Volunteering on a farm isn’t just for solo backpackers; it’s a great way to have a cheap and rewarding family trip. Jason and Jill DiLoreti, who spent over a year working on farms around the world with their two young children, share their experience
• Read our general guide to volunteering on farms
What is Wwoofing?
Wwoof (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a worldwide network with branches in over 50 countries that connects volunteers to organic farms and growers. In return for volunteer help, Wwoof hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles and farming. The length of stay is negotiated directly between the volunteer and the host farm and is usually at least a week, although it can be as short as a few days and as long as a six months. Volunteers choose their destination and then join the relevant Wwoof organization. Once you join, you can browse the list of farms in that country or region and begin planning your adventure.
Why did you decide to do it?
Everyone’s reasons are different: to try something new, meet new people, or see a new culture with a different way of life. We are Italian-Americans and absolutely love our heritage so we chose to Wwoof in Italy. Our dream is to have a farm one day and we were able to take much of what we learned and prepare for our future. Looking ahead, we know that an integral part of our farm will be hosting Wwoofers!
Can I do it with my family?
Yes. It was an amazing experience for our whole family. Having your children connect with where their food comes from at a young age is invaluable. Choosing the right farm is key. Not all farms can or will accommodate children. When you are scouting out the farms, make sure you have a clear understanding of what their expectations are and vice versa.
What was the appeal of doing it as a family?
There are few jobs in our current work landscape where you can work alongside your children. On a Wwoof farm you get to volunteer alongside your children and spouse, learning together, while helping someone by supporting their farm. Everyone is learning new languages, cultures, jobs and food. Add the fact that you’re getting a greater understanding of good, clean and fair food only accentuates the positives of Wwoofing as a family.
How do I find out about projects that are suitable for families?
First join the Wwoof organisation for the region you are interested in. You can then browse the list of hosts and search by interest, job, location and other search specifications. Most search options allow you to view farms that take children. Once you have found a few farms that spark your interest, contact the host family and work out the details – I can not stress enough the importance of communicating with your potential hosts beforehand, but keep in mind that things can easily get lost in translation.
Is there a minimum age for children?
Most of the time there is a personal preference from the host farm. They will let you know what ages they feel comfortable having. It is definitely doable with children of all ages, but taking some extra steps and forethought with handling young children on a farm is advisable. For example, our daughter turned five and our son was two during our WWOOF experience. Due to the length of our trip, we planned ahead and had our son potty trained by 18 months to make things simpler.
What sort of work did you do?
In 114 days we were able to do the daily chores of feeding all the animals, butchered a couple of Cinta Senese pigs, made elderflower syrup, baked lots of bread, made cheese, cleared hiking trails, raked hay, butchered hundreds of chickens, cleaned stalls, picked fruit, made salami and prosciutto, shared household responsibilities with the families, spit-roasted hogs at a wedding, worked with bees, helped with tourists at the agriturismo, milked cows and goats, worked in gardens and orchards and much more. Most days we were together, but some days the kids would need to rest and one of us would stay with them.
What do the children do while you’re working?
The children were right beside us the whole time. Either the kids would directly help or we would make a base camp where we were working. One of us would check out the area and tell the kids where they could go and what they could do (“don’t go near the large drop-off and landslide” or “don’t touch the bull”). Then they were off to play. With what you ask? Sticks, rocks, earthworms (a definite favourite), grass, flowers, chickens, cows, dogs, cats, bugs, everything! The kids would hunt for wild asparagus, fennel and other herbs, collect the eggs from the coop and help plant in the garden or pull weeds. There were also children on some of the farms that they got to know and play with. This was especially fun for them.
Is it safe?
Yes, but you need to remember that these are working farms. Large animals, machines, and tools are a part of every day life. If you have young children, work with them prior to your trip on setting boundaries, behavioural challenges, and taking instruction from strangers. It will help make your trip a less stressful.
Where did you stay?
Every Wwoof host’s profile will give you a basic description of the accommodation they offer. This could could be a tent, shared accommodation, a bedroom in their house or a full apartment. In our experiences, we were blessed with very hospitable hosts and clean, simple accommodation, but if you have idealistic ideas about staying in Tuscany and spending romantic nights with your spouse, this will probably not be that trip. That said, Wwoofing creates some wonderful opportunities for family time and bonding.
How much did it cost?
In 114 days, our family of four spent roughly $3,700, excluding airfares. This included multiple train tickets around Italy, a mobile phone, food, a week’s stay at an apartment on the beach, restaurants, lots of wine, some gear along the way, a birthday celebration for our daughter, espressos and tons of gelato.
What key questions should I ask our hosts?
• If you have specific dietary needs for religious, moral, or allergy reasons, ask them if they can accommodate you. Remember, some farms feed you what they have available. We once spent 18 days on a remote farm and never went to the store to buy any food.
• Ask them what they expect of you and how your family will be integrated into their farm? Every farm will have different needs and time restraints due to their farming activities and the seasons.
• Give them some information about your family, interests and job experience. You may be able to help their farm with web design, construction, or contribute with some other talent you have.
• Ask them about accommodation. Get the full details to see if it works for your family. For instance, some people may need you to bring sleeping bags.
• How will you get to the farm from the airport or train station? Many hosts will help out, especially if it is remote or not near public transport. Plan ahead and make sure that they will be able to fit your family and your luggage.
Start before you get there
Work with your kids on things before your departure; change their nap times sometimes to try to make them flexible, and with young kids potty train early. If you are wary of jumping into a Wwoof farm in another country, check one in your area for a day or weekend trip.
Eat everything put in front of you – with a smile
Start now and have fun with it. Test your family and make them eat new foods, making sure they smile. You don’t want to offend your host when they offer you the “best breakfast in the world” of fresh pig brains, spinal cord and pancreas scrambled in duck eggs. ⁃
We ended up sending home unneeded items along the way. You’ll be surprised how little you really need. We created a simple packing list that worked for us .
The cheapest way isn’t always the best way
In an effort to be budget conscious, we embarked on a crazy 45-hour journey on our return from Italy. It included two cars, one bus, three trains, two planes, sleeping in Rome airport, and a lot of walking. No joke. The kids were champs and I couldn’t be more proud of our family, but that was just plain stupid.
Have a back-up plan
Sometimes things just don’t work out as planned. Be sure to communicate with your Wwoof organisation about any issues, especially if it conflicts with their standards on organic farming practices or unacceptable accommodation.
For us, it was one of the best trips we have taken as a family. We have made new friends with whom we regularly keep in touch, and we’re hoping to go on our next Wwoof trip in the very near future. Enjoy!
Jason and Jill blog about their experiences on diloreti.com
Link to article: feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663875/s/380a97e4/sc/10/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Ctravel0C20A140Cmar0C110Cvolunteer0Efarm0Efamily0Eexperts0Eguide0Ewwoofing0Ewith0Ekids/story01.htm