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WWOOF’s Homegrown Education

by Eva Boynton on August 22, 2016

Two women on a tractor at a WWOOF farm where they learn new skills and may develop into a global citizen. (image © Lizzy Eichorn).

Full steam ahead! The traveling farmer plows the ground for a worldwide education.
© Lizzy Eichorn

From Traveling Farmer to Global Citizen

“Evvvvvvvaaaaaaa, tea time!” my New Zealand WWOOF host would sing to me each day at noon. It was time to return from the garden for a full plate of fresh garden yummies. And so our days on this organic farm progressed to dinner followed by guitar and accordion melodies from a French couple, WWOOF volunteers themselves.

WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a global work exchange program. Volunteers work on the farms, and WWOOF hosts offer food, lodging, and an organic education. You get to meet up with people from around the world and, together, you might do anything from A to Z:

—milk cows and make cheese in Argentina

—plant vegetables at a therapeutic center in Kazakhstan

—harvest oranges in Nepal

—become a beekeeper in Tanzania

A woman feeding geese during a WWOOF experience, where she also gains insight into life as a global citizen (image © Courtesy of WWOOF Australia).

A WWOOFer making geese friends in Australia
© Courtesy of WWOOF Australia

As a WWOOFer, you literally break ground, get your hands dirty and cultivate a homegrown education. You arrive at each new destination with a helping hand and an inquisitive mind. You may start out as a traveling farmer, but through the WWOOF experience, you gather crops and the skills of a  global citizen.

Connected to the Land

The seeds of WWOOF were planted in England in 1971 when Sue Coppard, a secretary with an office job, wanted to get outside, experience the countryside, and support the organic movement.

A house in the countryside with mountains, showing the WWOOF education of a global citizen (image © courtesy of WWOOF.net

WWOOF locations (this one in Chile) have a close relationship with their natural surroundings.
© Courtesy of WWOOF.net

The organization was created by people who, perhaps without agricultural background, wanted the opportunity to learn to live with and from their environment—a collaboration with mother nature.

Today, WWOOF operates around the globe from Africa to the Americas, from Europe to Asia.  Volunteers, as traveling farmers, find a new respect for the dirt underneath their feet and discover how living things, including even the ladybug that lights on your arm, are interconnected.

WWOOF volunteer Kristen Waddel explains:

We dug holes. But we didn’t just dig holes. We gained knowledge of different soil types (mostly clay and sand). We had close-up encounters with local insects and became aware of how greatly entwined into the whole ecosystem they are.

Ladybugs on a plant at a WWOOF farm lead to insights that develop a global citizen. (image © Lizzy Eichorn)

Ladybugs partner with farmers by eating
plant-eating insects like aphids.
© Lizzy Eichorn

Field-to-Fork Connections

Farm life also means eating from the farm. From garden to table, WWOOFers experience the direct connection between their handiwork and its homegrown, delicious rewards.

A basket full of fruit and vegetables from a WWOOF farm provides an education for a global citizen (image © Lizzy Eichorn)

Forget the grocery store and check out what’s in the garden—a rainbow of YUM
from Country Flat Farm in Big Sur, California.
© Lizzy Eichorn

The WWOOF experience is an interdisciplinary education that combines soil, plant, and animal science with culinary arts. It contributes to global citizenship by helping the volunteers understand the full process of putting food on the table in different parts of the world.

A bee hive with beekeepers harvesting, showing the WWOOF education of a global citizen (image © Lizzy Eichorn).

From hive…
© WWOOFers of Country Flat Farm

Jars of honey, showing the WWOOF education of a global citizen (image © Lizzy Eichorn).

…to honey!
© Benjamin Eichorn


While learning these processes, WWOOFers also pick up new recipes (organic and unconventional): Elderflower Champagne, Spicy Pepper Jam, Vegetarian Chickpea Burgers, and Honey Pizza. They learn and enjoy the “field to fork” cycle.

Practical Insights and Epiphanies

Slam! My friends always look at me perplexed after I jam my fist on top of a clove of garlic.

A WWOOF volunteer crushing apples learns skills that have more to do with being a global citizen that you might think. (image© Courtesy of WWOOF Australia).

Smushing apples in a WWOOF lesson
© Courtesy of WWOOF Australia

It was not an angry attack on the bulb but a technique I learned after peeling loads of garlic on a WWOOF farm in New Zealand: crush the garlic and the clove skin slides right off.

On a farm, daily activities vary—repair a fence, turn the compost, plant and harvest crops, cook breakfast, herd goats by motorcycle, crush apples.

Out of these everyday activities come some practical Oh, I see” moments: 

  1. Since honey takes on the flavors of the surrounding flora and fauna, it can taste  different in different places in the world.
  2. A pile of mulch compost can produce a heat over 100 degrees, just right for a hot shower.
  3. A wheelbarrow is the perfect place to take a nap.
A woman sleeping in a wheelbarrow on a WWOOF farm where the work develops global citizens. (image © Courtesy of WWOOF Australia)

A WWOOFer takes a much needed rest after working in the sun.
© Courtesy of WWOOF Australia

Other “Oh, I see” moments are true epiphanies—WWOOFer Ciaran Paul explains how he learned the value of uncertainty from his experiences in Turkey:

Due to the complexity and intricacies of farm life, tasks were almost never predetermined, and I reveled in the uncertainty of what the next day might bring.

Learning just how flexible you can be is another. Part of being a WWOOF volunteer is living with a family. Each farm is different and offers a window into family dynamics. When I took ninja lessons from some 6-year-olds, I found out what it means to adjust and adapt to a different lifestyle, literally and figuratively.

Kids and WWOOFer hanging upside down on a pole, showing the education in family dynamics for a global citizen (image © Eva Boynton).

Passing level four of ninja training with my crew at
Tipuana Farm in southern California
© Eva Boynton

Embracing uncertainty, developing an open mind, bending flexibly—all these attributes help people live more effectively and happily in the world. They underpin success as a global citizen.

Navigating Across Cultures

WWOOF education is dynamic and eclectic, but there is more. Because WWOOF farms take volunteers from different countries, the work experience also offers a natural cultural exchange.

A group of WWOOF volunteers working together in Portugal, sharing their cultures as they also develop as global citizens. (image © Courtesy of WWOOF.net)

Global camaraderie in action in Portugal
© Courtesy of WWOOF.net

And WWOOFers, who travel to farms on several different continents, encounter even more cultures, lifestyles, and religions. When they leave a farm, they carry with them new-found knowledge about organic farming and a tool box of global skills derived from the cross-cultural collaboration.

Many have found the motivation to learn in the backyard of their own minds, to respect the people and approaches of different cultures, and that’s what changes a traveling farmer into a global citizen.


Thank you, Lizzy Eichorn, for photographs from your family’s WWOOF farm, Country Flat Farm, in Big Sur, California. Thank you, WWOOF.net and WWOOF Australia, for photographs of WWOOFing in action. 

To find more stories and information about WWOOF, check out The Green Compass.

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.


4 thoughts on “WWOOF’s Homegrown Education

  1. Eva, as always, so informative and entertaining. so exciting to follow you on your journeys. You are a great writer! Love you, Auntie Susie

  2. Great article Eva! WWOOFing is such an amazing way to immerse yourself in the lives and the culture of the country you WWOOF in, sharing cultures along with skills :)

    • Hi Traci,
      Thanks for your positive feedback and for your contribution to the post. WWOOFing is definitely an immersion into a place.

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