For those uninitiated, Woofing is the term used for “Working On Organic Farms” and applies to volunteers working in return for their food and accommodation throughout the stay with their host. There are definite “Pros” and “Cons” for embarking on this form of voluntary work and based on our considerable experience of Woofing, we will explore some of these in the following article.
WWOOF is a worldwide organisation with individual countries running their own site. The main woofing site is http://www.wwoof.org/ or http://www.wwoofinternational.org/ and from these main sites you will find links to the country you consider to be an opportunity to work in. In our case we intended to travel extensively in Greece and the Greek Islands and so registered with the Greek Woofing site.
Greek Economic situation and WWOOFING
With the current economic demise of the Greek population it is understandable that all sectors are included in the austerity measures being introduced by the Greek government. It is now even noticeable in the flexibility and availability of wwoofing assignments in the remoter parts of Greece. Indeed, out of the many e mail enquiries I made through the Greek woofing site www.wwoof.gr I discovered that a number of member farms could simply not afford to have woofers to stay despite the aid that they would bring to the farm; purely because of the cost of feeding another head….you the woofer.
So what are you going to be doing?
The usual pace is starting at 8 to 8:30 in winter/spring or 7 to 7:30 in summer/autumn; work until lunchtime when you will be expected to contribute to preparing the food or clearing up afterwards. A relaxed lunch will be followed by a siesta rest period to avoid working in the searing heat of the sun; the Greeks usually take time to have a sleep for a couple of hours in this time but for us this proved to be difficult to readjust our body clocks!. It is then on to the second half of the working day usually starting around 5 when you pretty much work through to last light before stopping for tea which is normally taken quite late at around 9 o clock. Following clear up you will be ready for your bed…or a walk to the local tavern to take in a well earned glass or two of local wine or cold beer.
This regime sounds pretty tough and it can be! But the experiences and camaraderie along the way make it worthwhile.
There can be few better ways to experience the authentic Greek culture than working with the very people who are willing to accommodate volunteers. In these current times of extreme austerity and economic unrest (Jun 2012) in Greece there is also a renewed willingness and drive by the Greek farming community in general to embrace any and all ways to diversify and eke out a living despite the pressures from the government by way of taxation. “Woofers” go some considerable way to help them do so and you are therefore seen very much as friends helping rather than slave labour.
Is it SO Tough?
So the days of a woofer are certainly difficult from the point of view of the amount of work to be completed in return for bed and board but there is so much to be gained from participating. You also must bear in mind that each farm is different and has their own unique perspective on how the woofer will be accommodated and put to work. See below for a few things to consider before you go woofing…..however….concentrate on the pros not the cons and remember that this article is being written by a 57 yr old man who has lost much of the drive and tolerance of his youth!! Not quite a grumpy old man but certainly a realist.
• Accommodation in some wonderful parts of the world that you simply would never have the opportunity to visit.
• Living in places so stunning that the owners would not part with for love nor money
• Living in climates different to those you are used to
• Meeting such genuine and generous hosts
• Through immersion in the culture, learn a different language
• Be guided to sights and places only known to your local hosts and not available to standard tourists
• Experiencing genuine authentic local life, culture and food
• Learn new skills and contribute to the eco structure of the planet at the same time
• No cost for accommodation or food
• Gaining new experiences; from horse riding and gardening to herb picking and paragliding.
• De stress from normal life pressures
• Learn to live with other woofers young or older and learn about their cultures
• Coping with a different lifestyle/regime
• Often hard physical work (dependent upon the type of farm)
• Early starts, late finishes
• Often remote so little opportunity to party
• Basic accommodation and ablutions (often shared)
• Reliance on your host to fairly provide your basic needs
• Cope with a change of diet and in many cases this will be vegetarian.
• Cost of transport to “out of the way” farms
• The need to supply your own working clothes and foot-ware (this can be weighty so could eat into your flight allowance)
What can you expect?
• Firstly, you have left home and engaged in travelling to gain certain experiences; your host appreciates this and will not be your nursemaid. You should be treated as an adult and worked fairly for the benefit of your food and accommodation.
