WWOOF work-stay program trades hard work for free travel, cultural enrichment
Story & photos
by P.M. Fadden
There are WWOOF connections to be had the world over. For information on the locations in the United States, go to
For international travel and work, see
Hosts and volunteers are linked via cataloged membership.
See farm and volunteer photo galleries.
Read participant testimonials and comments on current WWOOF topics.
|It’s 7:30 a.m. and the locals seem restless. The piercing sun of a windswept Kenai morning evokes from their goat eyes nervous apprehension. They’re unfamiliar with the man at their udders.|
In ambles Terry Jones, hobby farmer turned WWOOF host, and today’s goat parade grand marshal. She points to a pail and pulls up a stool.
“I had no intention of joining this program,” she said of WWOOF, which stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms. “Absolutely zero. … If 10 years ago you’d told me this is where I’d be, I’d have said you were crazy.”
Last year, though, marked the highest volume to date of the WWOOF volunteers through Jones’ Kackle Berry Farm, and she now can’t imagine life without them.
“Learning with them, getting to know them, and then saying goodbye to them,” she said. “That’s like having little pieces of your heart walking around all over the world.”
ORGANIC AND ORIGINAL
WWOOF, simply defined, is organically and sustainably minded volunteer education. To be a WWOOFer is to exchange labor for boarding, all the while learning about the organic movement and sustainable agriculture. Worldwide, WWOOF systems exist in 99 countries, and it’s now growing in Alaska, as well, where there are currently 84 host locations throughout the state.
Kackle Berry is one of 31 Kenai Peninsula WWOOF locales. Nestled at Mile 17 of Homer’s East End Road, the 10-acre farm has been the Jones family’s home for nearly 50 years.
“My husband and I, plus our three children, have been on this particular land for 47 years,” Terry Jones explained. “When we retired, we decided to do so as farmers. And Alaska, I’m told, is considered the WWOOFing capital of the world.”
“It’s a destination for anyone interested in travel and the WWOOFing program makes it possible to inexpensively combine that travel with work and learning.”
This year marks the fourth the Jones family has operated a WWOOF establishment, and in that time, Terry Jones said her family has hosted 26 guests – or ‘WWOOFers.”
“But it’s not all about the work,” she said. “The program is about shared learning and forging relationships which, to Kackle Berry, is more important than labor. … We start out as strangers, we become friends, and end up as family.”
A LONG HISTORY
WWOOF got its start in England (originally titled Working Weekends On Organic Farms) as a way for people to escape the city. Emerson College in Sussex hosted the premiere WWOOF stay in 1971 and the growth-meets-wellness consortium hasn’t slowed pace since. Today, the umbrella organization, WWOOF International, terms itself “champions of the environment,” believing that its work directly contributes to a wider, healthier organic world. Personally meeting local growers helps people better understand the importance of organic farming, on both a regional and national level. The hope is that consumers will then demand better food both in practice and policy. Furthermore, personal contact between volunteers and hosts also lets people experience different culture, customs, languages and points of view, while working jointly for environment betterment as a whole.
“Volunteers don’t receive pay but are lodged as well as fed on site,” Terry Jones said. “Each volunteer brings their culture and we learn from each other—especially through cooking.
“Plus, the young people are always so much better with technology than I am,” she added.
Initially, contact between host and volunteer is permitted only through online WWOOFing channels (see GET INVOLVED, above). Each nation’s membership is joined separately. Throughout the United State and Alaska, registered volunteers and hosts share online “profiles” of themselves to make sure matches are appropriate in location and goal, including length of stay, types of accommodation offered and numbers of travelers in a party. Volunteers may specify arrival as couples, solo travelers or even whole families.
Once a volunteer and host are connected, they will settle on some basic questions to make sure they are a good match. Among the most important include:
- How many hours per day/days of week is the volunteer needed?
- What type of work will be expected of the volunteer during that time?
- Which barriers (if any) exist? (i.e. language or work-related skills)
- And finally, which amenities will be available for volunteer use during the stay? (such as internet or local transport)
Each host follows their own schedule, so every situation varies – which is half the fun. International guidelines call for an average six-hour workday from the volunteer, with a five- to six-day work week. In return, volunteers receive room and board. It’s physical labor, to be sure, but WWOOF encourages hosts to act as local guides to their homelands, introducing volunteers to cultural or geographic aspects that make their region special. By seeing their surroundings, and by sharing meals and languages, participants come to better understand more about the larger world in a free-exchange format.
“To young people wishing to volunteer, don’t be afraid to try something new,” Terry Jones said. “Willingness makes a good volunteer. Anybody can be taught anything, so long as they’re willing.”
And for hosts, Jones says this: “This is a really good experience – one that touches lives. A good host genuinely cares about volunteers. Letting them, and their stories, into your heart makes the experience truly dear.”
Peak WWOOF season is typically spring and summer, when farms need extra hands in crucial seeding, care and harvesting cycles. In Alaska, however, the colder season pushes the need from late April through October. Those wanting to experience WWOOFing year-round can simply follow the seasons, and the hemisphere, through WWOOF International’s links.
“Farming doesn’t do clock hours, it does seasons,” Jones said. “And season-in, season-out the addition of the WWOOF program at Kackle Berry has been a wonderful experience; one that I would highly recommend.”
Paul Fadden is Glacier City Gazette associate editor in Girdwood.