WWOOF - World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

Woof Farm 102009

Boing Boing guestblogger Connie Choe is a health and culture writer by day and a professional kimchimonger by night.

Having lived in suburbia for the past 20 years, I often hear desperation-tinged fantasies (my own, mostly)of wanting to flee this neatly manicured existence to someplace that is rather different and very beautiful, but that's not too expensive and preferably not mucked up by other travelers.

For anyone else who seconds this emotion, I believe the answer to our yearnings is WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). Here's how it works: You choose a host organic farm in whichever country you like and arrange a temporary stay (ranging from a few days up to several months) during which you will work without pay in exchange for food and shelter. It's all the fun of being an indentured servant or migrant laborer without all the obligations!

If you're thinking that this is mostly the sort of thing that middle class 20-somethings do right after finishing their undergrad education, you are probably right. But why let them have all the fun? There's always an excuse like, "I lack the strength and heartiness of a farmhand" or "I really enjoy being under fluorescent lights for 50 hours a week" but I would venture to say that if you think those excuses are valid, maybe you never really wanted to leave home in the first place.

Here's an example of one farm listing in Denmark:

We live on a lovely 100-years-old traditional farm with horses, cats, bees, ducks and sheep. Close to the sea, centrally located in sunny Halsnæs. Near by is Dyssekilde eco-village and the costal cycling path. Eco bed & break-fast and basic camping facilities. In addition, we have a wood-carver and two blacksmiths on the farm.

Work: there is plenty to do; building, chopping wood, tending the animals, cutting willow, developing the garden, general farm work, weeding, all depending on the season. We often go for a (morning) swim in the sea.

Hardworking guests are welcome during in January (willows) Spring (gardening), Summer (weeding) + building/renovating. Experience in farm work and/or building preferable, as is a genuine interest in organic farming and environmental issues.

Accommodation in a cosy wagon.

We speak English and a little German and even less French.

If this sounds half as dreamy to you as it does to me, I encourage you to make it happen ... I double dog dare you.

WWOOF - World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

Photo courtesy of Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org / CC 3.0


  1. I heard about WWOOF from a Japanese podcast, and were I 20 years younger, I’d have jumped on it in a heartbeat. With my family responsibilities, I can’t join in now, but I’m looking forward to the kids getting out to college so I can give it a try.

  2. My parents own an alpaca farm outside of Ottawa, and have been with this program for years now. I’ve often met some very interesting people from all over the world when going to visit. It’s a very cool thing.

  3. I worked on a wwoof “farm” for a while, and we had a guy from Japan come and visit us. He didn’t know what hit him! He’d been living in Scotland with a bunch of pot-smoking hippies, and to go from that environment to a pretty strict organic community farm seemed to be a harsh thing.

  4. It’s important to really check these things out. My girlfriend tried to do a WWOOF program in Chile, and the owner was pretty insistent that she would be spending basically 14-16 hour days working, again with no pay. It’s not really a “vacation” sort of thing, and it can be pretty miserable if you get the wrong one.

  5. Two years ago I paid the WWOOF membership fee and immediately began looking for farms with beehives here in Japan. Unfortunately, the two I contacted both politely told me they wouldn’t take foreigners or men due to bad experiences they’d had in the past. Of course I understand they have the right to accept/decline appllicants, but the gender/race discrimination thing left creeped me out and I dropped my membership. Perhaps I’ll try overseas?

  6. A friend owns one of these farms in NZ, and it seems to be a great program both for the workers and the owner.

    However, like any program, it’s got to depend a lot on getting a good match between the personalities involved.

  7. As a former participant, there’s no rule that is set in stone. A couple points to note:

    * it’s not necessarily a farm
    * it’s not necessarily vacation
    * it’s not necessarily unpaid

    I had experiences doing simple flower gardening, archeology dig grunt work, maid-like cleaning service … in addition to actual farm jobs.

    Most ’employers’ want a reasonable time commitment, like a couple weeks, don’t expect a weekend assignment to pan out. Payment ranges from absolutely nothing, to room-and-board only, to actual cash payment (small, but enough to cover food+hostel). Work could be 12 hrs / day, or 3-4 hrs / day. I preferred assignments that were 1/2 day of work regardless of compensation so I could go explore the local area during the rest of the day.

