Our member community is full of so many unique individuals, united by a shared devotion to sustainable growing and living. This member spotlight features Lauren, a WWOOFer from the USA who recently completed a backpacking journey across the UK, Ireland and Western Europe.
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In 2022, I spent eight months WWOOFing across western Europe. I stayed with hosts in France, Italy, Ireland, England, and Spain, helping at sites of all sorts, including homesteads, production farms, and orchards.
During this time, I struggled with the idea of being a tourist. I couldn’t shake the privilege I felt inherent in travel, that unique ability to pick and choose which parts of a culture to take and which to leave behind. In many cases, and especially as an American, tourism feels like a one-sided relationship.
When I expressed this concern to Ruth, my WWOOF host in North Yorkshire, she surprised me by responding, “Right now, you’re not a tourist. You’re a traveler.” In simple but thoughtful terms, Ruth spoke to what I believe is at the core of WWOOF: a human and cultural connection that’s reciprocal, not extractive.
If you’re thinking about WWOOFing, it’s useful to reflect on what you want out of travel. Work-exchanges scratch a particular itch that maybe you might feel, too—one for nurturing relationships, leaning into non-traditional learning, and stepping out of your comfort zone.
In fact, WWOOF gave me the chance to pack up and ditch my comfort zone thousands of miles behind me, across an ocean. Though I’d worked on farms before (including a yearlong apprenticeship at a vegetable operation in Maine), I could never have imagined what I would come to experience at the different sites I visited. The range of WWOOF is truly remarkable and extends far beyond your basic farming and gardening. In West Dorset, I help press literal tons of apples into the best juice I’ve ever tasted. Near Cork, I learned how to can homemade tomato sauce. In southern Spain, I plastered a wall for the first time and cultivated my sewing skills by learning to darn socks.
Outside of work hours, I found reciprocity through social and cultural exchange. Who could’ve guessed I’d ever find myself learning folk dances in a tiny village near Ennis, Ireland? I’d have to pinch myself if you told me I’d be drinking bottles of Peroni and swimming with new Italian friends off the Sorrento Peninsula—or learning to play pétanque and trying pastis for the first time at a collocation in Provence. My WWOOF hosts graciously made space for our lived experiences to exist in conversation with one another: a cultural balance that I’ve never felt as a tourist. It’s that special nature of WWOOF that allowed me to engage in the day-to-day life of a place, rather than just observing its culture from afar.
Between WWOOF stays, I booked hostels in cities all around western Europe—and while I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything, I quickly realized that traveling by hostel-hopping can only offer so much. Through WWOOFing, you can meet locals whose families have lived in the same house for generations, passing down hundreds of years of knowledge. You can connect with other travelers who share your values and interests. You can learn about the intricacies of a place’s history, even if that place is within your own country. No matter where you WWOOF, there’s just no knowing what you’ll discover—and what you’ll find you can offer to others, too.
Reciprocity isn’t something that can be bottled up and marketed; you have to go out there and find it. So if you’re looking for a sign to step outside your comfort zone, this is it—just lace up your work boots and start WWOOFing.