Interested in gaining some practical experience on working Organic Farms in exchange for accommodation and food? Here are our top 10 tips for WWOOFing courtesy of Scarlett Penn UK WWOOF co-ordinator.
If you’re new to volunteer exchanges, setting yourself up for your first trip away can be daunting. If you’ve just joined WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and you’re also new to farming and alternative lifestyles, it could be double daunting! Mixed feelings of nervousness and excitement are very normal, so here are some top tips to lend you confidence and give your trip every chance of success.
1. Clear and honest communication, right from the beginning
This is the big one. We don’t receive many complaints – just a tiny fraction of a percentage of the exchanges that take place – but most of them are down to misunderstandings which could have been avoided by clearer communication. Read a host’s description well and if they sound good, make a personalised contact. Check your profile contains all the information you want your host to know, and add more in your covering email, particularly any dietary requirements. Explain what you like about their description and why you’d like to volunteer with them in particular. Try and exchange a few emails beforehand, to get an accurate picture of the host. Many choose to phone or Skype as well, to be sure the arrangement will suit both parties. While you are staying with a host, if you don’t understand something, ask. It’s much better to check, than to weed out the wrong seedlings (which really does happen!) And do tell your host if your experience isn’t matching your expectations. Most hosts are very reasonable people and want happy volunteers. Honest in-the-moment feedback gives them a chance to change something while you’re there, rather than staying quiet, having a bad time and writing a letter of complaint afterwards. After you stay, provide reasonable and honest online feedback for your host, so that future volunteers can see what kind of experience you’ve had with your host.
2. What do you want to get from your experience?
Take time to think about what you want to gain from WWOOFing. Perhaps you’d like to learn something specific like chicken keeping, tree pruning or how to live off grid. Maybe you want to visit a part of the country you’ve never seen before or conversely, meet new contacts in your own local area. Do you want a place where there are lots of other volunteers (in which case consider a community) or would you prefer somewhere quieter? Read reviews that other volunteers have left on the host’s profile to make sure they can provide what you’re looking for.
3. Plan in advance
Work out when and how long you can go WWOOFing for (a weekend? A fortnight? A year?) and get planning good and early, especially if you’re hoping to volunteer in July and August when hosts often fill up or go away. Committing to a week in the first instance is a good idea. If you like a place and they like you, a stay can often be extended. And remember, land based activities are seasonal! You can’t help with lambing in September or cider making in March.
4. Use the forum
If you’re having trouble finding a host for some very specific dates, a top tip is to use the forum. It’s members only and caters for both hosts and WWOOFers seeking placements, so you can’t go wrong. You can also find fellow travellers here, if hooking up with someone before a trip is an idea which appeals to you.
5. Pack sensibly
WWOOFers have been known to get off the bus in heels or bright white, brand new trainers. Host are likely to be living a much more out-doors lifestyle than you’re used to, and there will probably be mud / compost / manure involved in your activities. Be warned, your new trainers will not stay white for very long! Take into account the season and the famous British weather and think warm, practical work clothes, waterproofs, wellies, hats and gloves, torch, wash-kit, and spending money. Sometimes the trolley-style luggage bags with small wheels, so well adapted to the streets of London, are awkward and uncooperative on bumpy countryside tracks. If you have the choice, you might find a rucksack is more suitable.
6. Take with you the things you can’t live without
Do you love a glass of wine in the evening? Need to have to have real coffee rather than instant? Can you not possibly survive without chocolate? Unless you’ve checked beforehand, remember your host might not provide your favourite creature comforts so either take them with you, or be prepared to do without. Any regular or emergency medication is a must (e.g. asthma inhalers, hay fever tablets, EpiPens)
7. Spare time
Many hosts offer films, bicycles for exploring, maps for walking and public transport timetables for exploring, but you may like to think about bringing some of your own spare time entertainment. Art and craft projects, the book you’ve been meaning to read (or write) for ages and your own laptop or tablet are all good candidates. It bears repeating though; if good internet and phone coverage is important to you, be sure to clarify how strong the signal is where you’re going, and for your particular mobile network.
8. Be prepared to experience a different way of life
Remember, you will be in someone else’s home and you should be prepared to live by their (reasonable) house rules and culture. If you’re used to living in a tidy shoes-off flat with a beige carpet, it’s entirely likely your host’s home will be more ‘earthy’ than yours. That doesn’t make it wrong or necessarily unhygienic, it’s just a symptom of a more land-based lifestyle. You may be used to taking a long bath or shower each day, and this simply may not be possible with your hosts if there are hot water constraints.
9. Keep your WWOOF word
Always honour the agreement you make with your host. They will have planned tasks around your stay, bought food for you and probably turned away other helpers because you were booked in. It will be very annoying and disruptive to their lives if you cancel at the very last moment for anything other than an emergency. If you simply don’t turn up (it does happen) they will worry and contact the office. Please, do honour your agreement.
10. And finally….
….have fun!! Be flexible, go with an open heart and mind. You never know what other magical things might happen. WWOOF is about more than farming, and other opportunities and learnings may present themselves as you live alongside new people. Be ready to dive in.