We here at IT know it all too well, but let’s face it – traveling is an expensive hobby. From plane tickets and lodging to food and extracurriculars, wanting to see the world can put a big hole in your pocket. But in 1971, organic farm supporter Sue Coppard got sick of not being able to afford to see the countryside, so she started a work-exchange program that has been going strong – and saving travelers money – ever since.
Originally called "Working Weekends on Organic Farms," WWOOF began as a weekend-long program in the U.K., allowing WWOOF members to work on organic farms for a couple of days in exchange for free room and board. After WWOOFers (as these volunteers are officially called) decided a weekend was not nearly long enough to suit their travel needs, the organization became "Willing Workers on Organic Farms" and eventually, expanding beyond the U.K., "World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms."
Here’s how it works: Travelers pay a small membership fee for each country they are visiting, or they can pay one fee to join WWOOF Independents for access to hosts in 43 countries. Travelers then receive a list of host WWOOF farms that they can contact. These farms have agreed to give participants food and accommodation in exchange for 4-6 hours of work per day of their stay. After a farm agrees to host a traveler, all the traveler has to do is show up, ready for work.
Today there are national WWOOF organizations in more than 20 countries (including New Zealand, China, and Costa Rica), as well as many other WWOOF independent hosts in countries like Romania, Tonga, Zambia, and Ecuador.
One Kiwi WWOOFer liked her experience so much, she just wrote a book (due out this month) about the 40 farms she worked on over a two-and-a-half year period.
While WWOOFers do not get paid (it is a service exchange program, not a job), it’s a great way to save money and give back to the regions you are visiting. And besides, there are few better ways to meet locals and test out great free authentic food.
- Nat Geo Expeditions