Organic program offers opportunities at home and abroad
By P.M. Fadden
To ‘WWOOF’ is to share life skills through farm and field experiences.
The program, WWOOFing or Willing Workers On Organic Farms, is organically and sustainably minded volunteer education, first envisioned in England in 1971.
Originally a weekend program for persons desperate to escape city life, WWOOFing has expanded to global proportions. Initially entitled Working Weekends On Organic Farms, the program’s basic focus was relaxation through lifestyle exploration. Emerson College in Sussex was setting for the first exploratory steps towards that goal, and the organically minded consortium has not slowed its growth since.
While contact with hosts sites are permitted only through online WWOOFing channels (read below), WWOOFing exists throughout the U.S. Hosts are located via organization web content. In Alaska, 78 host locations operate statewide. Chugach State Park sets the scene for three WWOOF locations, while the Kenai Peninsula is home to no less than 31 others. Seventeen miles east of the community at Homer, 10-acre Kackle Berry Farm is an Alaskan organic dairy farm. A WWOOFing host praised it as “a magical experience perfect for the first time volunteer.”
Naturally, the peak seasons for volunteer activities to organic farming or agri-tourism sites are spring and summer, when such locations require extra hands in crucial seeding, care and harvesting cycles. In the Last Frontier, late April through early October frame the commonly weather-impacted ideal WWOOFing calendar, but international volunteer and host opportunities allow WWOOFing to be experienced year-round.
Worldwide, WWOOFing exists in 99 countries. Of those, 43 boast internal systems specifically designed to support hosts and volunteers. Countries forgoing standardization interlink host-homes who independently follow the guidelines set-down by WWOOFing international. Each system, independent or collective, cooperates with international standards while retaining their ability to function autonomously.
The WWOOFing ethos has evolved with its size. The organic farming consortium terms itself; ‘champions of the environment’. They believe that their work directly contributes to the formation of a wider, healthier organic world. First person contact with local growers is thought to be an effective way to initiate positive influence on both regional and nationwide policy shaping as well as producing positive effects on consumer demand. Use of an open-forum approach, allows hosts and volunteers to share agricultural knowledge with one another and the community at large through these ecological methods.
WWOOFers volunteer as couples, solo travelers or family groups. Hosts offer a range of accommodations, including lodging in private residences or a shared space within the family home.
Personal contact between volunteer and host facilitates the diffusion of shared, cultural information. Working jointly for the betterment of the environment, there is equal opportunity to exchange languages, thoughts and local practices or customs. WWOOFing hosts follow their own schedule, so work hours and free time will vary. International guidelines set down by the original organizing body call for an average of a 6-hour work day on the part of the volunteer, with a 5/6 day work week. In return for their services, volunteers should expect that adequate room and board will be provided by their hosts.
Volunteering through the WWOOFing organization involves physical labor, however, at its core the arrangement is not intended as strictly work related. WWOOFing participants find dining and socializing with their hosts an enjoyable way of getting to know one another. Willing Workers On Organic Farms encourages hosts to act as local guides to their homelands, introducing volunteers to cultural or geographic aspects that make their region special. For volunteer and host, time spent working and learning together results in growth of new roots that enrich each member’s own lives and benefits our world.
Each nation’s membership is joined separately. Once a member, the hopeful volunteer creates a profile, which introduces him or her to prospective hosts, who also create profiles, detailing themselves (and their location) for the benefit of potential volunteers. Contracted stays are decided through direct communication between volunteer and host. The length of a stay ranges weeks, months or longer.
Four key questions to consider prior to finalizing any hosting or volunteering agreement are: How many hours per day/days of week will the volunteer be needed to work? What type of work will be expected of the volunteer during that time? What barriers (if any) exist (i.e. language or work related skills)? And finally, which amenities will be available for use by the volunteer during the stay (i.e. internet or local transport)?
For online resources, www.wwoofusa.org and www.wwoofinternational.org provide WWOOFing insight. Hosts are linked with volunteers by cataloged membership and participant testimonials comment on current WWOOFing topics.