I’ve been surprised – since I started banging on about it – by how many people have never heard of WWOOFing. A common response to first hearing the word is a feigned confusion with ‘dogging‘, which, although it has begun to wear a little thin now, was hilarious when I first heard it. Really. I still have a nurse visit me every couple of days to tend the debilitating wounds in my sides.
WWOOFing has nothing to do with dogging. Don’t be silly. Here’s a little video…
WWOOFing was established in England in 1971 when a London secretary called Sue Coppard had the idea of providing city dwellers – such as herself – with the opportunity of getting out into the countryside and becoming involved in the organic movement. At that time WWOOF stood for ‘Working Weekends on Organic Farms’ and it consisted of four people helping out on one bio-dynamic farm at Emerson College in Sussex. As it became more popular and people began to extend their stays, the name was changed to ‘Willing Workers on Organic Farms’. Unfortunately, the word ‘work’ and the fact that no money was actually changing hands caused employment officials in some countries to become confused and angry, and so the meaning changed again to ‘World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms’, which is cheating slightly, as ‘worldwide’ is only one word, no matter what the ‘World Wide Web’ tells you.
So from these very humble beginnings, with four people travelling an hour outside of London, the WWOOF organisation now encompasses tens of thousands of farms in close to 100 countries. Which sounds complicated. But isn’t. It’s actually remarkably simple.
Here’s how it works. You join the WWOOF organisation specific to the country you want to work in and you receive a list of all the farms that have signed up to accept voluntary workers. I paid €25 for the Italian list, which had around 500 farms on it.
Once you have your list, you read through it and find the places that inspire you the most and you write to them.
One thing you should know is that there is a wide range of organisation-types that would like your help. They range from single people with a spare room and a few vegetables in a patch to international movements and spiritual communities. They range from this…
‘Help needed all year in the fields, greenhouses, in the woods, with planting, harvesting, clearing land, building fences and with repairing traditional stone walls. We have 2 donkeys. After work you can relax playing music, singing, dancing, telling stories, spinning wool … we do not have TV!’
‘We are primarily a Spiritual Community. We are about 30 people working in different sectors. The existential quest is the most important factor. We are open to a discussion of sharing but we are also aware that there is a True collaboration. If you come here you should not come looking for a holiday but for an opportunity for interior growth. Our lifestyle is KARMA YOGA, the path of action….’
‘Il Sogno di un Uomo Ridicolo (in English “The dream of a ridiculous man”) is an ecovillage project. We are a family with four very cheerful, friendly, lively, noisy children. Two dogs, three cats, three goats, geese, ducks, chickens and a tortoise … Our goal is to be able to live simply, in harmony with the countryside, and in a true relationship with nature … to be independent as much as possible, not slaves of a society that embraces getting fat, every day eating away at our our bodies, our minds and our souls. We live without fast technology in a humble and simple way … We want to meet people who help us to grow in this direction … maybe people who then decide to share our project, our dream of a ridiculous man!’
‘In the heart of the Tosco Emiliano Apennines at an altitude of 1000m we try to live in harmony with the sky, the sun, the animals, the woods and each other. We are part of the community of the Elves, we are adults and children between 1 and 50 years of age with a grandmother who comes for the summer. We cultivate the land using natural methods and have two donkeys, chickens and cats.’
And a great many things in between.
So you arrange to visit the farm or project of your choice – a period of anything between a few days and a number of years – and you go.
The thing that a lot of people can’t get their head around is that the work you do is unpaid. Shortly before I came away, I met a man on a bus to Chesterfield who said he couldn’t imagine working without getting paid. It just didn’t compute. That’s what work is for many people – indeed that’s what life is for many people – money in exchange for time spent doing something for someone else. I know a lot of people who share this opinion. I don’t share this opinion. Most of the work I have done in my life has been largely unpaid – or at least paid very, very badly. This is why I don’t have enough money to renew my passport. HAHAHA!
But this is also why I am currently lying in the shade of a palm tree in a small town near Lecce sipping a cold beer and considering another swim. If I was still in London, let’s say editing a legal magazine in an air-conditioned office just off Oxford Street, I would be earning fairly decent money, but – and it’s a big but – I would still be in London, editing a legal magazine in an air-conditioned office just off Oxford Street.
Instead, I worked for four hours this morning, weeding, cutting grass and separating peas from stones and whatnot. Now I have the rest of the day to do what I like, and the swimming pool is calling me.
So there you have it.
I am skint. I am aching. I am tanned. I am happy. I am WWOOFing.