Formally called Working Weekends on Organic Farms, WWOOF came into being in Autumn 1971, in England, when a London secretary, Sue Coppard, recognised the need to provide access to the countryside for people like herself who did not otherwise have the means or the opportunity,
and who were keen to support the organic movement.
Her idea started with a trial working weekend, which she arranged for four people at the bio- dynamic farm at Emerson College in Sussex. The weekend was a great success and things gathered momentum very quickly. Soon many more organic farmers and smallholders were willing to take people keen to work on this basis (WWOOFers). Hosts and workers made new friends and enjoyed the experience of working in common in an exchange of assistance and knowledge.
WWOOF UK developed quickly and the organisation adapted its systems to meet the needs of WWOOFers and hosts. It was flexible and adaptable and continues to benefit greatly from enthusiastic grassroots input and feedback and offers of help from members are actively encouraged. WWOOF's ethos is definitely one of constant improvement.
Now there are autonomous WWOOF organisations in many countries who all have their own individual ways of organising themselves but basically have similar membership charges, publish a host list and newsletters. WWOOF Cyprus was founded in August 2012.
Hosts in countries without a national group are listed by WWOOF Independents.
In they year 2000 the first International WWOOF conference was held with representatives from 15 countries. It was agreed to:
- try and bring about guidelines as to what is meant by being a WWOOFer, a WWOOF host and to go WWOOFing.
- Encourage and support emerging WWOOF organisations in developing countries. In the last few years many new WWOOF organisations have been set up.
When the demand for longer periods on farms occurred, the name was changed from "Working Weekends on Organic Farms" to "Willing Workers On Organic Farms". Since then, in recognition of the world wide nature of the organisation and the confusion caused by the word 'work' with migrant workers which WWOOFers are most definitely not, WWOOF now stands for "World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms". This change of name was accepted at the meeting in the year 2000, though some WWOOF groups still prefer to use the old versions of the name.
When the organisation started in 1971 it would not have been imagined that the word 'work' would cause serious problems with regard to the immigration authorities. In some countries, they view WWOOF as a clandestine migrant worker organisation. By sharing the experience of countries that have successfully negotiated recognition of WWOOF as a bone fide cultural exchange and learning experience, those national organisations still having problems hope to change their government's attitude.
CONTRIBUTION TO ORGANIC FARMING
WWOOF is also now recognised as having an important contribution to make in the wider organic world as it brings more and more people into direct contact with organic growers both independently and through other organisations who are trying to influence policy and consumer demand. Through its newsletters WWOOF organisations inform their members of organic news, views, jobs and training.
WWOOFING A LIFE EXPERIENCE
WWOOF is still growing and 'to wwoof' has entered languages in its own right. WWOOFers have given thousands of hours of help to organic growers and WWOOF hosts have given their time and experience to WWOOFers and opened the door to a way of living that has fundamentally changed people's lives.