So You Want to WWOOF: 3 Tips to volunteering on your first organic farm.
It’s cold in New England now. The trees are bare and darkness comes early, and it’s just a matter of time until the first big snow. Weather reports from central Italy are no different. For farmers in Tuscany, the race is on to finish their olive harvests or prepare their properties for winter. Since arriving home in mid-October, I have received weekly emails from WWOOF Italia passing on “S.O.S” notices from Italian organic farms in need of a few extra hands to help sustain their livelihood, and I know now that with a short email message to one of the farms I could be back in Italy for an extended, budget stay.
“Ciao, I need help from WWOOFers…collecting firewood, in the house and vegetable garden. I only speak Italian. I will do everything I can to make your stay comfortable but I am a shepherd who has lived alone for many years with my sheep and am a man of few words! I can, however, teach you a great deal. Minimum stay three weeks,” a farmer in Modena writes. Another states simply, “Salve, help needed with our olive harvest from 9-16 December, Grazie.” Worldwide Work On Organic Farms or WWOOF is not indicative to Italy, in fact, WWOOFing can be found the world over. From America to Thailand, volunteers agree to work on farms, wineries and agro tourism establishments in trade for room and meals.
In September, Beth and I volunteered at Fattoria Cerreto Libri, a biodynamic farm and winery near Florence. For two weeks we worked the grape harvest, picking red and white varietals in the morning and mid-afternoon in vineyards older the United States. Perched on a hill overlooking the one-pub town of Pontassieve, we as well as six other WWOOFers resided in a beautiful 19th century stone guest house. Lunches felt like a family-affair. Wine and conversation flowed freely throughout the amazing three-course lunches, which were always followed by café and an occasional homemade desert before heading back out to the fields. Initially, we had only planed on staying 10 days, but with work still to be done, and nowhere in particular to go, Beth and I decided to stay and help for several extra days (for pictures and more details about our time on the farm check out: WWOOFing in Italy).
Budgeting for extended travel can be difficult, especially in European hot spots, like France, England and Italy. Before and after we volunteered, we ate a lot of pizza, paninis, and cheese and bread (as seen in Eating Cheap in Europe)—basically any cheap staple food we could find—occasionally splurging on more expensive dinners, but even then we never felt the quality justified the price, nor was it the best representation of a region’s cuisine. WWOOFing changed that. If you’ve been wondering how to get involved in WWOOFing, but weren’t sure where to start, we’ve compiled a few tips below to help you out.
Too Legit to Quit:
Once you decide where you want to WWOOF, the next step is to visit that country’s site, for example, www.wwoofitalia.com for WWOOF Italia, and pay, currently $25, for the yearly membership, which will give you access to the 2010 WWOOF Italia farm list. You will be required to present your membership card to your host during your stay. Alternatively, at least with WWOOF Italia, your membership card can be mailed to your host’s address if you are away from your permanent residence.
Don’t Fake the Funk on a Nasty Dunk:
In other words, be realistic about what you need to make your stay work for you. For example, if you need internet or WiFi, make sure you ask your host prior to accepting to volunteer at their farm if it’s available. Also, understand that you are there to work. If you are going to volunteer during a grape harvest in Italy, then you will most likely work 6-8 hours Monday-Saturday. Most farms on the WWOOF list give a detailed explanation of your duties, but if you have any questions or are unsure, just send the potential host an email asking about what their expectations are of volunteers.
Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride:
“SOS, a lot of farms need help for the olive harvest urgently, most of them because they have been let down by WWOOFers canceling at the last minute or not bothering to turn up at all…PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS,” stated a recent email from WWOOF Italia. It’s imperative that if you commit to a host, you follow through. By flaking or canceling, you are messing with the farmer’s livelihood. These aren’t large corporations, they are family businesses and their commitment to organic farming depends on volunteers, so if you have any doubts about fulfilling your commitment, then do not agree to work.
Getting involved in WWOOFing is incredibly easy and, as I said earlier, a great way to extend your budget, especially in more costly areas, while giving back and supporting healthier environments for farmers and their families.
Note from Beth:
Please wwoof – we LOVED it and I can’t wait to do it again. It was a great experience and one I’ll never forget. I have a lot more pictures and posts coming up here about our time wwoofing in Italy so stay tuned.
*Please remember all photos on this website are copyrighted and property of BeersandBeans.com, NarikosNest.com & Bethany Salvon. Please do not use them without my permission. If you want to use one of them please contact me to ask first because I do love to share and I would be flattered. Thanks!