The WWOOF experience.
WWOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Their aim as an organisation is to connect organic farms to volunteers in a purely non-monetary, trust basis, to achieve a more sustainable and connected global community.
As a volunteer, you work with your host farm in a variety of tasks, which are not just limited to maintenance. There are plenty of testimonies on the WWOOF experience and how it was life changing, ground breaking or simply just enjoyable, however they’re never detailed enough, so I went ahead and I talked to Simon David, a 20 year old final year politics student who volunteered for two weeks in a farm near the coast, close to Bologna this summer.
I wondered why he wanted to do it in the first place, or anyone for that matter. Usually, it’s easier and probably more comfortable to book a package holiday if what you’re looking for is just to get out of the country. If the aim was to get volunteering experience, why do something that could entail heavy-duty manual labour, or the risk of ending up with a host you don’t like, or many other possible ways the experience could go wrong.
Simon, in a relaxed, low voice narrated the whole experience to me, and it was almost mesmerizing, so I’m going to narrate it to you-
This is not for everyone, that’s for sure. I like working outside with my hands, I get a deep satisfaction of seeing the fruits of my own work, feeling my sweaty forehead in the middle of the day and my tired muscles just before going to sleep, farm work is the best way to do that. On top of that, everything’s organic, the hosts eat what they grow and that’s what you get as well. You see things full circle, it’s hard to describe.
I chose Italy because I wanted to work somewhere with vineyards and olive trees. I love the Mediterranean diet and I felt like olives and wine are two of the core pillars. The family I stayed with had been there for 15 years and made their own wine as well, it’s just an art. They had WWOOF volunteers come from all over the world, some staying for a full year at a time.
I like to be separated from my day to day routine, back at home. Other WWOOFers would stay on their phones; carry them in their pockets all day whatever they were doing. Personally, I wanted to detach from everything for a while. It’s an adjustment in the first few days, but once you get used to it the structure of your day changes completely. It’s bizarre how much of our lives are dictated by the devices that are supposed to make it easier. Over there, I stuck to a simple routine that included the tasks for the day, the meal times and that was pretty much it, it was surprisingly liberating.
You’re never finishing something quickly to get onto the next task, you have to take your time, do everything meticulously. From breakfast from mid morning I’d be shovelling donkey shit, and I could have done it in 45 minutes but if it weren’t done well, you’d just have to come back and do it all over again. It’s just a completely different mind-set, the speed that dictates our normal lives is obsolete over there, you just have to do a good job every time, even if that meant I would be shovelling shit for 8 hours. It sounds unpleasant but you would be surprised how rewarding it can be to know it was a job well done, no matter how menial.
If I had a choice I definitely would have done it for longer. It’s a great way to see a country, explore different types of farming and people. It would be hard to do it for more than one month in the same place unless you really know the hosts. Hoping around is essential, there are so many different hosts, different routines and different methods of farming to explore.
If I had to complain about anything is that there were scorpions and I didn’t know there’d be any. I was moving rubble to clean out a barn and a scorpion crawled over my hand, it was horrifying. I later found out they were not poisonous and at most a bite from them feels like a bee sting, but as an aracnophobe I was really not feeling it.
Manual work takes a lot of concentration, but you also have a lot of room to think. A part of your brain is heavily focused whilst the other is reasoning, envisioning, dreaming and everything in between. You’re also giving a lot of thought to your choices, your life as it is in that moment. You actually have the time to think about things while you mind is occupied with the task, it’s not something you can do very often.
This experience is just something else. It really depends on the person, but I would definitely recommend it. Some people don’t like manual labour or being outside but if you’re into it, then don’t even hesitate. You learn so many things as you go as well, what you eat when you eat it and how it grew, why things grow, natural pesticides, food waste, its all so interesting.
Self-sustainable food growing definitely appealed to me before this experience, and more so after the fact, but I’ve seen how hard it can be. I think it’s an admirable lifestyle, I would love to get to that point, but for the time being, every small part helps. Whether you do it because it will taste better or because it feels good, it’s all worth it for your personal gain-
With that, the conversation ended and so did the topic, but it floated on my mind for the next few ours. It sounds so simple yet it was hard to wrap my mind around the whole experience, and with that I felt an incredible urge to go ahead and to it myself.
I’m not particularly keen on farm work or scorpions, yet for some reason the desire to be there and see it all for myself started to creep in; maybe reading Simon’s experience in his soft relaxed voice will spark that desire on you too.