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Advice needed: Long-term WWOOFing as a couple  RSS feed

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My wife and I, in our mid-late twenties, are planning to spend a year WWOOFing in the UK from October this year. We're really excited to learn new skills and to make new friends. We both love working outdoors and with the land, but we've got a lot to learn, and we see WWOOFing as a brilliant way of doing this.

We're conscientious, hardworking, and enthusiastic to learn.

We're planning to visit a few hosts throughout the year, to learn different skills and to meet different people. We're planning most of our stays to be between two weeks and a month.

To save money on travel costs, we're planning to do most of our WWOOFing in south west England and south Wales.

We've yet to contact any hosts - at the moment we're going through the list of the hundreds of WWOOF hosts, it's very exciting to read through them all, and difficult to decide who to contact first.

We'd like to know if anyone has experience of WWOOFing as a couple, or of hosting a WWOOF couple. What was your experience? Did you find hosts are open to having couples stay? Did they have a room or a caravan suitable for a couple?

We also have a few questions we've been thinking about:

How do long term WWOOFers travelling between many hosts deal with laundry?

Do hosts who offer you to stay in a caravan expect you to bring your own caravan, or do they provide a caravan? Or is it best to ask each host on an individual basis?

Also, any advice on what to bring, the best way to travel, tips on WWOOFing, whether it's better to contact hosts by telephone or email would be much appreciated.

Thanks in advance for your help and advice.
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Hi and welcome to the world of agricultural volunteering!  I'm not the best ambassador- I have not officially wwoofed!  I have volunteered/interned on farms that had wwoofers, and participated in Turkey's equivalent of wwoof (bugday-tatuta, if you ever go there).

I'm a single, so not the most relevant to your concerns about couple-dom.  I can say that where I've worked when a couple has come in they knew ahead of time whether they were going to get private accommodations or not.  Most hosts will be clear with you prior to arrival about your sleeping situation.  Regarding whether or not you provide the caravan, I assume if they offer for you to stay in a caravan they are offering the use of their caravan, unless they say they are providing a site with hookups for any interested, then it is probably not provided.

Most hosts give access to laundry facilities- I've even had a host or two that did my laundry for me, though it was certainly unexpected and not the norm .

If you are hoping to save money hitchhiking is very cheap.  I know buses and trains in the UK are pricey- I was there two years ago.  I decided to take the bus system.  They have a neat discount card you can buy and save ~10% on each trip.  Even though I only rode the bus three times, signing up for the membership was worthwhile and saved me 20-30 pounds.  As a couple, you are one of the safest hitch hiking combos- I recommend it!  If you want a fun way to stay in a city (or perhaps rural if you luck out) overnight (or a few nights) try couchsurfing.org.  I don't know if travel companies are the same in the UK as the U.S. but it is worth getting travel tickets well ahead of time if you are able to line up farm gigs far in advance.  Sometimes it doesn't work out in the wwoofing line of work .

If you are worried about what to bring, I recommend asking your hosts if you need your own wellies, work gloves, hat, sunscreen if you use that, toiletries, etc.   I traveled with (and still use when traveling) a thin towel made out of a material that dries within thirty minutes- excellent if you want to take a shower early in the morning before departing to a new locale- my mother taught me you can only make a first impression once .  Lastly, some enjoy having a notebook with a pen or pencil to record bits of information gleaned during your stays (references, ideas, journal, contact info).

Also, helpx.net is available.  It is not solely agricultural, nor always organic.  Another viable avenue.

I hope you enjoy your working together!  I find traveling around and working with various homesteads and communities quite enjoyable.
 
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Location: Willamette Valley
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Thanks for the helpx link, looks like a good resource. For those with some skills, caretaker.org has quite a few opportunities for couples.

You bring up many issues common to WWOOFing and other "volunteer" opportunities. Often energetic persons like yourselves will give their heart and souls to a place in order to share in the idealism of the owners, but end up giving away a great deal, with the experience having cost them a great deal. Food and lodging is bare minimum for people's needs. You mentioned laundry as one essential. What if you get injured? How do you pay your car insurance (if you have a car)? Buy work clothes? Hosts often don't have suitable work clothing for workers. Transportation to and from places comes out of ones savings. Plus all the little supplies one needs. I've read a good many WWOOF host descriptions that require upwards of 30-35 hours for basic food and rustic accomodations! Though 20 hours is average it seems, which does not seem unreasonable. And many hosts offer paid hours above the minimum requisite, which is often necessary for the volunteer to make ends meet.

I think many hosts convince themselves that the "learning opportunity" is fair trade for the low compensation. I do not regard the "learning opportunity" of working on a farm to be in any way reasonable compensation. Every job is a learning experience. Everyone needs some amount of training in any new job. On a farm, typically the training is some brief instruction, minimal owner input, with 95% of the time actual labor. There are notable exceptions of course, but as many WWOOFers have experienced, many owners are only marginally capable themselves, don't have all that much to teach, and their need for technical assistance often far exceeds their own expertise. Trouble is, they often do not recognize it because they are not motivated learners themselves. Many hosts I've encountered avoid how-to books and would never attempt to research solutions by using Google. Most people greatly overestimate their own competence, and the degree to which they do is in direct proportion to their incompetence. This phenomenon has been discussed recently in psychology papers. 

Yet I realize my conception of what is a viable enterprise and everything else, is often not the same reality as the landowner. And certainly every host has had to deal with lazy people or those who won't listen well or are a danger to themselves and others. But that's part of the risk of being an employer.

We tend to assume that because someone owns property and has some sort of enterprise started, and describes grand designs in their host description, that they have acumen, are organized, and actually have the wherewithall to succeed. So the WWOOFer needs to discern the difference between the hosts' reality and their own. While hosts are by and large fine caring people who need help, and volunteers are by nature and definition generous people who want to see an alternative farmer succeed, that dynamic opens the possibility of a landowner (or other alternative-type business enterprise) to take unfair, unintentional though it may be, advantage of willing helpers. 

One aspect I've learned to assess as a good indication of a place I'd like to assist is their land stewardship. Land stewardship is actually rarely followed in any conscious way, and sadly the concept is largely unknown as to what it really means, even among some of those committed to permaculture and organic growing. If a landowner practices conscious land stewardship, their operation will be more organized and the land will not be used as a dumping ground for all kinds of junk. In fact, their land will not be "used" so much as "borrowed" from future generations. A primary focus will be made into increasing its biodiversity instead of mining its life and fertility. Yes sounds like basic permaculture and organic principles.

Maybe what "volunteers" need to do before committing to anything long-term is more up-front questioning. Perhaps do a 1-2 day pre-visit prior to a committment. It is hard to discern much via email or even phone. I also think it ought to be acceptible for experienced and/or proven laborers with good references to negotiate for their essentials besides food and shelter so that they don't have to bleed their own savings accounts while giving a part of their lives to someone else's enterprise. Right here on this discussion board, there are recent requests for "volunteers" for 25 hours a week and more in remote locations--for some fairly skilled work! And offering only room and board!
 
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