Why You Should WWOOF

WWOOF is a network of people connecting organic farmers with those who relish the prospect of working on an organic farm, and you can do it almost anywhere in the world.

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Observing the Ecuadorian grandeur on one of our trips around the country. PHOTO MACEAGON VOYCE

Have you ever found yourself searching the vast realm of the interwebs for free ways to see the world? For those of us who love to travel—yet lack sufficient funds to do so on the regular—the answer is probably yes. You’ll unearth random results in your search efforts, like “deliver someone’s car to them,” or “become a flight attendant,” and other undertakings that more than likely did not meet the quixotic hopes to which you clung when you began your virtual foraging. But what if you stumbled upon this: “Free accommodation, free meals, and the opportunity to learn how to live organically.” And hey guess what, that actually exists! It’s called WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and it’s awesome.

WWOOF is a network of people connecting organic farmers with those who relish the prospect of working on an organic farm, and you can do it almost anywhere in the world. In exchange for your work, you’ll get fed and housed for the duration of your stay. Yes you still need to pay for your flight and anything extracurricular, but that’s it. WWOOFing works like this: farmers create profiles and “want” ads describing their farms, the type of work they would expect from a visitor, and the kind of accommodation they can provide. Imagine working on a vineyard in Tuscany, or in an organic restaurant in Japan—pretty intriguing eh? Each participating country has its own WWOOF organization that is united, promoted and protected by a central federation. There exists an overwhelming number of diverse and supremely appealing organic opportunities, and they’re just a bit of correspondence, a commitment and a short plane ride away.

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Rachel takes her chances with the whimsically paranoid turkeys. PHOTO MACEAGON VOYCE

My girlfriend and I spent a month WWOOFing in Ecuador in the winter of 2010. We stayed with a German man, his Ecuadorian wife and her two kids on a farm in Tumbaco, a village on the outskirts of Quito. They lived in a beautiful log home that was relatively open to the elements—i.e. privy to the incessant sunshine and comfortable warmth that permeated the area—and surrounded by a plethora of animals. Dogs, cats, goats, chickens, turkeys, llamas, sheep, rabbits and ducks wandered the domicile by day, and it was our job to help instill some special structure to the gregarious hodgepodge of creatures by night. We spent our days building chicken houses, rabbit pens, gates and fences, as well as chasing an affable young goat named Marcus. Our labor was punctuated by lunch with our hosts, and concluded by a call to dinner. The whole family gathered around the table to eat, and we spent hours talking of German politics, Ecuadorian labor laws, Buddhist fasting traditions, and of things of lesser consequence, of course. A bond was established at that dinner table, and that connection was made palpable in the care that was bestowed upon, and reciprocated by, us.

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Our beautiful Tumbaco homestead. PHOTO MACEAGON VOYCE

When I contracted a delirium-drenched fever of 106, they took care of me. When our German host had knee surgery, we did everything we could to keep him comfortable. We felt as though we had been adopted into the familial unit, that our wellbeing was dependent on the health and prosperity of our hosts, and vise versa. Indeed, we spent weeks building structures alongside one another that would directly benefit the livelihood of the people that were housing and feeding us. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement that bettered all of us in one way or another. And the advantages of WWOOFing extended beyond this flourishing intimacy, as we were able to experience the culture that pervaded our day-to-day lives in little ways that any family in the area might—a trip to the market, a visit from a neighbor, a walk past the gated entries of the purported gangsters that lived nearby, and so on. Moreover, we were able to use the farm as a base for our excursions around the country—e.g. whitewater rafting in a tributary of the Amazon, exploring the famed markets of Otavalo, and walking the colonial cobblestones of Cuenca.

Every WWOOFing adventure will be different, but each will undoubtedly be an enriching experience for both the host and the hosted. You’ll pick up valuable skills, see some incredible places, and maybe even adopt a second family. We might all do well to embrace the organization’s motto: “Think global—act local.”

Article written by MACEAGON VOYCE.

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A finished product of our labors. PHOTO MACEAGON VOYCE

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