It’s inevitable. Your children grow up and go off to do cool things without you. As of today, I have one daughter working on a project in Haiti, another in India working with a start-up company and the Youngest One milking cows and making cheese in Switzerland. The first two situations keep me awake at night, imagining every hideous scenario that might befall them. The Switzerland project..well, I’m a little more comfortable with that, although I read that 481 people were injured by cows this year in the UK. Yes, I googled it. I’m a worrier.
The Youngest One pitched her Switzerland WWOOFing idea right around Christmas break. WWOOF-ing, an awkward acronym for World-Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms, pairs interested workers with willing farmers in a (hopefully) beneficial partnership. The wwoofer stays on local farm to learn the ins and outs of organic farming and the farmer gets an extra pair of hands to help with farm work. Summer jobs are hard, if not impossible to find as a university kid on a Tier 2 visa and WWOOFing fit nicely with her Sustainable Development major at uni and her love of all things food. One planned farm stay turned into 5 farm stays across the UK and Switzerland.
Farm #1 Shopshire, England, 1 Week
“Woofers” work 6 – 8 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week. In exchange, the host farm provides housing, meals and an opportunity to learn the basics of running a farm. At this particular farm, responsibilities included building a 30 foot polytunnel and extending a fruit cage and feeding/caring for the chickens.
It isn’t all work, however. Evenings/the occasional day off are spent socializing with other woofers and the family, exploring the surrounding areas and soaking up a new experience.
Farm #2 nr Bretaye, Switzerland, 2 Weeks
The second farm was spectacularly located in the Swiss Alps. Paul and his wife, farm owners for over 30 years, started taking in wwoofers 7 years ago to help with the with goats, dairy cows and drives to morning market. This “alpage” farm provided the full experience…milking goats, mending fences, making/flipping/selling cheese, rounding up and milking cows, chopping wood and washing farm equipment. While wwoofers think about the travel/work/experience balance, host farmers worry about wwoofers that cancel at the last minute, don’t show up at all or prove unwilling to share the workload. In the end, it’s about balance and a shared experience. When it all works, it’s a beautiful thing…wwoofers contribute and learn about organic farming, farmers benefit from motivated and energetic learners and both parties have a mutually beneficial cross-cultural experience.
** Photo credits/Madeline Belt
Things To Know:
WWOOFing is an international phenomenon. Each country or region has its own WWOOFing database and registration fee, which makes it a bit cumbersome when choosing a farm. It’s best to choose the region you’re interested in and send off for information and listings.
Farms and projects vary widely, so do your homework before choosing one. Talk to other WWOOFers, email the farmers, ask questions. This is NOT a vacation and you will work hard, but it is also a great way to travel inexpensively, meet the locals, try a foreign language and help others along the way.
There are bad woofing stories out there…farmers taking advantage of free labor, accommodations not suitable for human habitation and unsafe working conditions. To avoid a bad woofing experience: 1. Set clear expectations about work hours, accommodations, meals, language requirements and time off. Ask about the kind of work you’ll be doing. 2. Have a Plan B and a stash of cash. In our house, we call it “getaway” money. In case you have to, you know, get away. There are also good wwoofing stories. Do your homework.
Wwoof Independents has a great FAQ about being/hosting guests through WWOOF.