How WWOOF got started
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 through a contact in the Soil Association. 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). It seemed that many people were just desperate to get into the countryside. Hosts and workers made new friends and enjoyed the experience of working in common in an exchange of assistance and knowledge.
When the demand for longer periods occurred, the name was changed 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.
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. All suggestions are aired and discussed and many implemented. 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. Hosts in countries without a national group are listed by WWOOF Independents which is run in conjunction with WWOOF UK. In fact the sun probably never sets on WWOOF.
In 2000 the first International WWOOF conference was held with representatives from 15 countries. It was agreed to form the International WWOOF Association to try and bring about guidelines as to what is meant by being a WWOOFer, a WWOOF host and to go WWOOFing. Encouragement and support to emerging WWOOF organisations in other countries is also an objective.
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.
WWOOF is still growing and ‘to wwoof’ has entered languages in its own right.
WWOOF demonstrates just what can be achieved through genuine democratic co-operation and a subscription low enough to ensure inclusion of anyone who wants to join. WWOOFers have given 1000’s 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.