A non-partisan journal of the left.

Alternative living, not just a green gap year

Sun 13th May 2012

The gap year is widely regarded as a period of adventure and self-indulgence. Lounging on paradise beaches or driving across the desert may be cool and idyllic, but in these difficult times there are ways of seeing the world while giving your future career prospects a kick in the right direction.

Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a global organisation set up to connect volunteers with suitable hosts in the country of their choice. No money changes hands but in return for your labour, volunteers (dubbed WWOOFers) receive food and accommodation and often live as part of their host family. You’re travelling the world, contributing to local society and helping the environment through maintaining sustainable ways of living. If this doesn’t convince you, having WWOOF on your upside down CV gets the thumbs up from employers. (1)

In our increasingly competitive world, activities outside of education and work tell your story and provide the perfect opportunity to hone your soft skills. (2)

Similar organisations such as Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) have helped graduates stand out in the crowd and landed them with prestigious jobs.(3)

Gentle on the purse strings - great if you’re travelling on a budget, WWOOFing doesn’t have to be just a gap year. It can open a new gap, the dawn of a new horizon. The values it carries could shape your views and mentality towards the world. Abigail Taylor spent time working on Italian farms: “I had heard phenomenal things from people who had come to WWOOF on an organic farm I volunteered with. I absolutely support being environmentally conscious, but most of my interest with organic and green farming came from my belief in a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle.”

Taylor’s choice to travel around whilst WWOOFing taught her to approach with an open mind: “I started in the south of Italy, in Basilicata, and had a horrific experience. I was appalled, but it was an excellent reminder that not everything will go exactly as planned, and that in a program like WWOOF, you are at the mercy of the honesty and lifestyle of others.”

Rebecca Gallo volunteered with WWOOF for the first time in March 2012 and envisioned a truly authentic insight: “WWOOF seemed to me to be a great way to really experience a culture - through the eyes of those that live there - while getting a sense of the local food and how it is produced. I don't like to do 'traditional' travelling (i.e. staying in hotels, seeing the sites). I much prefer to meet the locals and live with them for a spell, and WWOOF seemed a great way to do that.”

In this strained zeitgeist, Gallo believes WWOOF could be the answer for our health and our wallets: “I can see WWOOF becoming more popular as my country (the US) has seen a shift in interest toward local and organic food.” The healthy mentality that WWOOF promotes doesn’t have to end when your trip does. There is nothing to stop you developing your newfound knowledge and adapting your lifestyle: “We get food and housing in exchange for our work. But we also get the experience of living with a local family and learning about food production - and a few other things depending on the farm.”

One fundamental message from Nicola Clift emphasises the importance of planning your trip and keeping in regular contact with your chosen host: “I would definitely recommend WWOOFing to newcomers but I would strongly suggest they carefully research or talk to the place where they intend to work and get a clear idea of what they are expected to do while there, how many hours a day they are expected to work, and where they will live.”

Clift spent time on a farm in Cogne, Italy allowing her to combine developing her skills with adventure: “I wanted to learn about traditional mountain farming methods, improve my Italian and spend time in one of the most beautiful national parks in the area called the Grand Paridiso, where I was able to spend my free time walking in the mountains and discovering the local area.”

Perhaps, like Amanda Ryan, you’re tired of working for the man and need to feel cleansed of this dirty, genetically modified consumer society: “I was laid off last April from a corporate job working in a test kitchen. I developed recipes for a manufactured food company. The company was "clean label" but I needed to reconnect to the land and to surround myself with good, fresh, organic food on a daily basis. I needed the challenge of travelling on my own and working with my hands in a country where I didn't speak the language. WWOOF provided that opportunity in a way that was affordable and gave me a deeper appreciation for the culture. I was able to live with the people that lived there and to experience life as they did.”

It must be remembered that WWOOFing is a job. Like Ryan, you must be willing to get your hands dirty and persevere: “Everyday was not easy. There was confusion, farmers that I liked better then others and days when I wished I wasn't living out of my bag but through it all I created an experience that will be with me for the rest of my life. I've also put it on my CV as continuing education.”

Sound advice from Taylor is perhaps what to keep in the back of your mind when considering becoming a WWOOFer: “If you wish to work hard and live by another person’s rules, the rewards will be remarkable. If you would rather travel, and see the country on your own watch, I would suggest you reconsider, or try a shorter WWOOFing experience nearby before committing to helping farms abroad, and are disappointed.”

WWOOF is a way out of the grind. Bid adieu to a mild recession, (4), bills, mortgages and fat-cat politics. Abandon the pursuit of capitalist vanity and see the world while adding value and earning respect. If there appears to be a law that you cannot have a deep sympathy with man and nature, (5) WWOOF may well be an exception.

Find out more about WWOOF here: http://www.wwoof.org/index.asp


1. The two changes you need to make to your CV in 2012 – Guardian, 16/1/12 http://careers.guardian.co.uk/careers-blog/make-cv-social-get-job?CMP

2. Use your gap year wisely, students told – Guardian, 27/7/04, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2004/jul/27/voluntarysector.gapyears

3. SIFE led to HSBC graduate programme – Guardian, 16/1/12, http://careers.guardian.co.uk/careers-blog/graduate-jobs-hsbc?CMP

4. Eurozone ‘mild’ recession – Guardian, 23/2/12, http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/feb/23/uk-narrowly-escape-recession-european-commission

5. David Henry Thoreau - Inspiring quotes about the environment – Peachy Green blog, accessed 25/2/12 http://www.peachygreen.com/going-green/inspiring-quotes-environment
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