Farming has never been my strongest suit, having been a city boy most of my life. When you live in a city like mine, the only nature you ever get to see comes from your science books, the internet, the parks near your home, or the sickly tree planted on the sidewalk as the local government’s attempt to go green.
And when it came to our traveling for our annual family vacations, we were the city mice through and through. I loved to travel, but my parents’ idea of traveling got old pretty fast. They went around foreign countries with a tour bus that always took us to tourist traps in the middle of the city. When you weren’t in a church or a museum or anywhere that showcased the country’s culture, the traffic, the bus, and even the food looked a lot like what I already had back home.
When I got old enough to travel on my own, I knew I wanted to experience something new and out of the way. You know what they say about traveling and how, if we wanted to experience a country’s authentic culture, we should skip the tour guides and talk to the locals? That was what I wanted.
And that was what I found when I discovered WWOOFing.
What Is WWOOFING?
Who knew that developing a green thumb and a few farming skills was key to discovering new places in many countries around the world? Well, that’s what WWOOFing promises to travelers interested in experiencing the organic farming and culture of the country they visit.
The World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms – commonly known as WWOOF – is a global network organization of organic farms offering farm owners the chance to host local and foreign travelers in exchange for extra hands to help them with their farming, as well as offering travelers the chance to become volunteers for organic farms.
The idea is similar to an Airbnb, but for people seeking farms where they can have their traveling experience. The Federation of WWOOF Organizations lists down all the possible farms around the world where WWOOFers can pick from, they find a host who will take them, they travel to that area, and they experience life in that area as an organic farm volunteer.
I went WWOOFing in the last few years, and while each one is a different experience, the idea is roughly the same regardless of destination. The premise is that you’ll help out on the farm in exchange for accommodation, food, and lots of cultural and educational experiences. It’s not a long-term job, but rather a cultural and educational exchange.
The farms available for WWOOFing vary according to the country you’re visiting and the host farm you’ve chosen. If you’re lucky, some farms will offer some cash and time to explore local sights. Your host will make sure you’re comfortable and safe as a token of your hard work. The cost of WWOOFing depends on which country you visit, since you will be responsible for acquiring a visa to enter the country, if applicable, as well as all the expenses for your transportation and other basic needs.
Is WWOOFing Safe?
Each WWOOF country has a WWOOF organization that connects hosts to potential guests but also ensures that WWOOFers have a safe and memorable experience. To become a WWOOF hosts, host applicants must undergo a rigorous application process and are evaluated with a detailed application for and a case-by-case evaluation.
However, because of the wide scope of the WWOOFing community, there are no in-depth background checks on both hosts and volunteers. Instead, it’s a self-monitoring community that trusts both parties are mindful of each other and operating for the right reasons.
While complaints are rare, all WWOOF organizations take complaints very seriously and ban memberships for both hosts and volunteers if found to be true. As a traveler, however, I’d recommend that you do a bit of research on the country’s social culture to avoid unnecessary complaints. What you consider as rude and intrusive of personal space may be regular culture in that country.
WWOOFing Around the World
If you’re up for the challenge and a new way of seeing the world, Southeast Asia offers plenty of opportunities. The region has the friendliest climate and terrain for heavy farm work, and the practices and traditions are so diverse that you won’t mind staying for a long time.
Here are top five SEA countries for aspiring WWOOFers:
Permaculture, a set of sustainable farming practices centered on land-based communities, is a growing movement in Cambodia. Organic farms are always on the lookout for anyone willing to help. You’ll not only learn essential skills in growing organic produce, but you will also be sharing your time and effort to help various local causes led by reputable NGOs.
All Cambodian hosts are located in rural countryside areas. Most of them focus on sustainable living, and you could learn a thing or two about zero waste during your stay here. In some of these farms, you’ll get the chance to interact with local organizations using farming as a means to help less fortunate Cambodians earn their living.
Find the most current list of WWOOF hosts in Cambodia here.
If you’re up for backbreaking work in the rice fields or helping save heirloom crops from extinction, the Philippines is an ideal choice. The country is rich in arable flatlands and organic farms, many of which are accessible tourist destinations. What’s more is that you’ll get a chance to work with people from around the world since it’s a go-to place for farm volunteers.
Having been established in 2008, WWOOF Philippines currently has 18 organic farmer and grower hosts. Because the Philippines consists of over 7,000 islands, each experience is different. Whether you visit a bamboo plantation in the landlocked region of Central Luzon or help produce honey, eggs, and wine in an orchard in Eastern Visayas, you’ll want to visit each of these WWOOFing farms during your travels.
Here’s a preview of WWOOF-certified hosts in the Philippines.
Indonesia is one of the first countries in Asia to adopt organic farming. As home to over 300 ethnic groups, it’s no surprise that the archipelago is teeming with indigenous farming cultures. In recent years, various NGOs and government agencies have made big efforts to support sustainable, ethical, and organic agricultural practices. And the best way to contribute to this and experience it first-hand is by volunteering on a farm.
Aside from the WWOOFing experience, a lot of these farms are also educational centers for locals. These farming centers teacher important lessons such as food entrepreneurship, environmental awareness, and preservation, and other lessons locals will need to sustain themselves or their small farms. If you’re interested in growing your own mini organic farm back home, Indonesia’s WWOOFING hosts are a good place to learn.
Check this list for more information about WWOOF hosts in Indonesia.
While the demand for organic food in Malaysia is growing, farmers are struggling with the supply. Partly because of the cost and manpower required to keep the farm operational and productive. Currently, the adoption rate among farmers is low, but several WWOOF hosts can offer a full experience.
Malaysia offers a wide variety of experiences. Learn how to compost, raise fish and shellfish, poultry, and other farm animals the organic way. Some of these farms are commercial farms that create their own products, while others are farms run by families to create organic food for themselves and the local community.
Here’s the list for WWOOF hosts in Malaysia.
Thailand is famous for its dazzling beaches, but its peaceful backcountry is also worth visiting. It also has one of the most organized and diverse WWOOF exchange in Southeast Asia. Discover this charming country while learning to live off the land by volunteering as a farm hand.
If you like yoga and meditation, you’ll find plenty of WWOOF farms that offer a retreat away from cities and urban noise in favor of serene farms in the country. One farm also offers to teach its volunteers meditation, yoga, and nutritional guidance.
Here’s a map of Thailand’s WWOOF-certified farms currently in search of volunteers.
Interested in WWOOFing?
Remember, you don’t have to go abroad to be a WWOOFer. Even in the United States alone, you can visit over two thousand organic farms if you’re planning on taking a vacation without leaving the country.
While it’s not as glamourous as going to the high-end destinations of a country, it’s an experience you’ll want to consider if you want to try a new way of learning about culture and the way the locals create organic food.
WWOOF also provides a cheaper and more immersive alternative to traveling. If working on any organic farm seems like an appealing idea to you, and you think you have the skills and mentality to do it, reach out to your area’s local WWOOF office and have your placement arranged.
A unique and rewarding learning experience awaits. Grab the change while you still can.
After graduating from university, Nikolaj went off to backpack across South East Asia to recharge himself for the next chapter of his life. Realizing there was more to explore, he ditched his return flight home and decided to wander some more. While he sees backpacking as an expression of freedom, Nikolaj gets easily attached to a place, and stay there longer than usual. Over the course of three years, he’s had several jobs, usually at hostels where he stays, bookstores, and restaurants. He’s met people from all walks of life and still keeps in touch with them. If he has time to spare, he reads and writes voraciously, much of which is dedicated to this blog.