The following is a guest post by Emma Higgins
I am a WWOOF'er. I WWOOF. I am part of the WWOOF'ing community.
Neither did I a year ago. As it turns out, this organisation has become the saviour of my travels in Canada.
WWOOF stands for ‘World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms', and it is possible to get involved with this in dozens of places dotted around the globe. You choose a country, sign up on their website (often for a reasonably small fee) and you are then showered with possible farms to work on in exchange for free accomodation and meals.
This was an ideal situation for me. Having had several financial blips in saving for my trip to Canada over the last year, anything free is a bonus. Accomodation and food are the only absolute essentials when it comes to travel, and both can often drain your bank account. Additionally, for the Canadian organisation, participation does not require a working visa. WWOOF'ing is a perfect opportunity for anyone looking for inexpensive travel, and it can be a highly rewarding experience.
So, back in August, three months before I was set to fly out to Vancouver, I started hunting for farms. A plethora of options were open to me in British Columbia alone, from Icelandic horse farms, cattles ranches, herb, crop and vegetable harvesting, to building ecohouses on top of a mountain and much more.
I wasn't too fussed about the kind of work I was looking for, but dairy farming was definitely in my top five choices. If I could combine my love for cheese with volunteering in Canada, I was a happy lady. And I hit the jackpot when Goats Pride Dairy Farm in Abbotsford, BC swiftly replied to my request for work.
Life here on the Goats Pride is an enlightening and sometimes challenging experience. Having neither worked on a farm nor had much contact with farm animals before, I wasn't too sure what to expect. As it turns out, this farm has hosted over two hundred WWOOF'ers in five years, so it seems I've come to the right place.
Daily routine includes participation in either or both 6am and 4:30pm chores, which include milking and making sure the goats are fully fed and watered. Volunteers also rotate turns to work full days helping out in the dairy, where all the magic happens; the cheese.
In between chores, the rest of the day is filled with seeking out the work you wish to contribute to, which allows you to focus on a particular aspect you were wanting to gain more experience in. For me, I've mostly been touching up on my cooking skills with Goats Pride's motherhen, Jo-Ann. I am now fully confident in my ability to make a thoroughly enjoyable cinnamon bun.
The season in which you volunteer can change your entire experience with WWOOF'ing. Some farms have little or no need for workers in Winter, this of course not being the case with a farm that keeps animals as there is demand all year round.
At particularly cold times, I sometimes wonder why it was that I chose to come out here in these months. On most days, I get up in the dark, and I finish in the dark. This of course can be the same case in an urban area, the difference here being that the icy, crisp and fresh air I breathe in once I step out into the country always makes me feel invigoratingly alive.
Having spent three weeks touring cities, including Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle, and spending money faster than I could have anticipated, a break in the country was just what I needed. This complete change of scenery has broadened my perspective on living an impact-free lifestyle.
By that I mean that the community we have built here, which consists of seven family members and up to seven WWOOF'ers at any one time, tries to make sure that we carry out the principles of sustainable living as much as possible. Almost everything is recycled and used to it's full potential, from waste food that goes to the goats or used as compost, fertiliser sold to other local businesses, clothes, packaging, endless jams and juices and more than I could possibly list.
As well as the work, let's not forget the play. WWOOF'ing is a fantastic way to experience a way of life in terms of the people you stay with as well as the farming. I was lucky to find a very large close-knit family to enjoy the company of, and I am honoured to be welcomed in and shown their Canadian way of life. As much as meeting other travellers can be exhilarating, to come over to a country and see the way the locals live from day-to-day is a memorable and unique experience. This is especially the case when staying in a place that strives to be self-sufficient and eco-friendly.
Being part of the process in taking produce from the goat to our kitchen table in a variety of forms, including milk, yoghurt and cheese, has given me a greater awareness of where the things I put in my belly come from. WWOOF'ing is a great way to understand and be part of the ethics involved in the farming and food industry, an alternative experience for any traveller.
If you imagine that no two farms will be the same, the possibilities are endless. And not a penny will leave your pocket.
Would you consider volunteering or working on a farm if it meant you could travel more/longer?
About the Author: Emma Higgins' addiction to travel started with an inter-railing trip around fourteen countries in Europe in the summer of 2009. Her 2010 travels included a whistle-stop tour of Northwest India, a brief visit to Marrakech and two months in British Columbia, Canada.
Her blog is based around my travels and the cultural comparisons she comes across, but whilst at home, she writes for all the other young and penniless travellers out there (she's only 22!), and about the trials and tribulations of being stuck in ones mothercountry, itching to leave. You can catch up with Emma on her blog, Gotta Keep Movin'…