It’s that time of year again: school is out, the sun is shining, and after the necessary recovery week in front of your parents’ TV, you are looking for something to do over the summer. Perhaps you are considering a farm internship or WWOOFing – but you have no idea how to find a farm. It is important to find a farm that fits your interests and your comfort level.
After having to re-plan my summer of WWOOFing in one night, I have had my share of contacting farms. Here is my guide to help you find and contact the right farm.
**Tips and Tricks**
1. Set Your Priorities. Before agreeing to work on a farm, even for a short time, you need to set your priorities. If you don’t know what you want from the farm, how can you decide what type of farm you’re looking for? Ask yourself the following questions to determine your ideal situation:
-What sort of farm are you looking for? Do you want to work mainly with animals, vegetables, fruits – there are even farms that specialize in flowers and trees. Do you want to work making a product, like cheese or wine?
-Why do you want to WWOOF? What are you hoping to get out of the experience? If you are just looking for a fun way to spend the summer, a hip location and lots of other interns will be ideal. If you are looking to learn, search for farmers who are established, work one on one with the interns, and are ready to teach. If you want to get away and spend some time alone, there are farms that suit those needs, too.
-Are you prepared to be slightly uncomfortable and/or lonely? Determine what comforts you cannot live without, and make sure you find a farm that provides what you need. If you are uncomfortable being alone, make sure you have a farm with other interns, or perhaps WWOOF with a friend. If you cannot live without calling your parents/friends/boyfriend or getting on Facebook, make sure you find a farm with phone service and internet. Remember, certain farms don’t even use hot water.
2. Contact the Farm. Once you have set your priorities, it is time to start looking for farms. Try to find farms that fit what you want. If you don’t eat meat, working on a farm that raises animals for slaughter might not be your best choice. If you don’t do well alone, consider WWOOFing with your best friend, or find a farm with multiple interns. Again, you need to consider your comfort level – do you need internet to survive? Your own room? What about hot water? Here are some questions to ask:
-What are the sleeping accommodations like? Do you have electricity? Hot water? Is it a co-ed room? Do they provide sheets? etc. Do not underestimate the importance of this.
-What are the work hours? Do they expect you to work all day, a half day? Do you get weekends off?
-What type of work will you be doing? If their only answer to this question is weeding, I would probably avoid the farm. While some weeding is to be expected, you want to experience a variety of things.
-Who else lives on the farm? Are there other interns/WWOOFers? I would also ask the ages of people living/working on the farm. If you are uncomfortable with children or being the only person in your age group, this is a very important question.
-What is the area like? How isolated is the farm? How big is the town? Will you have access to a bike if you do not own a car? Will you be able to get off the farm?, etc.
-What does the family/owner do when not working, in the evenings?
-How do meals work? Does everyone eat together? What types of foods are eaten? This is VERY important if you follow a specific diet or have food allergies. I would highly recommend only farms that eat at least two meals a day together.
-Have they had WWOOFers in the past? If so, how did it go? Can you contact past WWOOFers?
-Why did they choose to accept WWOOFers? This is a very important question – if the farmers only want you for free labor, they won’t know how to answer this question.
3. Make Your Choice. While you may be tempted to say yes to the first farm that accepts you, I encourage you to wait at least 48, if not 72 hours from when you contacted the farms. Remember, farmers are busy and many don’t check their emails as often as you do. Wait a few days and then see what responses you get. From there, evaluate their answers. Do they match your priorities? Do you feel comfortable with their answers? Do you feel a connection to any specific email or looking at any pictures? Follow your gut here – and if none of the farms feels right, please keep looking.
Don’t underestimate the power of the internet, or peer reviews. Please do your research! Carefully read all the information the farm has provided on the WWOOF website or on GrowFood. Google the farm and read reviews of the farm. Look at pictures. If you are seriously considering a farm, it might be helpful to call them and talk directly. Ask to get in touch with past interns and ask about their experiences.
Through all of this, you must remember YOU are the one giving your time. Ask as many questions as you can think of. If you do not get adequate responses, consider other farms. Spending time on a farm is fun, but it is also extremely hard work. If you are not enjoying what you are doing, if you are not comfortable with your living situation, or if you are lonely, then you will not have a beneficial experience.
At the same time, you shouldn’t be too picky. There will be moments of discomfort. You will be lonely at least once. You may find that you don’t like farming! (I found that I don’t particularly enjoy cheese making). These are all parts of the WWOOFing experience. Most importantly, get out there and have fun!
Alexis ZK is an undergraduate at New York University studying French and Food Studies. After spending a summer working on farms all over the US, she spent a year studying, eating, and working in France. Now, she has returned to the farms, this time focusing on wine and value added products. Follow her adventures here.