interests? What are some of the projects I might be working on? Do you have all the tools needed to complete a project, or is there anything I need to bring?
4) What are the living arrangements? Some hosts offer a private room in their home, some offer only a place to set up a tent. Be sure and find out what your specific situation will be, and if you need to bring a tent or any type of bedding, etc. If you will be staying outside, be sure to consider the climate of the location of the host. Will you be able to use the bathroom/shower facilities? Will you have Internet access? Can you use laundry facilities (if available)?
5) Have you had WWOOF volunteers before? If not, do you have specific expectations? If so, have you had any bad experiences or particularly good experiences that would be helpful for me to know about?
6) If you will not have your own transportation, find out if you might be able to get occasional rides to the grocery store, nearest city, etc. If they are in a very remote location, you might have to stay at the farm the majority of the time. Be sure you are okay with that, and bring books or something to keep you occupied during your “off time”.
7) Other questions that might be important to you include: smoking/non-smoking, whether pets are allowed, whether children are welcome, etc.
Of course, the host will also have questions for you, and will want to know about your skills and personality to be sure the situation will be a good fit. When contacting potential hosts, be sure to list some of your skills and traits that you might be able to offer, and discuss how you can be a benefit to them as well.
If you have an adventurous attitude, an open mind and good attitude, you can make the most of your WWOOFing experience. Through WWOOF, we made many new friends with all different types of personalities, learned new skills such as goat milking, hatching baby chickens, cooking for large groups of people, planting different types of vegetables, how to make a home out of storage containers, and so much more. It wasn’t perfect, but it was an adventure, with lots of lessons learned along with the way.