    It’s up to you to contact the employers, and its up to you to negotiate terms. All-in-all WWOOF is great and I’d recommend it as a great way to travel on less than a shoe-string budget, but its not for everyone.

  8. There is a huge variety of farms available through this program, so like others have said, it’s crucial that you read reviews from past participants to get an idea of the work expectations of the host, the local language skills you do or don’t need, etc.

    My sister spent a month this summer on a farm in Italy and really enjoyed the experience. It was hard work (she came back with some pretty impressive biceps–and scratches from the brambles in the fields she was assigned to weed) but she also spent a lot of time on the beach with her host family and fellow woofers, some of whom she’ll probably remain in touch with for many years to come.

  9. Well, I have a 15.5 acre farm in the Shenandoa Valley that I’m not doing much with. Want to make a go at running a small farm? If your idea meets Virginia’s Agricultural Use laws, drop me a note.

    1. Blackanvil: You mean it? akcarlson at gee mail dot com Let’s talk. (I’m not weird. Well, okay, not dangerous. Well, not like that, anyway.)

  10. A friend of mine had a great experience doing this on a farm in Bretagne in France. She said she barely worked and got to see a part of the country she wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. Next time I go traveling I’m going to work some WWOOFing in.

  11. I’m about to embark on a wwoof journey of my own in a few weeks. 6 months of farms from Cali to Mexico and back home to Vancouver. I’ll be blogging all about it. (maybe I’ll suggest the link when I get it up and running?)
    I’m the produce manager at an organic health food store in Vancouver, BC. I buy direct from many farmers especially in the summer months and I’ve met a lot of amazing people through that, wwoofers and farmers. As someone who is very interested in sustainable urban and rural agriculture this is the cheapest way to get an education on how to do it all. There are lots of (unpaid) internships as well, which seem pretty ideal but I want to travel around for now.
    I grew up on a farm but have lived in cities for the last 15 years and I can’t wait to be back out in the real world. Everyone should be interested in where their food comes from. Supermarkets be damned.

    *they changed it from “willing workers” to “worldwide opportunities” because the wording implied paid work and that can necessitate a visa in some cases.

  12. @nolongeranon: Truth. Your experience will vary wildly from farm to farm.
    Some aren’t even working farms – I was once at one where they just entertained Japanese tourists for an hour a day wrangling sheep.

    Also very interesting that they changed the title. It sounds more corporate now.

  13. My cousin has volunteers through this program every year, and your experience WILL vary based on where you are staying.

    My cousin had one worker this summer (a 30 year old woman from Germany who had just finished her doctorate in Social Policy) who stayed for a few weeks (in SE Saskatchewan, Canada), then went to volunteer in the Yukon. The person she was staying with was a creepy druggy who kept hitting on her, and she was placed in a cabin with no power and no plumbing. She lasted two days before hitchiking to Whitehorse and catching a bus back to SE Sask. to stay with my fiance and I.

    She went on another placement three days later, to a similar situation (cabin with no power/plumbing, but at least this one didn’t have creepy old trappers hitting on her). Once again, she couldn’t stay the whole term and is now living with my brother for the remainder of her visa (Although still working on a farm and loving every minute of it), having passed up trips to Australia and New Zealand out of fear that she would run into a similar situation without anyone she knew to turn to.

    As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no screening as to who may host volunteers, so I would check to see if any other people have been placed at any place you are considering, and what their experiences were like, before committing to any particular place.

  14. My partner, dog and I did this through the North Island of New Zealand for 4/5 months earlier this year, and I heartily recommend it (despite being uber-urban, and not very hippy-happy, as it were). Met some truly awesome people, and it’s the best way way I know of to get to know a country, and its people, in a relatively short space of time. Some were very rural, some lived in/near towns, or even the major cities. Funnily enough, it’s so common here that just about everyone I’ve encountered has heard of it…

    But yes – read the descriptions carefully for subtext.

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