Inspired by yesterday’s article, I wanted to find another organization that matched volunteers with workstays: free work partnerships in which the volunteer exchanges labor for food and lodging. I spend most of my time researching traditional volunteer outfits, which are as varied as snowflakes. I’m well versed in the differences between for-profits and non-profits, the financial peccadilloes of NGOs and the many directories that match volunteers with opportunities. But I realized some time ago that a rather large population of people seemed to be under served: the grassroots communities who want to interact directly with volunteers, and the volunteers who want a less traditional volunteering experience. The volunteer organization serves as a buffer. It negotiates the terms, monitors the projects, and helps volunteers navigate travel, lodging, and sightseeing. But sometimes that buffer is also a hindrance. Especially for volunteers with limited resources who have all of the experience they need to work on their own terms.
Today I found yet another great online community focused on the workstay concept. It’s called WWOOF: Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and, unlike HelpX that offers a broad range of opportunities, WWOOF is primarily concerned with farm labor (as the name suggests). WWOOF provides listings for opportunities in a much wider geographical range than HelpX including Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The philosophy is counterculture inasmuch as organic farming and the communal lifestyle are still the purviews of the young, idealistic, aging hippie, and off-the-grid demographics (surely this is changing rapidly as organic farming becomes increasingly mainstream, but the stereotypes remain, at least for now, as evidenced by my mom’s reaction when I told her about HelpX… “it sounds like something out of the 1960s!”)
Indeed, WWOOF has been around since 1971, though back then it was a word-of-mouth outfit. Volunteers usually live as part of the farming family. They help with daily chores—cooking, cleaning, caring for kids—and also work on the farm doing a wide variety of different jobs, depending on their placement. Incidentally, WWOOFing is ideal for volunteers who are interested in getting in shape. Working on a farm is incredible exercise! Many of WWOOF’s opportunities involve learning about homesteading: outhouses, food preservation, alternative building, and alternative energy. These skills are very important, even if the volunteer never lives on a homestead. If she is planning on volunteering in other ways later in life, these skills will come in handy in rural villages where a cleverly made outhouse can mean the difference between dysentery and robust health. It can save lives! There is a great online forum where interested volunteers can learn more. Also check out this great article: “A First-Timer’s Guide to WOOFING.”