Field Notes: You Can Work on a Farm in Exchange for Free Room and Board
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: WWOOFers.
What it is
Photos: Aaron Yoshino
Do you like working with your hands and being outdoors? Do you like not paying rent? WWOOFing might be for you! The movement lets people work on a farm in exchange for free room and board, for spans of time that range from a few days to months at a time.
How it started
People living together and working on an organic farm is an idea at least as old as agriculture, but WWOOFing originated in the ’70s. A secretary in England put together a weekend work program to allow ordinary people to support the organic movement and thus WWOOF, or Working Weekends on Organic Farms, was born. Today, depending on the country you’re in, the acronym more often stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms—but the idea is the same. By word of mouth or accessing online registries like wwoofinternational.org (or more localized registries like wwoofhawaii.org) anyone 18 or over can find a host farm almost anywhere in the world at which to live, work, learn and support organic farming.
Who does it
WWOOFers can be anyone, but in general they are in their 20s. They range from young travel addicts willing to work for their keep rather than shell out for a hostel, to 50-somethings who have quit their careers and are looking for a radical lifestyle change. Students often WWOOF, whether they’re on gap years or are connecting organic farming to their interests in fields such as public health or urban planning. In Hawai‘i, many WWOOFers are from the Mainland, with a smaller percentage being international. Fewer local people WWOOF; a big part of the appeal is traveling to someplace new, after all! Still, there’s always Neighbor Island WWOOFing, and some places, like Mohala Farms in Waialua, offer opportunities for volunteers who don’t necessarily live at the farm.
The WWOOF experience very much depends on the host you get. Different farms offer different accommodations, work hours and vibes. At Mohala, folks are up and at ’em by 6:45 a.m. They break at midday for a two-hour lunch and continue working in the afternoon. At the end of the morning, no one seems harried, rushed or tired. Volunteers have the chance to weed, plant, transplant, seed, fertilize, harvest, process produce and take turns at the farmers market. Volunteers also take turns cooking meals and doing other chores.
What to ask
How many hours of work per day does your host require? It can range from two to eight hours.
What are the living conditions like? Do you need a cabin to yourself, or are you OK with roughing it in a tent?
Is food included? If so, is it from the farm? (At Mohala, volunteers say one of the highlights is fresh food from the farm.) Can your host accommodate your dietary needs?
Can you live with the house rules? (Some hosts forbid drinking, for example.)
How long do you plan to stay, and is your host OK with that?
Erica Ballester, 26, from New York
Did one month in August and has been back for three weeks.
“Harvest days are my favorite because I really like the community aspect—everyone pulling together and making it sort of a game to beat our record.”
Walt Gault, 25, from California
Has spent a year in New Zealand and Hawai‘i.
“It’s good for me because I like to surf. If I was on a regular surf trip I’d have to pay more. Here, I’m just a short scooter ride away from Hale‘iwa.”
Maggie Camillos, 18, from Connecticut
Plans to WWOOF for three months.
“It’s just really fulfilling. My mind is content because I’m physically doing something but at the same time I have a lot of time during the day to reflect.”
For a full list of the more than 300 WWOOF farms in Hawai‘i, visit wwoofhawaii.org/host-farms.