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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