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WWOOFING may not be a term that most people are familiar with, but this type of tourism has grown exponentially in recent years. An increased awareness in sustainable practices, a demand for slow tourism and a growing interest for unusual and unique experiences has led to the growth of the WWOOFING industry. But what is WOOFING?
In this post I will explain what we mean by the term WOOFING, explain why the WWOOFING industry has grown so much and give some examples of popular WWOOFING destinations.
What is WWOOFING?
WWOOFING stands for worldwide opportunities on organic farms. It is a form of homestay tourism, whereby the tourist works on the farm in exchange for free board.
WWOOFING has grown as an industry in recent years and is particularly popular in Australia, where many international tourists undertake agricultural work in order to extend the duration of their working holiday visa. Other popular WWOOFING destinations include the USA, Ireland and various places throughout Europe.
WWOOFING is also popular with budget and long term travellers as it provides the tourist with travel opportunities at a reduced cost.
This TED talk by Tomislav Perko explains how WWOOFING facilitates travel for those without much money.
The academic literature is not well developed in the area of WWOOFING. There are a few key studies (e.g. Deville, Wearing and McDonald, 2016; Cronauer, 2012; Greenman, 2012) and a couple of books that have chapters covering the topic of WWOOFING (e.g. Transformational Tourism: Host Perspectives and Transformational Tourism: Tourist Perspectives). But on the whole, there doesn’t appear to be a great deal of research on WWOOFING.
There are, however, several printed guides that take a more practical approach. These include The Practical Guide to WWOOFING, How to WWOOF: A brief guide to WWOOFing all over the world and Wwoofing Eh?. These are useful guides for anyone who is looking to take part in a WWOOFING project.
WWOOFING has been framed as an alternative form of tourism, providing a deep cultural exchange and the opportunity for hosts and tourists to learn from each other. It facilitates slow travel and is often classified as a form of volunteer tourism.
Some organisations are reluctant to define WWOOFING as a type of tourism. This is due to its commercial nature and the perception that tourists may not be dedicated and serious workers.
Based on the available literature, I define WWOOFING as follows:
‘Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOFING) facilitates a deep cultural exchange between farmer and tourist in the form of a working relationship within the context of the tourism industry. The benefits of WWOOFING are reciprocal: the tourist has an authentic cultural and meaningful experience; facilitating slow tourism or a working holiday and the farmer is provided with free labour to undertake his agricultural work.‘
History of WWOOFING
WWOOFING originated in the United Kingdom in 1971. Sue Coppard founded the idea of farm working in this way by promoting the concept of ‘Working Weekends on Farms’. This was later changed to Worldwide Organic Farming.
With a love for the countryside, Sue set up a agreements between farmers and people living in urban areas that allowed people to escape to the countryside on the weekends for free in exchange for their labour on the farms where they would stay.
What started out as a weekend project, turned into something much more over the coming years. Framers realised the business potential that was gained through offering WWOOFING opportunities and many more farmers started to run such projects.
Nowadays there are WWOOFING projects running in 210 countries around the world.
How does WWOOFING work?
Unfortunately there is no local database for WOOFING and as such, it is difficult to accurately measure the size and scale of the industry. Instead, those who want to become WWOOFERS must register with the WWOOFING network in their country of choice. Here they will pay an application fee to gain membership to the WWOOFING network in that country.
The WWOOFING network then allows for farmers to be matched with volunteers. The farmer will provide accommodation (and usually food), and in exchange, the tourist will provide labour.
There are some autonomous WWOOF farms that have no national WWOOF network. These farms are registered on the International WHOOF Association database as independents.
The tourist will continue to work on the farm for an agreed amount of time, providing labour as requested by the farmer.
Most WWOOFING establishments will have on site accommodation for their workers. Some farms will have many workers and these will often have a purpose-built building(s) where tourists stay. Smaller farms may simply have a spare room in their house where the tourist sleeps.
Some farmers will provide food and other hospitality arrangements also.
Working hours differ depending on your WWOOFING placement. On average, most working days last 4-5 hours.
