WWOOF France: Follow Up Advice
As many of you know, I spent a month in France last summer volunteer working on organic farms in France, with the WWOOF program (stands for “Willing Workers on Organic Farms,” and is a worldwide network of which France is one national group). I wrote two posts about it, one from my first experience at Moulin de Braux and the other about my second experience at Maison La Source.
I had offered in my post to answer any questions that people had about my experience, but since WWOOFing has become more and more popular, the emails are getting to be too much to handle with my current workload commitments. So consider this my final wrap-up post - from now on, I am closing down my responses to this issue unless absolutely necessary. Here are my advice and recommendations - that I would usually edit/customize for each reply - with some extra tips thrown in:
- If you are asking for information about working on the specific farms that I described, you will have to register at WWOOF France like I did. I am not giving direct contact information. Once you have paid the membership fee, you will have access to the entire directory of farms - if you want to know the information for the farms I went to, I recommend that you simply search for the name of the farm or the name of the hosts (you have them both from my posts).
- Searching for farms: I personally picked farms based on how much detail they gave about the area, through verifying locations on Google Maps, and also which ones were vegan or vegetarian friendly. I recommend sending lots of requests, since you will likely get lots of rejections - also, I found that it was easy to tell which farms were going to have good atmospheres by the responses you receive. Several I received were actually gruff and rude in tone, so I quickly tossed those away to focus on the ones that seemed kind and gave lots of detail as to what I should expect.
- The Email Request: My advice for requests is to make them as personal and honest as possible. Tell them about yourself - things that will be relevant to their interests. Tell them about your language ability. Ask them questions, explain what you can contribute to help around the farm and fit into their existing schedule. Demonstrate flexibility, friendliness, and personality. If you are sending lots of requests, you can edit each one to suit the details you know about the particular farm you are applying to.
- Asking Questions: My strongest word of advice is to make sure that the expectations about how many hours you are going to work are very clearly outlined before you go there. There are some important questions to ask that will really affect your experience. These are the kinds of things you should look out for. Do you get a full weekend rest? Do you work by yourself, or with others? How many hours a day are you expected to work? It is easy to feel exploited for free labour and not feel that you are getting the full experience of WWOOFing, which is about experiencing a different life, exchanging ideas and learning about growing things - NOT just about providing free labour. Don’t get me wrong; I had a great time, it is just that the two farms were very different experiences and I really learned what to look out for.
- Visiting a Family: Keep in mind that when WWOOFing you are really entering into an established group of people that are kind of a family, with their own social dynamics of any family. The social part can be a bit challenging sometimes, since they have their own system that works for them. For example, they might raise their voice a lot when they speak, something you might not be used to. Or you might find someone in particular difficult to work with … this is all part of the full experience, something to be aware of. If you are open minded and flexible, and try to learn from those around you, you should have a great time.
- How long should you commit to? I had planned in advance to stay two weeks at each farm; and this schedule worked out well for me. In hindsight, I would have been happy to stay longer at the first farm. But from my hosts I got the impression that longer is actually more ideal both for your learning experience at the farm as well as for their experience (keep in mind that they take the time to train and orient you, as well as get to know you). So I would say that if you can, try to stay for as long as possible - one to two months at minimum is ideal. If you are nervous about the situation - worried about needing to leave suddenly because you extremely don’t belong there, etc. - you might be able to negotiate with another farm to be a kind of “back-up,” in case the situation arises. Of course, if you do this you would want to find one relatively close by, though the train system in France is fantastic for travel. Or, you could wait to look at other farms until the situation comes up.
- Internet connection: Be prepared for the situation that the internet connection is rarely or never available to you. Or, if you are lucky like me - there is one, but it is guarded by a hive of bees. Or you may be able to access an internet cafe at a local town.
- Equipment: Well, this is a no-brainer - ask your hosts in advance! Things I used and was SO happy to have: tall rubber boots (so much mud at my first farm in spring!), a good rain jacket, knock-off crocs (great for general garden work), and some durable pants that I got from a mountain equipment store. I was so lucky to find these really cheap when I was in Spain, though finding rubber boots was no easy feat.
- Have fun! If your experience is anything like mine, you will experience the best sleeps at night, the most delicous/healthy/wholesome food you have ever had (and maybe learn a few cooking tricks along the way), meet amazing people (and dogs!), learn so much of the language, and have unique experiences such as eating fresh cherries of the tree, picking spinach and planting onions! I hope that you take the chance, and have a great time.