This is where I found myself a year ago poring over a lonely planet guide to Canada. I saw pages on Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto but found myself lingering on the images of mountains and rivers out of the city. I found hundreds of cheap hostels in these larger cities, and a strong desire to see the grand nature in the vast expanse of countryside, but saw no way in connecting the two in a trip to Canada.
This is where WWOOF, a network of farms across the world, stepped in. Standing for “willing workers on organic farms”, WWOOF has farmers of all types looking for you to work the land in return for food and lodging. You get to live in the country, stay with locals (who can help you get there) and work in a way that really does get you back to nature. Aside from the cost of a years membership – around £30 (depending on where you go), it’s absolutely free.
Very soon, I was staying at a plants and produce farm in western Canada. I’d wake up in a cozy wooden barn, plant tomato seeds and prepare for farmer’s markets underneath the mountains. After a day’s work it was time to tuck into pancakes (with real Canadian syrup) and watch real Canadian ice hockey with my real Canadian family.
The two weeks flew by, and it soon felt like a long time since I had first contacted them through the WWOOF website. Finding this family and making arrangements was very easy; as soon as you start you feel in control.
Different areas of the world have their own groups and websites, such as Latin America or individual European countries. Once you’re in and paid for a list is revealed to you with a massive variety of organizations– from small flower gardens to huge alpaca farms. You can browse or narrow this list down to specifics; such as where they are, whether you’ll meet other WWOOFers there, if they’re a small family farm or a large setup. Maybe most helpful of all, you can read comments of previous WWOOFers’ experiences with each one.
Once you find a farm you’re interested in you simply contact them. Don’t be afraid to ask them anything – you’ll soon discover how welcoming the large WWOOF community is.
No WWOOFing experience is the same, which is part of its charm. You could do something similar to me, pick grapes in Italy or milk cows in Ecuador. Whatever you choose, WWOOFing is a truly complete experience, and chances are you’ll never want to come home.
For more details visit the central WWOOFing website at http://www.wwoof.org/