Most farms will require their WWOOFERS to stay for a minimum of a week. Stays can range up to a few weeks or even months. The length of the stay is often related to visa requirements, such as the second year working holiday visa in Australia.
Benefits of WWOOFING
WWOOFING can have many advantages to both the tourist and the host. Here is a list of some of the main benefits.
- A deep cultural exchange is facilitated
- Tourist has an authentic experience
- The tourist can develop new skills
- Opportunities for camaraderie
- Chance to make new friends
- It looks good on a tourist’s CV
- It can help to secure a relevant visa
- It saves the tourist money
- It facilitates a slow tourism experience
There are, of course, also the obvious benefits to the farmer, whereby they save money on labour.
For more information on the benefits of WWOOFING and other voluntary work opportunities, I recommend that you take a look at this post- 10 Reasons why you should volunteer: The benefits of volunteer tourism.
WWOOF horror stories
Unfortunately, there are also some WWOOFING horror stories. In fact, one of these was quite close to home for me because it happened to a friend of mine! You can read her story here.
There are many stories of farmers with unrealistic expectations, poor hygiene, unsuitable work requests, exploitative behaviours and so on.
Read also: What is ‘begpacking’ and why is it so bad?
It is important, therefore, that tourists do their research as much as possible before committing to a WWOOFING project. However, we can never truly know what will happen during every WWOOFING experience.
The problem is that there is no regulation of the WWOOFING industry. Rather, it relies on an implied code of conduct. Therefore, it is liable to abuse by either party (the farmer or the tourist). The video below provides a few examples of negative WWOOFING experiences.
As I said earlier, WWOOFING occurs the world over. However, it is naturally more prominent in some countries than others.
If you take a look on the WWOOFING database, Australia has more than 2700 hosts. New Zealand has approximately 2400 and the United States has more than 2000 WWOOFING opportunities. The United Kingdom has just short of 1000 WWOOFING hosts.
Below is a short summary of the WWOOFING industry in some of the popular destinations.
WWOOF Australia was established in 1981 and is 100% Australian owned and run.
WWOOF Australia promote WWOOFING as an opportunity to leave the tourist trail behind and see the ‘real Australia’. WWOOFERS can visit places that are off the beaten track and have a grassroots experience with the locals.
Australia can be an expensive country to travel in, so WWOOFING enables tourists to save money on travel expenses and to prolong their travels. It is particularly popular with young tourists who are taking a gap year.
There are a range of WWOOFING opportunities in Australia ranging from working on plant farms in the Northern Territory to helping out in vineyards in Western Australia and taking care of alpacas in New South Wales. This post on the Matador website gives a good overview of the top ten WWOOFING opportunities in Australia.
You can find more information on the Australia WWOOF website.
WWOOFING New Zealand
Similarly to WWOOF Australia, there are a wide range of WWOOF opportunities in New Zealand.
This website claims that most backpackers will take part in a WWOOF programme on their travels in New Zealand, although I’m not sure that’s quite true. Nonetheless, it is big business in the country.
Like Australia, New Zealand can be a very expensive dive country to travel in, so WWOOF provides travel opportunities for those who may otherwise be unable to afford to travel in New Zealand.
WWOOF opportunities in New Zealand include working with organic produce on vegetable farms in Wanaka, feeding, herding and milking cattle in Marlborough and weeding, planting, processing almonds in Eastland.
You can find out more information on the WWOOF New Zealand website.
WWOOFING United States of America
The WWOOF-USA Host Farm Directory lists over 2000 organic farms and gardens across the country.
Any farm, community or garden project using organic methods that would like to participate in a cultural and educational exchange may join the program, which is open to any tourist over age 18.
WWOOF farms in the USA offer a variety of WWOOF opportunities including growing vegetables, beekeeping, building straw bale houses, working with animals and making wine.
There are farms in all 50 states, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
You can find more information on the WWOOF USA website.
Hawaii is a popular destination for WWOOFING due to the areas alluring beaches and volcanic landscape.
There are almost 200 listing on the WWOOF Hawaii website, which is a huge number for such a small landmass!
