By Kita Narasimhan
When I arrived home for Winter break after my first semester at the University of Florida, I felt a bit stagnant. While I had made amazing connections and loved being involved on campus, a part of me slightly resented that I would have to stay in one place for another four years.
Lying on the couch with my mom, I was doing my daily social media scroll when I stumbled across a “Day in the Life” video of a girl volunteering at a beautiful winery in the Italian countryside. I clicked to scroll through the comments and saw people raving about her footage, how gorgeous the scenery was, and how lucky she was to be there. My attention was immediately captured as I read “how did you do this?”
“It’s called WWOOFing!” She replied.
I immediately grabbed my computer and searched up WWOOFing to find that it stood for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Essentially, WWOOFing is a worldwide organization that links volunteers with organic farms around the world to build a global community. For free room and board, volunteers can stay with various hosts to donate their time to help out on sustainable farms or homesteads. Despite the online content and thousands (if not more) people who had WWOOFed in the past, I felt like I stumbled across the most amazing secret.
I almost instantaneously started researching where I could WWOOF. As I only speak two languages (English and Tamil) and this was my first time WWOOFing, I figured it would be best for me to start in an English-speaking country– although there are hosts in almost every country that speak English, even if it is not their first language. Eventually I narrowed down my list to Norway, Switzerland, Scotland, and Ireland. I stared at this list everyday for almost a week. I knew I had to make a decision, so the morning before I left to go back to university, I went with my gut and decided on Ireland.
Signing up to WWOOF was incredibly easy for me. I simply clicked on the country I wanted to WWOOF in, paid for a membership ($50/person for a year), and created my profile. After creating a profile, the next step is to contact hosts. I found the website extremely considerate and easy to navigate. For example, I’m vegetarian, so there was a filter I could use to see what hosts could accommodate my dietary needs. Once all my preferences were set, I began contacting hosts.
To me, the most difficult part of WWOOFing was waiting for replies. I must have reached out to at least 40 hosts before I found my perfect match. By February of 2023, I finalized my plan to be WWOOFing for three weeks starting on May 10th in the outskirts of Carlow County, Ireland.
I was counting down the days I would finally be in Ireland. Somehow time flew by and suddenly the Spring semester had ended and I was packing to leave in just a few short days. The great thing about WWOOFing is that you are only responsible for paying for travel–generally hosts will cover all necessary living expenses.
I flew across the Atlantic Ocean to Dublin, Ireland. When I arrived, I grabbed my bag and boarded a bus to Carlow, Ireland. Finally, I arrived in Carlow where my host family was waiting for me.
When we arrived at their homestead in rural Ireland, I was stunned by the beauty. There was livestock roaming on rolling hills, sounds from a babbling river, and gorgeous foliage wrapping around their cottage. My host family was incredibly kind, they gave me a tour of their land and their home and showed me what would be my room for the next three weeks. Within just moments of meeting them I felt incredibly comfortable and at peace.
For the most part, I worked about five hours a day on various tasks. I spent time weeding and planting new crops in their garden, painting picnic tables, clearing wooded areas of their yard that had started rotting, and so much more. The physical labor was relatively intense, but it was still very rewarding to spend hours working in the sunshine while talking with my host family and another WWOOFer. While it is almost impossible for me to pinpoint a favorite part of my farming experience, I most fondly remember my time in their garden. Using my hands to dig through the soil was a very grounding experience. But rather than just going through the motions, my host family educated me on the various uses of certain crops in their garden and gave me tips about the best way to grow my own garden. Having some knowledge beyond knowing to dig and sow gave me a new appreciation for the true time and effort growing crops took–whether it be potatoes, leeks, beans, or even flowers.
After the working day ended, I was free to explore as I pleased. I would take hour-long walks around their property, finding a new path everyday.
Something I appreciate about WWOOFing was the commitment my host family had to living sustainably and #UNLITTERing their lives. There were compost buckets in the kitchen for unfinished meals, a furnace powered by burning wood instead of electricity, and all their locally grown food. Further than just living sustainably, my host family clearly knew the value of community. We would gather for dinner every single night, talking about our days, articles we had read, and stories of our past. Whether it was just four of us or a dozen new guests, it was clear they knew how to fill the table with laughter.
Reflecting on my experience, WWOOFing stands out as one of the most impactful decisions I've ever made. This experience not only enabled me to forge meaningful connections with new individuals, but also grounded me through hands-on engagement with the Earth. I am sincerely thankful for the opportunity and wish that anyone interested is able to do the same. Few experiences can genuinely be labeled as life-altering, but without a doubt, WWOOFing falls into that category for me and has continued to inspire me to live a lifestyle connected to nature.