Vacation with a conscience
Voluntouring - volunteering on vacation - is an increasing travel trend. In this issue, we introduce you to World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or WWOOF.
Voluntouring—volunteering while on vacation—is an increasing travel trend. According to a 2006 Travelocity annual forecast poll, 11 percent of respondents said they planned to volunteer while on vacation in 2007 (up from 6 percent in 2006), doing anything from building houses to caring for children in an orphanage.
In this issue of alive, we introduce you to one example of voluntouring: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF, also sometimes called Willing Workers on Organic Farms. Founded in the UK in 1971, WWOOF helps people around the world, from North America to Australia, share more sustainable ways of living. WWOOFing, as those who have done it call it, helps individuals who want to learn more about organic lifestyles volunteer at host farms, while in exchange host farms get much-needed help.
How does it work?
The WWOOF website (wwoof.org) lists links to all the countries with WWOOF organizations. Each organization is run independently, and most charge an annual membership fee. Members receive access to a secure website or are mailed a booklet that lists all the WWOOF host farms in a particular country, complete with information about the farm: its location, size, kinds of chores the farmer needs help with, and other pertinent information.
The interested volunteer contacts the host farmer directly to arrange a stay and to work out particulars such as hours of work, length of stay, and the kinds of tasks the host wants done. Volunteers stay anywhere from a few days to sometimes months. Some WWOOFers move from farm to farm, while others volunteer just once.
WWOOF hosts provide accommodation (in some cases, in the host’s own home), as well as meals and the opportunity to experience a working organic farm. Volunteers typically toil four to six hours each day and spend the rest of the time getting to know their host family or doing local sightseeing. Farms vary widely, from very small to commercial. Not all hosts are organic farmers; one on Salt Spring Island, BC, produces only cheese. Another, outside Tepoztl? Mexico, needs help constructing and maintaining their orphanage.
Chores vary from farm to farm and include gardening, landscaping, and mending fences, as well as caring for animals, doing building maintenance and odd jobs, and anything else the hosts need help with.
What are the benefits?
WWOOFers interested in a sustainable lifestyle experience first-hand what it’s like to run an organic farm. Others find it rewarding to support the organic movement. WWOOFing is also an unusual way to get to know a new country, or even your home country, as WWOOFers meet people and see areas they likely wouldn’t experience while staying at a hotel or hostel. (Most farms are in rural areas). For some, it’s interesting, and perhaps inspiring, to see how others live.
Some WWOOFers become good friends with their hosts, who are often families with children and pets, in some cases returning for more stays in the future or keeping in touch.
Who does WWOOFing?
Voluntourists involved in WWOOFing run the gamut from teens and students to pensioners. Most have an interest in organic and sustainable lifestyles and some plan to start their own farms; thus they appreciate the hands-on experience. Others simply want something more satisfying and meaningful out of their vacation, or to experience the true culture and people of a given country.
There are no real prerequisites to becoming a WWOOFer; all you need is an open mind, a positive attitude, and the willingness to work.
For more information, visit wwoof.org.
WWOOF organizations exist in more than 33 countries, including: