What is WWOOF?
WWOOF or ‘Worldwide opportunities on organic farms’ is a cultural/language/work exchange programme that allows you to work on organic farms all over the world. For a small, yearly-subscription fee, WWOOF puts you in contact with farms in your chosen destination.
From anywhere from a week to a month, you volunteer on a farm and in exchange, the farm provides you with food and accommodation. What work you do, depends on what country you’re in, what time of year it is, what the weather is like and what your farm specialises in. I ‘WWOOFED’ in Normandy, France, for a cider and bread farm.
My WWOOF experience
I have been learning French for two years and I needed a break from my everyday 9-5 life, so I decided to do WWOOF. Some of my Francophile friends have done it and sung its praises. After looking at farms in Bretagne, Bourgogne and Normandy, I finally settled on the Ferme de la Saane in the Norman town of St Denis D’Aclon.
I wanted to make the most of it, so I signed up for a month. The farm was run by husband and wife, Matthias and Elisabeth Verdure. They were great hosts who provided me with everything I needed. Elisabeth was a great cook, cooking things like mussels, pasta bakes, fish pies and home-made pizza. And, of course, at the end of every meal we had bread and cheese. This was the best thing about France. Obviously what food you receive is dependent on the actual country and farm.
Also, there was another WWOOFER, Nathaniel, a young French man, who was finishing up his time as I arrived. He was very friendly and showed me the ropes. In terms of accommodation, Nathaniel and I slept in a caravan, which was small and cosy. Although after Nathaniel left, I had the caravan to myself. Considering I wasn’t paying a penny for it, it was more than adequate for my needs.
While Elisabeth handled the domestic side, Matthias oversaw the farm work. My work varied day to day, but a lot of it revolved around apples – we were a cider farm after all. I spent most of my time picking apples and washing bottles.
However, I also weeded, gardened, cleaned, mucked out the animals, collected firewood and acted as a groom. Every week, my farm provided horse and carriage rides to groups of people with mental disabilities. It was my role to clean the road of any blockages and to open and close the farm gate.
I was very nervous about going to France. Although my speaking French is passable, my listening is awful. I can make myself understood, but I can’t understand when anybody speaks to me. I had to keep reminding myself that I was there to improve my listening. But my fears were completely unfounded.
Matthias, Elisabeth and Nathaniel were very patient with my French. They didn’t rush me and were happy to speak in English if necessary. And only after two weeks, my French improved enough for me to have simple conversations. Overall, it was a great experience and my French truly benefitted.
Why you should do WWOOF
Short answer? It’ll be something completely different than what you’ve done before. It was for me in any case. I’m from London and the most experience I have of the French countryside is the week I spent in Bergerac. But that was nothing like my time in Normandy. Everything was new and different and that’s what made it exciting. It’s a cliché to say that the way of life in the country is far more relaxed than the city, but it’s completely true. What I loved most about the country is being able to see the stars at night.
It’s also a great way of authentically seeing a new country. Rather than going to a capital city like Paris and doing all the generic tourist things, you can live like the locals. You adopt their lifestyle and it is far more rewarding. You have the time to do what you want to do rather than sticking to any strict schedule. I regularly cycled through the gorgeous French countryside to the coast. By doing so, I was able to see France in a way that might not be discussed in a tourist brochure. It gave me a far more genuine perspective of France and the French.
It’s also a cheap way to travel and to see a new country. Obviously how much money you spend will depend on what country you visit and your own circumstances. However, I found that as I didn’t need to pay for my accommodation or meals, I was barely spending any money at all. True, I still had to pay for my travel and work clothes, which you will have to do too, but overall, this has been one of the cheapest trips I have taken in a long time.
It’s great if you’re learning a new language. The old cliché that everybody speaks English is only true of a certain generation and if you’re in the city. The further in the country you go, the further immersed in the native language you are. And the great thing about the human mind is that over time, it adapts to new circumstances. So, like me, you may be nervous at first, but after a while, your speaking and listening will definitely improve.
And remember you’re working there as a volunteer. That means you can work at your own pace, doing the jobs that you want to do. You’re there to give a helping hand, nothing more. Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at first. That’s why you’re there. To learn new things.
So, if you’re looking to do something completely different, meet new people, do new things, get off the beaten track and improve your language skills, sign up to WWOOF. Like the great Edif Piaf said “je ne regrette rien.”
Originally published on Hungry Little Travellers.