Life is about experiencing new things. For this reason, we decided to include learning and volunteering during our sabbatical. Firstly, Lars went to a language school for a month in Rio de Janeiro to learn Portuguese. As for volunteering, we chose to WWOOF in Canada. If you have never heard about WWOOF before, it’s volunteer work on organic farms. Why we chose it? Because we wanted a lifestyle change: connecting with nature, leaving behind the noisy city life, getting our hands dirty and, moreover, learning about organic food.
We are WWOOFing on a farm in Uxbridge, Ontario, one hour from Toronto. It has been an amazing experience so far! Our WWOOF host Toni is a very knowledgeable person and happy to teach us farming skills and how to eat clean. We are surrounded by nature and wildlife. We perform tasks from beekeeping and taking care of chickens to gardening and harvesting. Every day we have fresh eggs for breakfast, which we collect ourselves from the chicken coop, and for dinner, we have fresh vegetables that come straight from Toni’s garden. It’s simply wonderful! Curious about the WWOOF experience? We chat with our host Toni about this great concept.
What does WWOOF stand for?
WWOOF stands for “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms”.
For how long have you been a WWOOF host and how many WWOOFers do you host per year?
I’ve been a WWOOF host since 2010. Last year I’ve hosted 13 WWOOFers from different parts of the world such as France, Germany, Belgium, Japan, Korea, Australia, the Netherlands, and Brazil. It looks like this year I will host around the same number of WWOOFers.
Why did you decide to become a WWOOF host?
I’m a hobby farmer and my revenue is not high enough to justify paying for help. I have enough space in my house to host people and the willingness to teach them the work.
How would you describe the WWOOFing experience?
Every WWOOFer learns something. In my opinion, the most interesting is realising that the WWOOF experience somehow rekindles and connects some WWOOFers with past farm experiences. Once I had a WWOOFer that taught me how to take care of my raspberries, she had learnt it from her grandmother. So WWOOFing helps them to respect the sustainability skills they have heard or learnt in the past from their family but had never appreciated before WWOOFing. For people that have never been exposed to farming, it is an opportunity to learn about basic food production.
What do you offer to your WWOOFers?
I offer the opportunity to learn about sustainability and old-fashion agricultural skills, which can be used if ever modern technology fails us and the opportunity to learn organic food production.
What’s the average age of your WWOOFers?
Most of them are in their early twenties.
Are your WWOOFers like-minded?
Not all of them. Probably only about 20% of them are WWOOFing to pursue the WWOOF ideals and to learn about organic food. But most of them are WWOOFing because they want to travel and put a roof over their heads and food in their belly.
Some young people come to Canada through a “work and travel” agency and a WWOOF membership is included. When they cannot find work or when they are running out of money they decide to WWOOF. But the funny thing is once they try WWOOF they realize that it can be a great experience. It allows them to travel throughout the country, see different landscapes and learn amazing new things. So they decide to WWOOF for the duration of their trip.
So WWOOFing can be a more rewarding experience than they expect?
It can be. For some people can be an eye-opening experience and they learn to value the organic food and the value of hard work. For other people, it gives them the chance to experience for free things that would cost them a large amount of money, for example, horse riding, sledge dogs, driving tractors and looking after baby pigs, alpacas or sheep.
Would you WWOOF your self?
I would definitely WWOOF, it’s a wonderful experience.
Do your WWOOFers apply for the same reasons? What reasons do they give to WWOOF at your farm?
Some people send a very direct request, informing just the dates which they would like to come. Other people send an extended request explaining why they would like to come to my farm, for example, because they want to learn about beekeeping. Most of them want to WWOOF to connect with nature and disconnect from their busy lives.
What should someone that is planning to WWOOF for the first time expect?
Actually what they should expect is on the WWOOF website and they should read it well. I follow the WWOOF guidelines so, definitely, they should know that they have to work – 5 to 6 hours a day, 5 to 6 days per week. I would advise consulting the WWOOF host beforehand about any questions that they might have, for example, about clothing, transportation, shared room or work. WWOOFers shouldn’t expect to be totally entertained by the host – they have their free time in which they are able to do whatever they want.
Could you mention some “don’ts” when WWOOFing?
A WWOOFer needs to be flexible because agriculture is unpredictable.
For how long do you want to continue to host WWOOFers?
I would like to do it as long as I am practising organic agriculture.
Toni has also arranged another WWOOFing experience for us at her friend Sue, owner of Table Top organic farm in Baysville, Ontario. Our experience at Table Top was again excellent! We planted tomatoes, basils, pepper and saw them growing. Sue is also very knowledgeable when it comes to organic food conservation, and we helped her creating pestos, rhubarb jam, and mustard.
Thanks, Toni, Rob, and Sue for all the knowledge, time and great meals shared, we hope to see you again sometime soon!
Watch below a time lapse of our WWOOFing routine at Table Top Farm.
More about Canada? Get inspired here.