Would you love to experience the magic of life on the land, but the exorbitant cost of farm-stay holidays means that your dream always remains just out of reach? If so, perhaps there's an affordable solution to your dilemma. Willing Workers on Organic Farms (also well-known by its acronym, WWOOF) is a world-wide network of organic farms that welcomes honest, hard-working guests, providing free meals and accommodation in return for a set number of hours work daily - usually between four and eight. While it's probably not the holiday-of-choice for people who like their vacations to be luxurious and relaxing, it's a terrific and affordable option for those who love the great outdoors, learning new skills and making interesting new friends. Naturally, it's of particular interest to those who would like to learn more about a healthier, more environmentally sustainable lifestyle, since most property owners in the WWOOF network are dedicated to green growing principles like organics and permaculture.
Property-owners who are part of the WWOOF network are many and varied. Ranging from small urban orchards and hobby farms on the edge of suburbia to yoga ashrams, artist communities, tropical orchards and even outback stations, there's sure to be somewhere to grab your interest close to where you live. The work that volunteers are expected to do on these properties can range from weeding veggie gardens and replanting seedlings to fruit-picking, animal care, building and even cooking.
Like the property-owners, WWOOF volunteers are also difficult to stereotype. While membership is understandably popular with young international backpackers eager to experience a truly Australian way of life and save a few dollars, locals of all ages have recently also been discovering its many benefits. Long popular with environmental science students seeking like-minded friends and grey nomads travelling the country, couples wanting a tree or sea change are now also appreciating the chance WWOOFing provides to connect with and learn from others who've already left the city far behind.
If you're a family with young children it's best to check in your membership booklet which properties are prepared to accept kids. Be sure to confirm this when you contact the owners about a proposed visit. Since each property is privately owned and managed, rules, work times and expectations can vary dramatically. While some WWOOFer properties are quite happy to accept volunteers with young children, others are understandably more hesitant due to the risks and extra expense involved.
For anyone seriously considering to purchase WWOOFer membership, impeccable honesty and a strong work ethos is essential. While a sojourn on a WWOOF farm doesn't require cash, it's not a free holiday either. Guests must always keep this in mind and honour the reciprocal arrangement of working fairly for one's keep, as well as the privacy of the hosts. Living arrangements vary on each property. While WWOOFers sometimes live in a family's home, on other properties guest accommodation will be provided in a caravan or granny flat. Similarly, meal arrangements differ at each: sometimes they're shared with the owners while at others you're provided with the (usually freshly-grown) ingredients and cook for yourself.
For a WWOOFing holiday all you need is friendliness, enthusiasm and a spirit of cooperation. Hosts are usually interesting, well-travelled people with a genuine interest in the lives of others. As well as being enthusiastic about sustainable living and growing practices, many are also experienced in alternate building practices, home education, yoga, the arts and spirituality. If you love nature and aren't adverse to working hard, a WWOOFing holiday really can't be beaten.
As of May 2014, WWOOFing membership costs $70.00 per person. To learn more about WWOOFing in Australia, including contact and membership details, take a look at the WWOOF Australia website. If you'd like to try WWOOFing while travelling abroad, do an online search for the relevant country: for example, 'WWOOF Great Britain".