Raise the WWOOF
From Reno to Romania, live and work for free on organic farms
Ella Sutherland sat down to a veggie burger lunch overlooking the Truckee River on a recent afternoon at the River School. She’d just returned from harvesting greens and onions. It was a morning’s work for the 23-year-old WWOOFer. That’s what those who participate in World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms—formerly Willing Workers on Organic Farms—are called.
Sutherland has WWOOFed in California, in New Mexico—she could WWOOF across the globe if she had the inclination and travel funds. WWOOF is an international network connecting organic farms with volunteers. Links to each country and its opportunities are at www.wwoof.org. Volunteers can pick grapes in Italy, harvest Kona coffee in Hawaii, tend beehives in Chile, herd sheep in Spain, or grow mangoes in Bangladesh, among thousands of other things. Usually, no payment is exchanged between volunteers and hosts, but workers typically get free room and board.
That’s the case with Sutherland, an American who has called a number of states home. She is particularly interested in medicinal herbs, which she’ll get to work with during her 30-hour weeks at the River School. She’ll also help with her chosen tasks of construction projects, market sales, beekeeping, milking goats, feeding chickens, and other jobs.
“I don’t really want to be a farmer,” said Sutherland. “These are just skills I want in my life. I want to be able to grow my own vegetables, to know what to do with a particular herb.” In short, more self-reliant.
“I don’t think I could afford to farm without some volunteers,” said River School founder Tom Stille. Sutherland is the school’s seventh WWOOFer, and several more are expected to arrive this summer.
Stille said there are other benefits to hosting. “The River School focuses on teaching and learning. I need to teach, and this gives me an opportunity to do that on a very different level than teaching a class. And many WWOOFers have experiences on other farms, so I learn from them, too.”
WWOOFers are typically 18 years or older. Some farms accept couples with children, and the length of time varies. Some people may WWOOF for a few weeks, others a few months.
Before committing to a WWOOF site, do some research. Stille spoke of some volunteers he knew who paid—a potential red flag in itself—to WWOOF in India, and when they arrived, they were barely allowed to work. Sutherland said many volunteers choose where to go by word of mouth from other WWOOFers. In addition to the organization’s website, the USA-WWOOF Facebook page is another place to start. Comments like “Anyone know of a good farm to WWOOF at in Nepal?” are common there.
For those interested more in green building than in organic farming, a spin-off to WWOOFing has developed: Willing Workers in Applied Technology. WWATers can help work on things like strawbale houses, solar installations and earth-bag domes by connecting with those who post opportunities—from internships to apprenticeships—at http://greenbuilder.com/mailman/listinfo/wwat.