WWOOF in Picardie

When I first signed up for WWOOFing I had no idea what to expect. I’d always loved nature but farming was out of my league. Even basic gardening skills and taking care of house plants were beyond my abilities.

So why did I sign up? For the adventure. To experience something new, to learn a few things.

What Is WWOOF

WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms. In their own words here is the idea behind it:

WWOOF is a worldwide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange, thereby helping to build a sustainable, global community.

wwoof.net

The idea is a great one and I had heard many people who had tried it and loved the experience. As with everything some people do not have a good experience but again, the potential is there. 

Choosing A Place

When you search for a place there are many different filters you can use to help you find the best fit. For example, in regards to the sleeping arrangements, food preferences, whether or not kids and/ or pets are welcome and more. I looked briefly at the profiles of each place and left a short message. One of the hosts got back to me within a day. A few others got back to me within a week or two. I looked in more detail at the profile of the host who got back to me fast and after a few more back and forth messages, I was on my way. Barely 3 days after making the decision to go on this adventure.

Arrival

When I entered the village, it hit me that I was in the countryside. I knew I would be there from the beginning, but this was really the countryside, not play acting. A tractor was driving down a road, the houses were small brick houses and I could see the kids walking (or from) school. Also, the phone reception was practically non-existent. I pulled up to the house and out came the farmer.

I parked, went into the house and we sat and talked for a bit. We then walked over to the farm and he took me over their domain and explained everything they were building. Current and future projects.

The one thing I knew but hadn’t really internalized was the culture shock I’d feel. I was entering someone else’s world. They have different habits and different priorities. During my life, I have traveled extensively but it’s very different when you enter someone’s home for more than just a short visit. You are not only entering their home, you are entering their life.

The Work

Farm work is different than any other work and I’ve had a physical job before in a factory. But this is different because it’s non-stop physical sometimes low effort and sometimes high effort work. The first few days were not easy but I gave it my best. Little by little my body got used to it. If you think being strong at the gym will help you with this, you are in for a surprise. Granted it might make it easier, but you still won’t be prepared. There’s a reason it’s called farm-boy strength. To put it simply, I learned a lot about myself, my body and my limits.

One of the great things was that my host loved explaining anything I did not understand or didn’t know. So any questions I had, I could ask them and he would happily explain.

During this time, I worked with him in the greenhouse – mostly working with the tomatoes, the outside plots – mostly potatoes, the woods – mostly chopping and stacking wood and transporting, breaking and placing bricks and stones. Tons (literally) of bricks and stones that we’d pick up, bring them back to the farm, break them with a hammer and place them in the driveway that was being built. We would then level it to make it ready for the next step of the process of the driveway being built to go from the street down to the farm and the house they are building on it.

I have always had a large appetite. With this work, I was eating all of the time, yet managed to lose fat and build some muscle. 

By the time I left a few weeks later, the difference in the way the farm looked was pretty big and I was proud for having been a part of it.

One Thing To Be Careful Of

The WWOOF charter states that you do not have to work more than 25 hours per week unless previously agreed to. This means an average of 5 hours per day, 5 days per week. My hosts had mentioned that normally the work is 30-60 minutes more per day than the 5 hours and that on holidays they work more (no kids’ schedule to deal with and to limit them). I did not ask them to specify how much more, which was my mistake. Especially since it was a lot more. On average it was an additional 2 hours per day.

The WWOOF charter states that you are expected to partake in their family life. What that means exactly is left up to interpretation by each person. My hosts’ interpretation of it meant that a lot of additional time every day was added. Between helping prepare the meals, eating them together as a family (lots of kids) and helping clean up, I lost an additional 3-4 hours per day.

As someone who likes and needs a lot of personal time this was very hard for me as it did not leave me much time for myself.

Fun Times

There are fun times to be had. With your hosts, with new experiences and learning what does and doesn’t work. The important thing is to laugh at whatever comes your way. I have had ants bite me in places I did not think they could reach. I have almost knocked myself out by throwing a large piece of wood on myself. I found myself balancing myself on my ass, holding my feet in the air after walking on a red ant hill and waiting for someone who had said he was going to get me a plant that soothes and he got lost in conversation with someone.

Social

I was lucky. The farmer and I became friends so I spent a lot of my time feeling like I was helping a friend. However there were also some bad experiences. Not out of malice. At times I was treated like a little kid and I noticed that my hosts did not like WWOOFers to group together, even if only to have a beer, without them. I won’t go into more detail since I prefer to focus on the positive.

Summary

Do it. It’s an adventure and can be a great experience. Though there are some questions I would have asked had I thought about asking them, I do not regret doing it. My recommendation though is to give yourself a way to leave on your own terms if things go sideways.

Who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky like me and make a new friend.

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