Dogs don’t have much to do with it. But they may well be part of the picture… No worries, it gets less cryptic as you read on. And you should, especially if you want to meet locals and get to know their way of life. Or if you’re eager to be productive and get your hands dirty after weeks of travelling!
The WWOOF acronym originally stood for “Working Weekends on Organic Farms” when it started in the UK in 1971 and was later on changed to “Willing Workers on Organic Farms.” Nowadays it’s “Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms” and has grown to a worldwide network that connects volunteers with organic farms to allow both parties to exchange ideas about sustainability and organic farming. It is a great way of spending some of your holiday doing something productive, learning new skills, increasing your knowledge about permaculture and self-sufficiency, and all that whilst getting to know locals, their land and their ways of life.
How WWOOFing works
Hosts don’t pay WWOOFers. The idea of WWOOFing is that volunteers normally work for 4 hours a day in exchange for food, accommodation and learning opportunities. Arrangements can be flexible, so that WWOOFers may work a full day and then take a day off.
How to get started: WWOOFing in New Zealand
It’s easy to join, just go to wwoof.co.nz and register with the organisation. There is a one-off fee of 40 NZD to join, and membership lasts for a year. Just go to www.wwoof.co.nz and sign up. You’ll receive one year of access to the web directory of wwoof hosts, and, if you want, a paper book with the same information (membership with book is NZD 50). The latter always comes in handy when you don’t have an internet connection to look for your next host. The web platform also allows you to set up your own profile for WWOOF hosts to see. Put your picture up there and a few lines on your background and what skills you have that could come in handy for WWOOF hosts. Just like you can search for your host by region, so can hosts search the profiles of potential WWOOFers.
During the summer months it can be difficult to find a host at short notice as many are booked up 1-2 months in advance. Plan ahead and contact your chosen hosts at least a few weeks before your intended stay. If you’re struggling to find a host try the hotlist feature on the website; it works as a forum for hosts and WWOFers alike to post their need for / interest in filling an immediate vacancy.
Types of hosts
You can WWOOF on big farms with animals, small / family farms, or for people with a bit of land and a vegetable garden. Some set-ups are a bit more “special”, i.e. they couple their eco settlement with a spiritual retreat, or they have a bed and breakfast with a large organic vegetable garden and expect you to help out with the guest rooms. It’s always a good idea to read the host’s profile fully so you know what the circumstances are. They usually indicate whether they are a single person household, a couple or a family with younger or older children.
Sometimes a host’s profile also contains information on where the WWOOFer stays. This can range from a tent you need to bring yourself, to a camper in the garden, to a hut to your own en-suite room in the host’s home.
What you’ll be doing
The range of activities is even more diverse. You could do anything from weeding to harvesting to building a shed. Here are some more common activities of WWOOFers:
- picking fruit
- harvesting vegetables
- preserving fruit and vegetables
- building / repairing fences
- building a shed or other support structures
- feeding animals
- milking cows
- compost making
- lawn mowing
- planting trees
- pruning trees
- caring for plants
- cutting wood
- building maintenance
- general farm duties
- light housework, e.g. cooking or cleaning
Before you go
The best hosts are found by recommendation. It helps to be in touch with the travellers’ community to get some insight into where to go from other WWOOFers. To judge whether a place is good for you or not, it’s best to speak to your future host on the phone to ask about what is important to you. If you need some inspiration, see my checklist for WWOOFing.
Stays at WWOOF places can last from a few days to a few weeks or more. If you stay somewhere for a little longer, it may also be a nice idea to bring a small present for your host.