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Friday, April 12, 2024

The unexpected journeys of WWOOF

Students tell their Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) stories and what they learned from their volunteer experiences

By SIERRA JIMENEZ — arts@theaggie.org

 

Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) has become a popular way for individuals to get outdoors and have experiences outside of everyday life during the pandemic. 

The mission statement of WWOOF is to create “a worldwide effort to link visitors with organic farmers, promote an educational exchange, and build a global community conscious of ecological farming practices.” 

WWOOF provides free experiences around the globe in which visitors work on a property in exchange for housing and food. There are currently 1515 organic host farms to choose from in the U.S. and in over 132 countries around the world.

Whether participating in the program for sustainable agriculture, to learn new skills, travel or meet new people and immerse yourself in new cultures, anyone and everyone is welcome to volunteer. 

Holly Murphy, a fourth-year environmental policy, analysis and planning major, volunteered for three weeks in the summer of 2021, using the filtering tool to search for the farm that would best fit what they were looking for. Murphy decided that they wanted a queer-friendly farm as a priority, and ended up finding the perfect spot for themself in Curtis, WA. 

Advertised as an anarchist-queer farm, Murphy joked about how “chill” their experience was because of this preliminary information. Murphy explained how the hosts were pro-fair labor and established a relationship with them with a position of “do what you can, we’re just starting out so it will be a relaxed environment,” they said. 

On a small, start-up farm, Murphy spent most of their days watering the small gardens, cleaning up forestry for an upcoming project, doing archery, learning how to make mortise and tenon joints, listening to music and podcasts and relaxing. They would start the day eating breakfast with the hosts, work through the morning and then have time for themselves the rest of the day.

“It was just really restorative,” Murphy said. 

Murphy went as far as deleting social media, dedicating their time to reading and drawing instead of the common habit of scrolling on a cellphone. Living in a tent for three weeks, Murphy was able to “scratch that itch” for the outdoor experience they were looking for without the burden of renting or buying expensive outdoors gear.

Murphy explained that their experience was a positive time of solitude and self-reflection, and would recommend WWOOF to others. The big thing they wish they did differently was having their own form of transportation to give them even more freedom for exploration. 

Additionally, they recommend talking to the host prior to committing to make sure the farm is a perfect match for you. Murphy had an interview with the host to discuss the expectations of both parties, day-to-day activities and ask questions to make sure the farm was the ideal spot for them. 

Other WWOOF-ers agree that it’s important to do your research prior to committing and departing to your chosen farm. For Allison Rose, a third-year international agriculture development major, her WWOOF experience was not what she expected. 

In the summer of 2021, Rose ended up in Laupahoehoe, a small agricultural region of the Big Island of Hawaii, for about three weeks. She initially decided on this farm as a way to be close to the ocean and in Hawaii during the pandemic. However, she soon realized that she was nowhere near the ocean, and the area where the farm was located was completely isolated. 

The host seemed to be a liberal-minded individual, which was very important to Rose, advertising organic farming and “liberal fishing,” but Rose said he ended up being completely the opposite: a Trump supporter, Rose’s worst nightmare. 

Rose said her host ended up being manipulative, making her feel undervalued and wondering “why am I being gaslighted into feeling like I owe this guy something?” She said the host expected an absurd amount of work while holding the fact that he was giving the volunteers food and housing over their heads, Rose explained.

Rose had to walk 30 minutes every day to the one cafe near the property for Wi-Fi because the host did not let the volunteers use the Wi-Fi. Rose ended up leaving early from her unexpected Hawaii getaway. 

Although Rose did not have the best experience through WWOOF, she still recommends the program under different circumstances. Rose recommends bringing a car for transportation to allow more freedom of movement. She was quite confident that her experience would be a lot better if she had a car to move around. 

She also recommends bringing a friend with you during the experience to have a buddy and have more “bargaining power and a step up” in case of a host like hers. She believes that having an open mindset and trying to get along with the other volunteers is what saved her through her unexpected experience. 

Moral of the story, make sure to do your research and talk to your host about expectations on both sides before committing, especially somewhere as isolating as an island. Also, be sure to check surrounding towns, transportation and hosts before making a final decision. 

Despite Rose’s WWOOF unexpected experience, there are lessons to be learned from those stories, and still other WWOOF-ers have had much better experiences. Abby Golde, a fourth-year animal science major, got everything she wanted out of her WWOOF experience in Devon, England, even if it wasn’t exactly what she thought it would be. 

In the summer of 2021 during the pandemic, Golde decided to pack up and leave the States to mimic a study abroad experience she didn’t get to have in her college career. Her motive to participate in WWOOF was to travel cheaply and immerse herself in a new country and culture — and that’s exactly what she got. 

In her free-time, she would travel around Europe via train, a 30 minute walk from the property, with the other various volunteers. The property always had a minimum of 10 volunteers which meant it was bustling with individuals from around the world. 

“We would have a tea break at 11 because we were in England, and that was cute,” Golde said. With group meals and constant travel buddies, her stay was very communal.

“It’s a really cool experience, especially if you are young and don’t have money. You could just fully live in somebody else’s life and experience all these things you would never be able to do, and meet all these cool people,” Golde said. 

However, from her own experience, Golde warns potential WWOOF-ers to be prepared for an experience that is different from what was described. You have to be able to be flexible and have an open mind going into the process. 

“I got fully catfished,” Golde said. “It was a little less of a farming experience… he had two cottages on the property and rented them out as Airbnbs which we cleaned for turnovers.” 

The host had advertised himself as a beekeeper with various animals and a big garden with different crops, but in actuality, Golde said there were a few sheep, a small garden and no bees. Nobody had a good relationship with the host out of frustration for his false advertising, she said.

Although Golde said her host situation was not ideal, “I met 20 cool young people, lived with them, traveled around and ended up traveling by myself afterward,” Golde said. “WWOOF totally gave me what I was looking for.” 

All individuals who have had experiences with WWOOF, good or bad, recommend this program to people thinking about volunteering on a farm. It is a mostly free way to have a place to stay wherever you are, learn about new cultures and tools and meet new people. 

All past WWOOF participants who told their stories remind potential volunteers to keep an open mind and research, research, research beforehand!

 

Written by: Sierra Jimenez — arts@theaggie.org

 

 

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