This post comes at the request of Alison of See My Travels. She has just finished her first WWOOF CA placement on a blueberry farm near Vancouver. I had made a comment on her post and she became interested in my experiences. So, here it is.
For those that don’t know WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and also Willing Workers on Organic Farms. Either way you look at it, it is a fantastic way to do something a little different, learn something new, meet interesting people and add to the experience of being in another country. It is also a great way to save a bit of money, because you work in exchange for food and accommodation.
I have enjoyed wwoofing. I like the feeling of contributing to something bigger than I am and I like learning and experiencing new things. I have done three WWOOF UK placements.
My first placement was suggested to me by a girl I had met in a hostel in London. She had just finished on the farm and had really enjoyed her experience. I took note of the name and kept it in mind. I did a bit of travelling and settled for the winter in Chippenham, Wiltshire. After 5 months of working it was time to get on the road again so I wrote to the farm that had been recommended to me, mentioned the girl’s name and organised my stay for a month. I had never done anything like this before but am always up for a new challenge.
It was February 2010, the weather was miserable, but I was heading to Cornwall, where the weather was meant to be a little better. I was picked up at Truro train station and taken to Cusgarne Organic Farm, in the tiny little hamlet of the same name. The surrounding area had a few cottages, the pub and bus stop was 2 miles away, the closest train station was a 40 minute walk and it is situated smack in between Truro and Falmouth.
Cusgarne runs an organic box scheme. They grow as much as they can but when the vegetables are not in season they order them in. They have their own organic meat and eggs, and the boxes are delivered all over Cornwall. At that time the farm was being run by the 17 year old daughter and there were 6 other woofers. We each had our own rooms, scattered all over the farm, we had our own common area, bathroom and kitchen, and we each took in turns cooking meals. We could help ourselves to as much of the vegetables as we wanted and other food was brought in for us twice a week.
Jobs included packing boxes in the morning, and then the rest of the day was weeding and preparing seedlings and beds, as well as some planting. I also volunteered to man the market stall once a week at the hall in Redruth. Work was 6 hours a day and when the time came we were told to put down what we were doing. We weren’t expected to do more than the allotted hours. (This is a common complaint from other wwoofers I’ve spoken too. They feel taken advantage of because they end up working more than what the food and accommodation is worth).
It was a really good group of people and not all work. We would walk to the pub some evenings. I had the opportunity to go on a delivery and see a lot of Cornwall with the driver playing tour guide. We had group trips out on the weekend and I spent time in both Truro and Falmouth, as well as a visit to the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Eden Project and a trip to Tintagel, a place on the coast associated with the legend of King Arthur.
My second placement was completely different. It was on a smallholding over the English boarder, near Oswestry, in Wales, with an English family. They were in the process of renovating the house and were living in the half finished rooms and an on-site static caravan. The father had been involved in setting up WWOOF in the UK and was very adamant that the experience was rewarding for everyone involved. I was the only wwoofer and spent two weeks with the family of three.
My work involved digging and preparing raised beds, planting and feeding the animals. They had three sheep that were pets. They had chickens and we went to pick up lambs on one of our many outings. I learnt a lot from my two weeks here, even though it seemed like I didn’t do very much actual work. The father wanted to make sure I saw as much of the area as we could squeeze into that time. He was a member of a gliding club (flying an aircraft that doesn’t have an engine), so there were a few trips to the airfield in Telford. We drove around Shrewsbury, he took me to see Llangollen Canal and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a world heritage site, as well as quite a number of other local places. Wales is just beautiful and in the end I got to see quite a bit of it.
My third and rather disastrous placement was in Scotland. It was at an organic brewery and after having worked a month in Worcestershire processing hops I was rather interested in the whole brewing process. I only lasted three days out of my intended month stay. The family had left a few days before my arrival so the farm, gardens and furniture restoration business was left in charge of the housekeeper. The brewery was separate and run by other people but was on the same site.
The family had left to console a family friend whose partner had just committed suicide, and to pick up their son who had just been expelled from a rather exclusive boarding school. The housekeeper didn’t have a good word to say about the family, and the only other wwoofer was a girl who didn’t know any better as this was her first placement. No one seemed to know what was meant to be done. The hours were long and food was scarce and at times non-existent. As I had spent time with someone who knew what WWOOF was about, I quickly decided this was not the place for me.
This post is longer than usual, my apologies, but it gives you an idea of my experiences as a WWOOFer. I learnt something from each placement and got to meet some interesting people. I intend to wwoof while in Canada but that won’t be until sometime next year. My only advice for people thinking about wwoofing is to do your research and ask LOTS of questions.
Try and get a sense of the people that you would be staying with. Some have very strong beliefs and strict ways of doing things. As you are essentially a guest you need to be sure you can respect the host’s wishes. Sometimes there isn’t internet access and there is a chance you will be taken advantage of, so try and get an idea about the farm and what is expected of you before arriving there. The experience should be mutually beneficial so be prepared to teach the host or other wwoofers about your culture as well as being open to learning about their lifestyle. Also have an idea of what you want to learn from your experience. Keep in mind that it isn’t just about the free food and accommodation, there is actual work involved.
Thank you to Alison for inspiring this post. Sorry if it is a bit long winded. I really wish I had some photos to put with it but my UK photos are in storage. I hope you enjoy the hyperlinks instead. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have a question or if would like to request a post about any of my previous travel experiences.