WWOOF: Family-Friendly Eco-Travel (Frugal, Too!)

What would you say if I told you there was a way to take a trip with your whole family without breaking the bank?  Not only would this trip be affordable, it could also potentially include:

• your choice of destinations all over the world
• a chance to get to know the locals
• delicious, healthy, organic meals cooked by your host
• the opportunity to learn firsthand about growing organic food
• deeper family bonds as you work together as a team with a common goal
• a more intimate connection with the natural world

…all for just the price of getting there and back! Would you like to know more? If so, then you need to know about WWOOF-ing.

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

WWOOF is an acronym that stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It is a network of farmers, both large and small, who are committed to organic practices and want to educate and inspire others by offering a work-live exchange to travelers. The details will vary, but in most cases, the farm will provide the workers with room and board in exchange for helping out on the farm.

Photo by strikeael

Some farmers will let you come for as little as a week, some will want a bit longer commitment, and some are hoping you’ll stay for a whole growing season. Some want you to work four hours a day; some, six or eight hours. Each farmer will have a different set of expectations that you’ll want to make sure you understand in advance. In exchange, they will usually provide you with three square meals, some time to get to know the local culture and sight-see, and a place to lay your head.

Work on a Farm? Can Families Do This?

Again, it depends on the farm, but, yes, families can definitely go WWOOF-ing! Many farms in the WWOOF network welcome families with open arms. They recognize the amazing opportunity they have to help educate the next generation about organic farming and the importance of sustainable living, and they know that getting kids on board with their vision is one of the best ways to impact the future.

Photo by strikeael

Imagine the impact on your children if they could spend a week or two getting their hands dirty by working on a real live organic farm! Not only that, but working hard together – side by side with mom, dad, and siblings – offers a rich family experience that also builds character in ways that the average family vacation simply can’t touch.

WWOOF-ing It In Ireland

In 2006, my husband and I had the opportunity to work on a farm in Ireland.  We only had one week to spare, and through the WWOOF network we found a bed-and-breakfast in the Wicklow Mountains that was in the off-season, and they were looking for some help.  In addition to their organic veggie garden, they also had a cut-your-own organic Christmas tree farm, and we ended up planting about 600 Christmas trees that week!

The organic veggie farm at the bed-and-breakfast in Ireland

We worked for six hours a day, which still left us plenty of time to explore the village, have our share of tea and biscuits, and throw back some Guinness in the local pub.  Our hosts were quite gracious; one day, when the ground was too frozen to plant, they simply said, “Oh well!  There are a lot of books in the living room, and a fire is going; pull up a chair!”  We had great conversation each night at dinner and enjoyed the fresh, local fare immensely.

Although we had no children of our own at the time, we were part of the WWOOF network for a whole year, and over the course of that year I heard many stories from different families who were WWOOF-ing with children, and having a wonderful time.

Tips for a Successful WWOOF Experience

1.  Visit WWOOF.org to learn more about the network. This site has links to the WWOOF regional networks around the world: North & Central America, South America, Europe-Middle East, Africa, and Asia-Pacific.  When you’re ready, you will pay a small joining fee for the network you’re interested in, which gives you access to information about the farms in that WWOOF network and the necessary contact info.

2.  Do your research and your homework.  Talk to the farmers and find out what their expectations are. Some farmers have become disgruntled and left the WWOOF network after too many bad experiences with people who came to their farm and wanted free room and board without any work.  Each farm sets their own rules, so make sure you know what you’ll be expected to do – and conversely, make sure you know what they will provide to you in exchange.  If you need three meals a day but they only provide two, you’re going to get pretty hungry!

3.  If you plan to bring children, ask first. Let the farmer know how many children you have and their ages, so that together you can determine whether their farm is a good fit for your family.  Some farms simply cannot accommodate any children; some will welcome children of a certain age and older, and some have no preference.  Communication is key.

Photo by strikeael

As our family expands, we look forward to the day when we will again join the WWOOF network and spend some time working together on an organic farm – this time, with the whole family!

Have you ever participated in the WWOOF network? Would you ever consider it?

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14 Comments

  1. Kara

    This sounds so cool! I don’t know if I’d ever do it though; I don’t have much free time away from my job.

  2. Stephanie P

    Okay, now I totally want to do this instead of “regular” vacations! This sounds like the way to truly see and experience the world and its cultures…I know staying at a local Marriott doesn’t give me the same feel as when I stay with a friend living internationally.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Kara Fleck

    I hadn’t heard of this either, but the idea really makes sense and sounds like a lot of fun, too!

    I’m not sure we’d do it as a family vacation until our kids are a little older, but it certainly sounds like something to keep in mind for the future 🙂

    Thanks, Katie!
    .-= Kara Fleck’s last blog: At the Craft Table with Rae Grant: Forever Blowing Bubbles =-.

  4. Primal Toad

    Wow! This sounds like a dream come true. I plan on traveling around the world throughout 2011. Going to somewhere like Ireland and doing this would be an unbelievable experience and one that I would love to death.

    Thanks A LOT for sharing this! This is without a doubt something I will be doing in the near future!!!!!!! 🙂
    .-= Primal Toad’s last blog: What Is The #1 Thing You Are Grateful For? For Me, It’s Life =-.

  5. Kristie

    What a golden opportunity! This sounds like a great vacation and learning experience.

  6. sarah

    katie- i think you will be interested to read this article from the new york times last month, if you haven’t already seen it:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/06/opinion/06kristof.html

    it talks about new recommendations from the white house coming out that emphasize the dangers of agricultural chemicals, BPA, unfiltered water, especially in relation to their impact on cancer.

    its not new news for some of us, but its good that the message is being more widely spread!
    .-= sarah’s last blog: christ and creation: is it biblical to care for the environment? =-.

  7. Julia

    I’ve never heard of this kind of vacation before, but I like it! These stays seem cost-effective and beneficial for developing a balanced work and play ethic. I would much rather try this than blow big money at Disney World!

  8. Steph

    This sounds fantastic! I had never heard of this organization before- very cool!
    .-= Steph’s last blog: AMP One-Size Duo Cloth Diaper =-.

  9. Nina

    this is awesome. thanks for sharing.

  10. abbie

    I have never heard of an agriculture work-vacation, though I had heard of other types of work-vacations. this kind sounds like a great experience for children (if the work is appropriate.) I love the idea of being productive, getting out doors, and connecting with the earth a bit. I am going to have to check this out, and my do some convincing of my husband that this is a good idea. 🙂 thanks for sharing!

  11. Sandra Lee

    We have a number of organic farms in our area, which often have people visiting and working for periods of time. I don’t know if they are a member of WWOOF or not. This is such a terrific idea and such a great way to learn about organic farming!
    .-= Sandra Lee’s last blog: Reducing your oil use =-.

  12. Nicole

    Thanks, Katie! This looks awesome! Definitely something to consider for when kids are older!

  13. Herbwifemama

    I’ve heard of this before, but I’ve never considered it as an option for a family vacation. Most of the opportunities I found were for longer periods. But I would LOVE to do this. And take my kids with me! This has renewed my interest in this as a viable option for us as a family. Going to look into it more! 🙂

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