WWOOF your way to a new path in life
Want to see more of Australia, learn about organic farming and gain some valuable skills? You might want to try WWOOFing. No, it’s nothing to do with dogs (although they’re awesome, too): World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, (WWOOF) is a global movement that links volunteers with organic farmers and growers to provide cultural and educational experiences, all with the aim of helping to build a more sustainable world. But right now, WWOOFers could have an even more important role to play, with current labour shortages on our farms threatening harvests and farmers’ livelihoods across the country.
WWOOF was founded in the UK in 1971, and WWOOF Australia has been hosting WWOOFers from all over the world for the past 39 years. While we’re not open to international travellers right now, many Australians have also been embracing WWOOFing as a way to experience parts of the country they might not otherwise get to see; all while learning new skills and making new friends in the process.
“We have lots of Australians WWOOFing around the country,” says Lynette Vint from WWOOF Australia. “Gap year is a great time for WWOOFing, as many young adults are trying to decide what direction in life they want to take. With so many options available, it’s a great opportunity to try different skill sets and travel around Australia at the same time.”
The organisation also sees many older WWOOFers join their ranks – such as those who’ve decided that it’s finally time to act on a lifelong dream.
“Most of the time that’s to own their own property and be self-sufficient,” Vint says. “By spending time with various WWOOF hosts, they have the opportunity to learn how.”
WWOOFers don’t just help out on farms; they also get the opportunity to live with their host families, which helps volunteers to get the full experience of life on an organic farm first-hand. And you don’t need any particular skills to start WWOOFing – that’s the beauty of the organisation. The hosts are there to teach you and share the knowledge they’ve gained in setting up their own organic farms and sustainable lifestyles.
With many Australians now out of work, some are looking to WWOOFing as a way to explore new opportunities. And you might not have to travel as far as you think to take part. While there are hosts located all around Australia, they’re not just in rural and regional areas – there are opportunities to learn from those living a sustainable lifestyle in suburbia, too.
The experience you can gain from WWOOFing is incredibly diverse. Hosts work in a wide variety of industries, including winemaking, coffee production, oyster farming, wildlife refuges, aquaponics, essential oils and livestock.
But WWOOFing is not just an opportunity to learn about sustainable farming practices, it’s also the ideal way to gain a better understanding of where our food comes from.
“We have been so removed from natural foods,” Vint says. “We live in such a fast-paced world – when was the last time you stopped and thought about the food you’re putting into your mouth? When was the last time you thought about how that food will affect your body, not only in the short term, but long term?
“It’s so important to understand where our food comes from. Without clean, organic food, the body can’t function to its full potential. There’s a saying, ‘You are what you eat’ and we at WWOOF believe it’s true.”
For hosts, welcoming WWOOFers into their homes offers much more than just a helping hand around the farm. It’s also a chance for hosts to learn from their volunteers. The long list of glowing testimonials from both hosts and volunteers on the WWOOF website shows how much value everyone involved can gain from the experience.
Some former WWOOFers have gone on to become farmers in their own right, both here in Australia and overseas. Others have built such lifelong friendships that hosts have even been invited to WWOOFers’ weddings overseas, or have travelled to other countries or states to help former WWOOFers implement their own organic farming dream.
“This is a community of like-minded individuals,” Vint says. “Because of the friendships it creates, when WWOOFers go back home they know they can pick up the phone or shoot through an email to their host at any time. Our hosts are there to teach the skill sets required for this journey.”
COVID-19 has obviously restricted the influx of WWOOFers from overseas right now, but for WWOOF members overseas who are still hoping to plan a farm-based Aussie adventure, WWOOF memberships have now been extended from one year to two years, so it’s still possible to keep planning that big trip for when life gets back to normal.
Here at home, many Australians who had been considering a trip overseas are now looking to travel around their own states and territories. Vint says that WWOOF’s Australian membership numbers are greatly increasing, and that WWOOFers may even be able to help to fill the current labour shortages on farms.
“We’ve reached out to our local MP Darren Chester [Member for Gippsland, Victoria] on this matter and we are hoping for a positive outcome,” Vint says. “This is vital for our country. If we don’t have assistance for our farmers, when harvest time comes it can create a lot of heartache for farmers, and some will lose crops if we don’t sort this out soon.”
If you’ve been looking for a new direction, or just want to try a holiday with a difference, joining WWOOF might be just the experience you’re looking for. According to Vint, beyond the many skills that WWOOFers can gain, the most surprising benefits volunteers can expect is having the time to self-reflect and potentially reset their whole outlook on life.
“Australia is such an unusual country,” says Vint. “Between our culture, our wildlife and the differences between states, WWOOFers get to experience rural life, embrace the riches of local knowledge and meet the incredible characters who make Australia so unique.”
If you’d like to learn about sustainable living and organic practices and see more of the country while you’re at it, join WWOOF Australia today.