• Secondly, you are here to learn also. Do ask questions of your host but always remember that they will be here once you have left and you probably need to understand and respect this fact if they instruct you to do something in a way you think might not be the best. If you have any special skills however, then let your host know these and they may or may not be used to employ you to the best of your capabilities.
• Thirdly, there ought to be equality by way of sex and age range but in the spirit of volunteering then it is also good karma to consider the others working with you and if you are a 16 st male with bulging biceps then perhaps you are better equipped than the size 8 female to hump large bales of hay. Your host should also be tuned to individual attributes.
How did I find the pace?
My working day was about 8 hours with a long intermission for lunch with 2 days off in the week. The work was so varied and included looking after horses, gardening, weeding, watering, cooking, building, cleaning, mucking out, painting, collecting water…virtually anything that needs doing could be entrusted to the woofers once you gain your hosts trust .
Kentavros Farm is a particularly good woofing setup with hundreds of woofers already having passed this way and many of them on numerous return occasions. Anika the owner expects hard work but she is very fair, happy and congenial all the time and there is simply nothing she would ask you to do which she would not do herself (better and quicker in most instances too). Nothing is too much for her and she is totally committed to her family, her animals and the ecology….woofers become part of her family whilst staying with her….and her frienship circle once they leave. You certainly cant gain this experience in any 5* Hotel Holiday.
I especially recommend this beautiful part of the world for woofing and particularly Kentavros Farm to anyone who has an interest in horses and riding but there are dozens of equally enticing opportunities advertised on the wwoofing site. Some of these are on the Pelion Peninsula, others on the mainland and many on the various Greek Islands.
Where else in Greece then?
Of the other participating woofer farms in Greece it is probably acceptable to say that the majority of the requirement for help is to assist with the olive harvest from October onwards and then for the preparatory work in the spring but there are also many other diverse opportunities to consider. One farm in particular, Red Tractor Farm , has developed an initiative to use acorns as animal feed and their husks are exported for use in high grade leather tanning and this is in order to help the local population of the small Island of Kea, to diversify in the current economic climate. Woofers on this programme are a considerable assistance and gain something vastly rewarding and worthwhile in the process.
There are also a number of alternative eco living and holistic centres cultivating their own produce and educating those within the centres at the same time. Some of these centres operate alternative working type holidays which woofers will integrate with and bolster the centre staff for certain tasks and activities. I developed a very good rapport with the director of Kalikalos Centre, Jock Millenson and hope to visit this facility in the future.
From the WOOF Greece site there are presently about 49 individual farms spread over the following areas advertising for volunteers:
• All areas of mainland Greece
Top things to take on a woofing assignment which you might not otherwise take on a package holiday:
(click here to check out the list of kit compiled by Paul too)
• Sturdy work boots (I strongly recommend leather uppers rather than fabric because the work in the fields ravages the fabric …. brambles, thistles, sharp rock etc take their toll)
• Long trousers (Again the brambles etc will rip your legs unless you cover them…these trousers will be pretty tired and worn by the end of any long stay so be prepared to sacrifice them…there is no place for designer clothes on a woofer venture!)
• Long sleeve shirt (for protection against the sun and all the jagged, thorny bushes and trees waiting to ambush you)
• A warm fleece or jacket (It often gets cooler in the evening and if you have been exposed to the sun you will welcome an extra layer or two)
• Strong working gloves
• Sharp penknife (This will need to be stored in your hold luggage if flying)
• Mosquito net (This is not a must and there is no Malaria risk in Greece but worth considering)
• Head torch or handy flashlight (Most of these places are in remote areas with little lighting and rough track access so to go anywhere in the evening a light is recommended)
• Hat (Again not essential but it is easy to get sunstroke without head protection)
• More socks than you thought you would need in a warm country (The dusty, sweaty conditions mean that it is definitely not purely flipflops/thongs!)
• Dependent upon time of year you should also take more warm clothes than you first thought. (We were positively cool/cold in the evenings during the latter half of May.
Ask your host whether they have any old working clothes you can use to save you carrying your own.
If a 57yr old businessman and a 23yr old web developer can gain fantastic experiences on the same farm sharing a room with 2 others then you have to believe that this is something which anyone can tackle and each get a very different experience…..try it in Greece or elsewhere.