WWOOF Hawaii is available all year round but opportunities may vary depending on the main season for the crops that they have. Winter (November-April) is most popular for those who want to get away from the cold. Summer is popular with families with school children.
WWOOFING programmes in Hawaii will typically include tasks which involve harvesting fruit, planting vegetable plants, perennials and trees, caring for livestock, digging irrigation, working in greenhouses, composting and light maintenance of grounds and buildings.
You can find more information on the WWOOF USA website.
WWOOF Spain offers WWOOFERS the opportunity to work on one of more than 300 active organic farms who are using organic methods in search of sustainability.
WWOOFING in Spain is popular amongst long term travellers in Europe.
Spanish WWOOFING offers tourists the opportunity to work on farms harvesting olives, weeding and taking care of livestock, amongst other responsibilities.
You can find more information on the WWOOF Spain website.
WWOOF France boasts more than 1800 separate WWOOFING opportunities for tourists.
Common WWOOF opportunities in France will include responsibilities such as feeding the chickens and collecting eggs; feeding and walking dogs and caring for other animals, such as cats and donkeys; gardening work (planting, weeding, watering, harvesting etc) and working in greenhouses. You may also be allocated jobs working in fruit fields or in vineyards.
You can find more information on the WWOOF France website.
WWOOF Italia is an association which was founded in 1999. WWOOFING is very popular in Italy, allowing tourists to experience an authentic and culturally immersive Italy.
Italy is a particular popular WWOOF destinations due to its spectacular landscape and culinary delights. There are many personal anecdotes found on this internet of people’s WWOOFING experience in Italy including Diana’s account of WWOOFING in Basilicata and Gabi’s story of her experiences WWOOFING in Liguria.
You can find out more information on the WWOOF Italy website.
Portugal is another destination that is popular for WWOOFING. There are a range of farms in a variety of sizes. Farms generally either focus around plants or livestock. There are also many vineyards in Portugal that WWOOFERS could be based in.
You can find out more information on the WWOOF Portugal website.
Another expensive country to travel in, Japan is a popular choice for WWOOFERS. There are WWOOFING programmes all over the country.
Japan boats a successful WWOOF industry and this was regcognised in 2018 when WWOOF Japan received an award from The Organization for Urban-Rural Interchange Revitalization. The competition and the award associated is called “All Right Nippon”. (Nippon means ‘Japan’ in Japanese.) Through this award the WWOOFING industry is Japan was recognised as a new style of sustainable tourism.
You can find out more information on the WWOOF Japan website.
WWOOF India was started in 2007 by Harish Chander Tewari, a member of SEWAK, which is an Uttarakhand-based NGO promoting organic agriculture and local handicrafts.
There are more than 200 farms based in 16 states across India, providing WWOOFING opportunities on tea and coffee plantations, spice estates, fruit orchards, and vegan agricultural communities.
Many of the WWOOFERS who visit India choose to do more than their 4-6 hours of work each day to help the local community. Volunteers will often donate items such as street lights, pumps and benches, for example. Other WWOOFERS help with maintenance work or help to sell their hosts’ organic products. Some WWOOFERS volunteer to teach English to local children.
You can find out more information on the WWOOF India website.
As you can see, WWOOFING is big business! The WWOFING industry worldwide has grown considerably in recent years and this trend is set to continue. However, I would caution that there is a need for some kind of regulation to bet in place to help avoid some of the negative WWOOFING stories that were outlined in this post. With some careful tourism planning and management, WWOOFING can bring advantages to both the tourist and the host as well as the wider economy, society and environment.
If you want to learn more about WWOOFING, I recommend the following texts.
- Transformational Tourism: Host Perspectives – this academic text includes a section on WWOFING from the farmer’s perspective .
- Transformational Tourism: Tourist Perspectives – this academic text includes a section on WWOOFING from the tourist’s perspective.
- The Practical Guide to WWOOFING – a great practical guide for anybody considering committing to a WWOOFING project
- How to WWOOF: A brief guide to WWOOFing all over the world – A useful guide to WWOOFING
- Wwoofing Eh? – An interesting and personal account of Jake’s WWOFING experience