WWOOFing aged 16 & 17 with host perspectives

Apr 18, 2023

Myrte, a 17 year old Belgian WWOOFing in Scotland, writes…

During my gap year I wanted to do a language course abroad but they were all very expensive so I started looking for something else and ended up WWOOFing. I first found out about WWOOF on a top ten list of things to do on a gap year. It seemed to be the perfect opportunity to develop my language skills, meet other people, learn about organic gardening (which was very helpful because my family wants to have our own farm) and cheaply travel around the country as a tourist.

Finding a country to go WWOOFing in was not easy as a 17 year old. Luckily, WWOOF UK accepts people from the age of 16. I was also turned down by a couple of hosts because of my age and their fear that I wouldn’t be able to work independently when they couldn’t be there to support me. Coming from the EU, the additional travel paperwork that I needed as a minor didn’t make it any easier. Eventually, when my stay at two different places was confirmed and my transport finally arranged, I couldn’t be happier. I was really excited because it would be my first long trip far away from home.

I now realise that spending four weeks in the UK WWOOFing was the best decision I’ve ever made

I was quite nervous at the beginning but both of my hosts made me instantly feel at home. I was made particularly comfortable by knowing that at least one of my hosts had already hosted a younger WWOOFer, which meant that I wasn’t the first and that he knew what to expect.

I never felt particularly different from the older WWOOFers, we were all there to work in the garden together and learn something, they just had a bit more overall life experience. The hosts did have to explain a few things to me about what and how to do things in the garden but the same was true for my fellow WWOOFers. Once I was shown how to start, I could work perfectly fine on my own. I believe that my light-heartedness and cheerfulness brought a happy atmosphere while working. We had so much fun and laughed a lot during our many conversations about life. I feel like my youthfulness had a positive influence on both my hosts and the other WWOOFers.

I already had some experience in gardening and construction thanks to my background. My family and I moved a lot and have always done everything ourselves, from building the house to designing the garden. Plus, my parents made sure that I could cook my own meals and do my own laundry! Whilst WWOOFing, I learnt a lot of practical things like how to plant potatoes, but I also grew a lot as a person. Working together with people of all ages in an unfamiliar environment really took me out of my comfort zone. Having this experience at a relatively young age will benefit me for the rest of my life. I gained a lot of knowledge in different areas (e.g. maintaining a garden, interacting with people and animals.. ) and feel more mature than before my trip. It definitely helped me to see what my strengths and weaknesses are and helped me realise what I want in life. 

I would 100% recommend this experience to any other 16-17 year old who would like to travel alone and is interested in farming and other cultures. It is such a unique, life-changing experience!

Hamish, a host in Scotland, writes…

I have hosted a few WWOOFers aged 16 / 17 but I feel this is a young age to be roaming round Great Britain by yourself and I feel great responsibility for their safety. The internet is not good here and sometimes it is difficult for them to contact parents which is very important. All that said, the ones I have hosted have been delightful, mature and sensible in their approach to WWOOFing. I am pleased that at that age they want to learn and see things that will improve the environment. My WWOOF profile was set up by a young WWOOFer and since she did it I have had applications every day and am now booked up till the end of August!

I really enjoy having WWOOFers here and am so grateful for all they do. It is important to me that they should thoroughly enjoy the experience and I encourage them to go out and “explore” but responsibly and with a plan. I like them to communicate with me as soon as they get back home so I know they are not wandering around the country side. This to some may seem over the top but, more than anything, its for my ease of mind. Generally speaking I treat my younger WWOOFers the same as any others and they partake in whatever is going on.

Alice, who went WWOOFing at 17, writes…

I first went WWOOFing during one of my summer holidays, a solid month travelling alone. I loved the freedom I felt and having the responsibility of looking after myself. I enjoyed planning my trip, where I was going and what I was taking with me. It was a little disheartening that so many hosts didn’t respond to my personal messages to them. A simple one-liner ‘sorry we can’t host you’ would have been better than nothing, meaning I wasted time waiting for hosts to respond.

Nevertheless, I found 3 hosts that could take me during my strict dates so off I went! I had lots of experience growing in my parents’ garden and on their allotment so I knew I could be helpful to my hosts without lots of instruction. I think, by knowing at a young age I was interested in organic growing, I knew WWOOFing was going to be a good thing for me.

I learnt far more about myself than I did about growing in my month away. Sure, there are little tips and tricks I picked up that I still use even now in my professional growing job, but most of all I gained confidence in what I already ‘knew’.

At one of my hosts I picked loads of soft fruit, they asked me if I could make jam. I said I’d watched and helped my mum many times but had never done it myself, they were happy to let me try. I made the jam by myself and it all went well. After that I had the confidence to make jam knowing I could do it, I’ve been preserving fruit and veg ever since! There were many other little experiences like that which have served me well. All my hosts treated me like any other WWOOFer and I really appreciated them for it.

Mark, another Scottish host, writes…

My most recent ‘under 18’ WWOOFers were both brilliant. If they’ve got their act together when they are that young then they must really want to do it. They were really lovely, interesting, knowledgeable, a pleasure to host and didn’t stop just because they had ‘done their hours’. One was a young, exceptional human being who was highly intelligent, not into social media and worked her socks off. She was well above her years in maturity.

I don’t let any WWOOFers do anything remotely ‘dangerous’ and I have public liability insurance. I don’t treat my WWOOFers differently because of their age, I treat them differently dependant on their personalities!

Images owned by Myrte, Hamish and Alice

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