WWOOF: A World of Farming at your Fingertips
For most travelers, a trip to Alaska might involve a cruise ship, a panoramic helicopter tour, or perhaps a fishing excursion. A quick google search of “travel to Alaska,” automatically offers these activities, available in package deals.
Yet for other travelers, such as 21-year-old Claire Buckovich, a trip to “America’s Last Frontier,” means waking up in a private wooden cabin, watching baby bears wrestle, and kayaking across a glassy lake—all without paying a dime for lodging or food.
While both trips undeniably provide an experience to remember, the traditional tourist’s vacation to Alaska can place a burden on the traveler’s wallet and inhibit her ability to explore in a mindful, immersive, and sustainable way. “Alternative” means of exploring unfamiliar territory are the gateway to greater emotional and physical connections with the destination. Luckily, these adventures are easy to find, thanks to organizations such as WWOOF.
WWOOF, or Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is a global movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers across the globe. The Federation of WWOOF organizations includes 45 member countries, each with its own network of organic farmers and growers, in addition to over 80 non-member countries with participating hosts. WWOOF aims to “promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange, thereby helping to build a sustainable, global community.”
How does it work? By signing up for a membership, aspiring “wwoof-ers” receive access to the global database of WWOOF farms. After choosing a location, participants can browse hundreds of profiles of hosts and their properties, which can vary from gardens, orchards, and vineyards, to markets, permaculture, or livestock. Hosts are accommodating to solo travelers, couples, groups, and even families. Based on the farm’s availability, the woof-er can choose to stay anywhere from one week to several months.
It was WWOOF that enabled Claire to spend a month at the Eagle Song Family Peony Farm in bush Alaska. Hoping to fulfill her dream of visiting the far-off state, Claire joined the WWOOF community and researched locations in Alaska. Eagle Song caught her eye, and she reached out to the hosts to inquire about availability. A few months later, she was flying across the country to spend a month at the Peony Farm, forty miles from the nearest road. In exchange for spending a few hours a day helping her hosts care for the flowers, Claire benefited from free lodging and meals. During her free time, Claire immersed herself in the Alaskan way of life by hiking, canoeing, and fishing.
In the words of WWOOF founder, Sue Coppard, “WWOOF answers the needs of so many people; contact with nature is the psychological equivalent of Vitamin C.” Choosing to WWOOF means growing emotionally, physically, and culturally, without breaking the bank. WWOOF gratifies the needs of a curious traveler who yearns to connect with, rather than just visit, her dream destination.