WWOOFing In AustraliaAustralia, Eco-Travel, Extras, Traveling Solo & Together — By Lost Girls on May 22, 2012 at 12:00 pm
by Thea Hutchinson
For travelers not familiar with “wwoofing” here is a little introduction. It is a type of eco-tourism, where workers and travelers can develop a different kind of tourist connection with locals and openminded hosts. Travelers can give back to a community instead of the traditional model of sightseeing and consumerism. WWOOF – Willing Workers On Organic Farms – is an organization based around the idea of learning, living and traveling. It is present in over 150 countries. The host farms are usually certified organic or partially organic, practicing sustainable living by using recycling and composting.
You can participate as either a host or a “woofer” as they are commonly called. Both participants pay a small membership fee, ranging from $30-70 USD dollars. This is the only money exchanged between host and woofer. This membership gives hosts a profile where they can list their location, farm activities, and leisure interests. Woofers likewise create their profile, interests, skills, and languages spoken. It is up to the woofer to contact prospective farms and inquire as to their hosting possibilities. In exchange for sleeping accommodation and meals, woofers are expected to work from four to eight hours a day. It is an opportunity to give back to a community and learn from locals. I have learned incredible things like how to make cheese from sheep’s milk, how to prune raspberry brambles and how to make a chicken coop door for “chooks” as they are called in Australia. Granted some of these tasks may not be a novelty for some, but for many it is a chance to learn about sustainable living abroad or even within your native country.
Recently I spent two weeks in the small remote historic village with a population of 1,200 called Braidwood in New South Wales, Australia. Braidwood is nestled in a valley of rolling hills and countryside, where eucalyptus trees line the roads. My host family there grows organic varieties of garlic. Their busiest time of year is the harvest in November and December. The garlic is hand harvested, the outer layer peeled and the roots cut. The stalks are then braided into chains and sold at the artisan and markets before Christmas. During my time on the farm I learned about the history and cultivation of garlic, among other things.
You can expect to rise and turn in early. I usually woke up with the sun, around 6:30 or 7am. My host father was French and we literally had whole wheat crepes every morning for breakfast. He would make the mixture in a jar and keep in the fridge, shaking before use. We ate them with homemade raspberry preserves or fresh stewed apples from the orchard. The neighbor from a nearby paddox, or yard would come over and have coffee with us for an hour before going back to his farm to feed his horses. We would talk about political issues, ranging from Medicare to ping pong. They were conversations that I never would have had if staying in a hostel or hotel.
Each day my host father and I had various projects we would tackle. We spent one morning pruning the raspberry bushes. The plants were ten years old, and each autumn they need to be cut back to two or three stalks in order to allow for the next years harvest to be abundant. We would check on the garlic, make sure that the sprouts were not growing too close together. I learned that garlic reproduces by vegetative reproduction which makes it more susceptible to diseases as genetic variety doesn’t enter into the gene pool as it does with sexual reproduction. Vegetative reproduction means that you use a clove of the previous harvest and plant that in the ground. The clove acts as both the parent material by which the new clove replicates and absorbs in its new growth cycle.
My host family’s son and his family were building two studios in their backyard, so for three days we helped measure and put up the plasterboard over the insulation. This modern method of building was in contrast to my host family’s home, which was a rammed earth farm house run on solar power. I have little experience with construction, but it was fascinating learning about different methods of building that the average person can do.
In the evenings as soon as the sun started to fade in the sky, we moved inside to start the wood stove. Although they also had a gas stove, the wood stove was lit every night to prepare dinner and to heat the kitchen. They had this beautiful black lacquer cast iron stove and oven. The stove would produce the most incredible heat and I often would burn things if I didn’t pay very close attention. We would often do a crossword after dinner, which I slowly progressed at, but was still a bit hopeless.
I should emphasize that this is not a sight-seeing vacation. Hosts will often be excited to show you around the area, but the experience is really living with the host family and spending a few days in their shoes. If you are wanting more independence, bringing your own transportation will give your more freedom. Often times hosts will list their leisure interests and I suggest taking note. I read that this family did “rock climbing, bushwalking” among their many interests. I included my interest in these in my introductory email. While I was with them we ended up climbing probably seven times in two weeks which was amazing. The timing just worked in my favor, as farm duties were light we supplemented our days with climbing.
Australia’s rock climbing is world renowned, offering something for all styles with a mix of sport and trad. A 60 meter rope and 20 quick draws will get you on a huge percentage of routes, with trad or mixed gear required for some crags like Point Perpendicular, the legendary seaside cliffs near Jervis Bay.
As a single woman traveling alone here are some travel tips that I recommend when selecting your hosts.
Narrow down your interests. If you want to be near the ocean or near the mountains this can help narrow your search, as countries are large. Often times farms will grow a specific crop like apples or olives, or perhaps raise a certain animal. There are many that are more “overall” farms, but be sure to ask about the duties and expectations of woofer duties before you accept.
When you write a host don’t send a mass email to ten hosts. Take the time to personalize the email to the farm, telling them a bit about you and the dates you are interested in coming. You will have a much better chance of hearing back from hosts. It is very important to be clear about your travel plans and expectations, especially when you are wwoofing in a country with a foreign language.
As a single young woman traveling alone there are safety precautions that I would suggest which have worked for me. I often look for families or couples to wwoof with. I always felt more comfortable in a family setting. I think that traveling as a pair, couple, or family would widen the choices. I also know women who have woofed with single hosts, but i would advise caution. Some hosts do accept families, but always check because many don’t.
You may be asked to do something that you have no idea how to do like use a electric metal saw or braid harvested garlic, install plasterboard or knead bread. It is an amazing opportunity to learn new ways of living. Although the families that I stayed and worked with were mostly vegetarian they did occasionally eat meat. If you have strict dietary requirements be sure to communicate this. Don’t expect your host to accommodate a gluten free diet or meat at every meal. If you do, I suggest looking for that as one of your search requirements.
At this point in my life I have wwoofed in Italy and Australia for a total of two and a half months. My experiences have been eye opening and have encouraged me to both question and embrace aspects of my own culture and lifestyle. Wwoofing is a fantastic form of eco-tourism.
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