global WWOOF conference

Nov 29, 2014

During October the fourth global WWOOF conference was held in Turkey. It was attended on WWOOF UK’s behalf by Scarlett Penn (left) our co-ordinator, and director Nim Kibbler (centre).


Amanda Pearson (right) attended in her other capacity as administrator for FoWO. We asked her and Nim to give us their impressions of this significant event.

Amanda writes: Three years ago – and in the very first few days of my new job as international development co-ordinator – I flew out to Korea to meet with other WWOOF co-ordinators from around the world. At that meeting a resolution was passed to form a Federation of WWOOF Organisations (FoWO), to create a new portal website and transfer the WWOOF Independents list to this new body. At that meeting I was very much the new girl on the block. 

At our fourth global get together in Turkey it was very different. This time I was meeting up with old friends (and a few ‘friendly’ adversaries). I was now the administrator for FoWO, managing a new and improved website (www.wwoof.net) and hoping to negotiate (along with others) the final terms on which the Independents lists operated by several different organisations around the world might finally merge. In some respects  it felt like a meeting of the United Nations – rather than the co-ordinators of a grassroots organisation! 

We stayed at at an eco lodge called Pastoral Vadi, near Fethiye in South East of Turkey, where fifty plus of us were able to discuss business in a round house, sleep in huts surrounded by eucalyptus trees and feast in an open air restaurant. Our hosts, WWOOF Turkey, ensured that our programme balanced work and play with visits to two host farms; at both venues we encountered volunteers and lavish hospitality. 

But of course the primary reason for our visit was to share ideas about WWOOF the movement, and compare and contrast experiences. Given that some delegates were running groups that had been established for forty plus years and others had launched very recently we started off sharing best practice in terms of organisational management, website content and successful promotions. 

WWOOF France and WWOOF Italy talked of their struggle to ensure WWOOFing was a legal activity in their respective countries (where labour laws look dimly on the concept of ‘volunteering’) and WWOOF Bangladesh, WWOOF India and WWOOF Camroon talked of the additional roles they perform in educating their hosts, as well as their WWOOFers. The vexed issue of hosts who feel the need to charge WWOOFers for food costs in developing countries was aired too. And then we had the first AGM of FoWO; another milestone in the history of WWOOF. 

All of this was quietly watched over by Sue Coppard, WWOOF’s founder, who always remains interested as the movement she gave birth to continues to spread around the globe. 

closing circle

This conference was Nim Kibbler’s first attendance at an international WWOOF event and here are her thoughts: In 1971 Sue Coppard had an idea that allowed her to spend time in the countryside. However, she had no idea that it would become a much loved international movement; let alone what the name might be. As she told to all in attendance at the Global WWOOF gathering this year in Turkey: ‘It was only when I was on the phone to the insurance agent… He asked me what the name of this organisation was, so I simply said what it was “Weekend Workers on Organic Farms” and as he wrote it down he replied with the acronym ‘WWOOF’. And it simply stuck.’ 

The underlying acronym of WWOOF changed in the UK from the notion of ‘weekend workers’ to ‘willing workers’ as the idea expanded and people WWOOFed for weeks at a time. The final change came later, becoming ‘world wide’ as it spread amongst nations but the meaning never altered and passion for it never faltered. 

The turn of the millennium saw large numbers of other countries consolidate their hosts and go forth to form national organisations. This rapid expansion means there are now over sixty national organisations and another forty plus within the Independent lists. 

The word WWOOF has become a new word in many languages and adaption of it is varied. WWOOF is an oddity; in that it is a noun (i.e. the organisation WWOOF or a WWOOF host), verb (i.e. to WWOOF) and also occasionally an adjective (i.e. a WWOOFer or that’s a bit WWOOFy).

For languages that use genders (such as French with la table) WWOOF exists in many forms; from the neutral ‘das WWOOF’ in German to ‘iWWOOF‘ in Greek. The majority however use the masculine form such as the French (le WWOOF), Lithuanian (WWOOFas) and Italian (il WWOOF). A minority use the feminine including Irish Gaelic (AGR.IX), Bangla (WWOOFery) and Portuguese (a WWOOF). Nor do all other languages use the English form of the present action of WWOOF (i.e. WWOOFing); Czech language for instance uses ‘WWOOFuju‘. It’s fair to say that the word is as well travelled as some WWOOFers are. 

It’s clear to us in the know that WWOOF is a word, we’d be be lost in communication without it. It is a different case altogether for those in the non-WWOOF world. In 2013 a rumour appeared in the UK that WWOOF had made it into the English dictionary, along with the other new words such as ‘tweet’ and ‘twerk’. Finally, was this a nod from the British establishment that WWOOF was official? On further exploration it appeared not to be in print or online. Further queries with the Oxford English Dictionary were left unanswered, with the conclusion being that it was simply a fun rumour. It is, ironically, within the word banks of urbandictionary.com 

After forty-three years of the word WWOOF tripping off our tongues and the world of WWOOF tilling our fields then it’s clear that what started as an English language acronym and English idea has spread far. 

With a total of twenty-eight national organisations in attendance at this year’s gathering, from as far afield as Korea, Norway, Cameroon and Canada, then there’s one thing for certain; WWOOF is no longer an English only entity. From a word generated from an idea it’s been adopted, adapted and grown by so many nations and cultures. 

What a wonderful world it is that the word WWOOF links!

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