Volunteer abroad: WWOOFing and other options

So you want a holiday abroad and really get to know the culture. Get to know locals. Do what the locals do. Be truly off the beaten tourist track and experience the great stuff that regular people get up to who live in the place you are visiting. Well, there may not be a better way to soak in what your chosen destination is all about than to volunteer abroad on an organic farm: stay with the locals and yes, work with them!


close-up of sunflower

Some may be averse to the idea of working during their annual leave, holiday, or vacation – whatever you may call it. But no matter what profession you have, you will still enjoy your break and recharge the batteries. There are a variety of organisations that offer volunteering, placements and exchanges, in return for a sizeable participation and organisation fee. But the organisations below work in a different way – you get together with locals via the organisations’ web portal and the whole process is practically for free.

There are a multitude of volunteering services out there, but only a handful of organizations who provide this matchmaking service between eager explorers and farms in need of some help.

WWOOFing: Willing Workers On Organic Farms

This well-established outfit dates back to the Seventies and was founded in the UK. Nowadays you’ll find WWOOF organisations in many countries around the globe, from Turkey to Taiwan and France to New Zealand, you’d be surprised in how many cultures this has caught on. WWOOF is essentially a network of organisations that links volunteers with organic farms. The way it works is that a volunteer, or WWOOFer, helps out at a farm four hours a day, and gets free food and accommodation in return. Obviously, there are no contracts involved and work arrangements can be quite flexible. Many farms specifically want couples, multiple WWOOFers or welcome families, which makes WWOOFing a very social experience.

Horse on a New Zealand farm

Taking care of animals may also be part of your duties

WWOOFers get in touch with potential hosts via the WWOOF website and discuss the work that needs doing, skills needed and timeframesinvolved, and it all takes off from there. The idea is that it is a mutual cultural and learning exchange where also skills are developed on both sides. The focus is on sustainability, organic farming and permaculture, where knowledge of the subject matter is by no means required before joining. Work ranges from weeding the flowerbeds, growing vegetables, to building a fence or taking care of animals.

The sign-up process is easy via the WWOOF website, and there is only a small one-off membership fee of around 40 dollars giving you access to the website for one year. There are no further fees involved.

WWOOF is a great way of learning about the land, its people and history, not just about farming. If you want to learn more, have a look at an article I wrote on WWOOFing here, and you may want to read the things to know before you go list before you head out!

WWOOF website
WWOOF on Twitter
WWOOF on Facebook

Workaway

Similar to WWOOF, Workaway offers an online platform with listings of hosts and profiles of volunteers. The one-off fee is 30-40 Dollars for a 2-year access to the website. Just like with WWOOFing, you can select the country of your choice on the website and see a directory of hosts in the area, but you will not be able to contact them unless you are registered, i.e. until you have paid the membership fee. Hosts and volunteers alike pay the fee, sign up to the website and create a profile with information on their background, skills and perhaps a few pictures. They can get in touch with each other either via email or phone, whichever is preferred.

Unlike WWOOF, the emphasis with Workaway is not on organic farming, but rather broader where work could be for a farm, for a local family business or small organisation, but again your time is in exchange for food and accommodation.

Workaway website
Workaway on Twitter
Workaway on Facebook

The vegetable garden of an organic farm in New Zealand

A lot of work on organic farms evolves around growing veggies

Global Help Swap

Global Help Swap seems to be a recent venture. Founded only in 2011, the organisation explains their remit as bringing back the community spirit to local areas. The concept is similar to WWOOF – participants volunteer their time for free food and accommodation. The temporary website claims the organisation operates around the world. Their web property is currently under development, so perhaps this is one to watch.

Global Help Swap website
Global Help Swap on Twitter
Global Help Swap on Facebook

WWOOFers accommodation

As a WWOOFer you might stay in a camper on an organic farm in New Zealand

Help Exchange

Help Exchange, or HelpX, has been around since 2001, again founded in the UK. HelpX, much like the other services, offers listings of hosts on their website, including organic farms, regular farms, homestays, lodges, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats that seek volunteers to work with them in exchange for food and accommodation. Just like with WWOOF, the regular agreement is that the volunteer works 4 hours a day for a time period agreed with the host, be that a few days or a few weeks, and again the arrangement can be quite flexible.

Building cages or fences

Building fences or cages are also common duties on farms

Membership again comes with a minimal fee for registration and access to the website, where roughly 30 Dollars allow you to access the website and contact hosts over a 2-year period.

Help Exchange operates worldwide including many European countries, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

HelpX website

Working in the garden

Weeding the garden

Grow Food

Grow Food’s focus is on organic farming, and teaching volunteers sustainable farming skills. Grow Food was founded in the USA and seems to mainly cater to farms in the States. The service is slightly different in that it offers not only short-term volunteering arrangements, but also educational programmes, internships and paid work. The membership costs 20 Dollars and allows you to access their site and contact the farms you are interested in.

Grow Food website
Grow Food on Twitter
Grow Food on Facebook

Have you tried any of these providers, and what was your experience? If not, would you try them? Do you know of any other organisations offering a similar service?

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  8 comments for “Volunteer abroad: WWOOFing and other options

  1. 15 July, 2012 at 23:35

    You’ve got some great suggestions here and a stunning sunflower photo. I’m not sure how great a farmer I’d – at least if the chores required bending over a lot. I spent four hours weeding in my garden yesterday and feel like I’l eighty today.

    • Christina
      3 September, 2012 at 23:03

      Thanks Leigh! If you have a garden yourself, maybe you should invite wwoofers? When you can’t travel to meet new people, have the new people come to you 🙂 I’d love to have wwoofers. I love being one, too.

  2. 23 July, 2012 at 18:53

    I almost WWOOFed on a farm that Beth and Randy from Beers and Beans loved but at the last minute I had to rush back to Canada. It’s still on my list of things to do.

    • Christina
      3 September, 2012 at 23:12

      I really hope you do try it soon. Can’t recommend it enough. Having said that, I’ve only done it in New Zealand. Friends of mine have wwoofed in Hawaii, and they loved it. Of course, it’s Hawaii!

  3. 3 September, 2012 at 22:58

    Thanks for the helpful article! One bone to pick – WWOOFing on a tourist visa is quite often illegal, so make sure you research laws in the countries you’re visiting beforehand, and get the appropriate visa! WWOOF isn’t great about mentioning this since they’re in the business of selling memberships. I wrote a little bit about my disastrous (and humorous, in hindsight) WWOOFing experience, as well as some advice for other interested people over here: http://dirtyvagrant.com/what-i-wish-i-knew-before-i-wwoofed/

    • Christina
      3 September, 2012 at 23:14

      Thanks Raphaela. You’re right, most countries require a working holiday visa for these kind of activities. Which is a shame though, really, because WH visas are for the under 30-year-olds only.

  4. 8 November, 2012 at 09:26

    Hi Christina!

    Thank you so much for the kind words about our website and new venture: globalhelpswap! We have now launched the site and are slowly getting more and more organisations signing up. As we have only launched this week we are going through the typical problems that crop up but most things are working fine 🙂

    We actually came across your blog by chance. We were searching for something on facebook and you cropped up! We will be following you now! 😉

    Take care and have a great day,

    Paul (co-founder of globalhelpswap)

    • Christina
      8 November, 2012 at 19:04

      Hi Paul! You’re site’s looking good! So glad you launched and look forward to following the progress. Thanks for stopping by and we’ll be following each other!
      Christina

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