The pros and cons of having WWOOFers

Q; What is a Wwoofer? A: Its a dog that pulls weeds! Jokes aside, WWoof can be an acronym for either World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or Willing Workers on Organic Farms depending on the area and its labour laws. They are basically homestay farm volunteers who work 4-6 hrs /day in exchange for room and board. The organization began in the UK in 1971 when there was a revival of back to the land interest, volunteering and adventure travel.

I can only imagine the logistics of organizing such an endeavour back then, with snail mail and hard copy photos. Since the advent of the internet it is so much easier, with quite a few other similar websites such as HelpX and Workaway.  These new sites have become popular because they’re not just organic farm related. It’s easy, using the same format as a dating web site with profiles and photos from both parties. Fortunately, the meetings are less awkward.

We have hosted an average of a dozen helpers a year, for the last few years. They come from all places, cultures and ages. There are many pros and cons, but to be honest, so far, about 90% of our visits have been a good experience for everyone involved.

The pros are:

  • We get to meet new people every few weeks without leaving our bubble. It’s been great to introduce our somewhat sheltered kids to others and their cultures. We always get out the atlas and they explain to us where they are from and where they’ve been. A homeschool geography lesson.
  • We get to be tour guides and ambassadors for our area, showing them our secret spots (only if they promise not to post it on social media.)
  • We’ve become more productive, Many hands make light work, whether it’s tediously picking berries, cleaning garlic or heavy work such as firewood. This leaves us more time for other projects and leisure.
  • We get to share our wholesome lifestyle and food with others who may have otherwise never experienced an authentic BC mountain environment.
  • We have made some fleeting as well as long term friendships, with a few repeat visitors. and have even stayed with some while travelling abroad.
  • We get to teach others new skills and teaching is learning.

The cons:

  • It takes work to organize work for others and stay productive. It takes a game plan and most farmers are constantly adjusting plans, especially due to weather.
  • Sometimes people are just not compatible (remember the dating analogy). I can tell within hours if the person grew up in an urban or country setting. While most are adaptable, some are just out of their element, scared of wildlife or not accustomed to isolation.
  • You have to assume they don’t know a thing, explaining and demonstrating exactly how you want something done and setting the pace, especially if you plan to leave them unsupervised.
  • You may have to accomodate their dietary restrictions, religious or cultural practises. You have to be polite, politically correct, entertain them and drive them around. It can be a hassle and an invasion of privacy. You have to have blind faith and trust in a total stranger.

Like I said, on the whole its been mostly great for us, but it’s not for everyone. It’s hard not to discriminate and develop stereotypes, but that’s human nature as we look for the most compatible fit. We are weary of bringing the elderly, disabled and the permanently transient. We have to accept that different cultures have different work ethics. We have to choose the right candidates at the right time depending on the season.

There are no set rules or contracts, and the only repercussions come in the form of reviews. We have chosen to do between 2 -3 week stays, mostly to keep things fresh and avoid complacency. A recent couple who have had some negative experiences elsewhere noted that most other hosts require a minimum as opposed to a maximum stay. My response was “with a private cabin, wholesome work and farm fresh food, most travellers don’t want to leave. We treat others how we would like to be treated.”