Eco-tourism has become, over the last couple of years, the way to visit new countries for greenies and eco-friendly folks. However, those of us with limited cash can find it hard to see new places without crunching our budget to pieces. How does one explore the world, learn something new, and experience a different culture?
WWOOFers can go anywhere they wish while living with the locals and developing a green thumb. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a network of organic farmers that want to share their knowledge, learn from seasoned organic growers, and promote organic farming to tourists who want the full experience of being in a home, all the while learning how to grow their own organic food.
Both farmers and adventure-seekers alike can go to http://www.wwoof.org/ where they will find an explanation on how the system works. The main idea is to make a trade with those where you wish to stay. Generally, the traveler needs to work a set amount of hours in exchange for food and shelter. Most farmers ask for an average of 40 hours per week. At times, they may ask for a small amount of money to pay for food they need to buy outside of their farm if WWOOFers request it due to their customary eating habits. However, most farming opportunities are free.
There is a small cost associated with registration to this site, but rest assured that it is entirely non-profit. The revenues generated are used for managing the network and visiting farms to ensure they are not a scam. Although they haven't visited all of them, it is a relatively safe site and the ones welcoming you are friendly. The WWOOFing networks are arranged according to country, and each has their own fee. There is also an international network for the countries that haven't yet developed their own, or for farmers who choose to stay independent.
The great part of travelling this way is being with locals. One is sure to learn customs and traditions that most tourist sites can't offer. Plus, some hosts may even offer to take you around the area. Although this is not necessary, several accept, especially since they have the opportunity to share and learn through someone who is not from their home country.
Please keep in mind that several of these hosts are requesting volunteers because they can't afford to pay for workers, and there may be several reasons for this. The main ones are one, they may only be just starting out; and two, they are just a small-scale farm – often in a third-world country – and have a hard time earning enough to pay an employee. Some may even ask you to bring your own tent and camp on their land. Also, please accept what they offer you to eat. Several are proud to offer you the fruits of their labor. If you ask, most will accept to accommodate vegetarians and vegans. There is an option as well if you wish to work for a farm that is already vegan or vegan-friendly.