I wrote about my WWOOFing experience in Canada in an earlier post, and I’ve decide to compile some of the things I’ve learnt from my experience, so that you won’t have to go through as many difficult or uncomfortable experiences for your first WWOOFing adventure. I’ve written both about practical tips and about mental preparation so that you can get the most out of WWOOFing!
1) Be prepared to rough it out both mentally and physically… especially if you’ve never worked on a farm before
I reached the farm on a Thursday, and helped out once I arrived, despite not getting any sleep for 36 hours. I slept for 5 hours after a freezing shower, and was back to work again on Day 2. The next day, I slept for 6 hours and was back at work again. There really isn’t time for you to warm up and slowly get over your jet lag and exhaustion. You just keep going. There’s no time to be scared, no time to worry about your muscles aches, no time to worry about how much sleep you’re getting.
The culture shock is bound to exist, especially since you’ll be living with the family and following their lifestyle. Try to be open-minded and don’t impose any judgement. Everyone is different and that’s what makes life so colorful.
You’ll get cuts from the fences or the cats/dogs, you’ll get pricked by prickles as you weed, you’ll be in a little pain and discomfort, but you’ll get used to it. It’s all in a days’ work.
Try not to be alone with your thoughts too. I tried to keep my thoughts at bay by talking to friends and family and the hosts cause when your thoughts start wandering, that’s when you start to feel homesick, and sad and scared and lonely… and that’s half the battle lost… you have to control your thoughts, especially during the critical first few days. If you don’t, you’ll lose control of yourself.
Mind over matter really is key.
2) Animals won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.
The animals are generally sweet, and won’t attack you unless they think you will harm them. They can sense if you are afraid, and honestly you have no reason to be! Just respect them, and let them sniff you before you go up to them. It also helps to talk to them.
3) Respect every farm for their way of life. Every farm is unique.
There were many things that I wished I could have changed about the household and the farm… I wanted so badly to add some form of system and help clean EVERYTHING. But the German girl that I met while WWOOFing, reminded me that this was not our household, so even though we were going crazy with the mess and the whole system, we just had to grit our teeth. It’s their life, not ours, and we should accept that!
If you are unsure about anything, it is best to ask the hosts first, rather than guessing. It’s always better to be an annoying asker than to make a mistake and cause problems.
3) Pack some boots or check if you can borrow some
I wore my old sports shoes, but they got disgusting pretty quickly after doing some mucking of animal dung in the stables. I recommend waterproof boots so you can at least wash the muck off. (Muck = dung). Boots also tend to be sturdier, and the soles won’t break off as easily. You should be able to find a decent pair of boots at a thrift store if you are lucky!
4) Make sure you clarify with your host what you’re getting yourself into
I thought I did a pretty good job with this, but I guess it wasn’t enough. I was expecting more of a farm… but it was more like a barn with more animals than crops. (That is with regards to my first farm.)
You should also make sure that you agree on how many hours you will be working for each day before you get there. If a host says that there is no fixed schedule, some days you do more, some days you do less… then you’ll probably end up doing more, and working way overtime since there was no exact schedule or agreement.
I thought asking for photos would suffice in showing the conditions of the farm… but photos can be deceiving. If anything, it’s best to read reviews from previous WWOOFers. Note that I said WWOOFers, not WWOOFer. I actually reached out to one of the previous WWOOFers (the only one who left a review actually) and she gave me a positive review of the farm. But turns out, she kinda left out the messy parts of the farm bit when she was telling me about her time there. I don’t blame her, I guess when you leave a place, you just try to forget the bad and only remember the good things.
Which brings me to my next point…
5) Look for multiple reviews from WWOOFers
This would give a more holistic view of the conditions and working expectations on the farm since you hear from people other than the hosts themselves. WWOOFers who actually bother to post a review must have enjoyed their time on the farm enough to bother to write a review!
I heard that WWOOF removes bad comments and tend only to feature the positive ones, so reading up on blogs may also be helpful (if you are lucky and find someone who was daring enough to blog about it)
6) Embrace the learning experience
Be light-hearted and open-minded.
I learnt so many things, and tried random plants that the kids showed me were edible. I learned to loosen up and just eat the fruits as I’m farming (the kids climb the tree and toss cherries down) rather than having to wash them and be all clean. A little dirt won’t kill you. I learnt that coconut oil works miracles, and can cure sunburn and even eczema if you apply it on your skin. Some roots can be used to heal wounds as well, while other roots can be ground up into tea.
I learnt about different plants, different birds and the science behind certain farming practices. I learnt about life over dinner table conversations and the experiences shared by my hosts and their family.
7) Go with a friend!
I would recommend coming with a friend though, so that you can rough it out together and at least you’ll have someone to talk to.
I couldn’t be more thankful for the German girl, Maud, who I met at the first farm. We ended up becoming friends, and travelled together for a bit in Victoria, and even worked on our second farm together.
I was planning on having a solo trip, but it was way more fun having a companion to rough it out with you. It’s always nice having someone to talk to and work with as you go about each day. You guys can even go hiking and exploring together.
In this case, I would say, two is always better than one.
8) Do NOT go if the host emails you asking you to come to WWOOF with them.
This is probably the biggest lesson I learnt.
You may get an email saying that they think you’ll be a good match and that they would love to have you or something like that… DO NOT GO.
As flattering as it is to have someone want you to work for them, it shows the hosts inability to cope without extra hands on deck. That means you’ll probably be doing a lot of work on a probably messy farm. A host should be able to have his/her own farm under control even without WWOOFers. We are there to make their job easier, but not take on a full-time role of trying to instil some form of order.
Myself and the previous WWOOFers on my messy first farm were all emailed by the host, asking us to come for various reasons that she found us suitable. And her farm was not exactly neat or under control, and we were working almost all the time. So lesson learnt.
Final tip: BE FRIENDLY!
No one likes a sour puss. Talk to your hosts, to their kids, to the animals and to your fellow WWOOFers. Loosen up and have fun. It wouldn’t make sense to come all the way to a farm, only to be glum the whole day. Even if it’s tough and you are really uncomfortable, keep your spirit up. Don’t come here just to survive, but to live and let live.
Embrace their way of life, and if the farm really weirds you out, and you feel very uncomfortable, find an alternative and move on with the same positivity. Tell the host what you struggle with, and why you feel you can’t carry on. It’s best to leave on good terms, so if you are cutting your stay short, try to help out extra before you leave.
When I left my first farm early, I turned down a glorious boating trip so that I could finish setting up a website for my host as promised, before leaving the next day. I think my commitment to do what I had agreed to do impressed her quite a bit, and she wasn’t so upset about my early departure. I think the fact that I turned down a once in a lifetime experience to go on a boat ride and experience hiking and a nice BBQ really showed her that I did genuinely want to help, it’s just that I couldn’t take her living conditions. So she was very appreciative and sorry that I had to leave. It’s always good to leave on amicable terms 🙂
Was I thrown out of my comfort zone? Definitely.
Would I do it again? Definitely.
Feel free to email me or leave a comment if you have any other questions! 😀