After volunteering for five days on an Argentine chacra (small farm) — complete with ultra fresh meals and a bit of farming work in a picture perfect setting — I’ve learned a good bit about WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). In retrospect, there are a few things I wish I would have known before going.
If you’re considering volunteering on a farm, read this first.
1. It’s Not All Farm Work
While we spent most of our time weeding the garden, preparing meals, and cleaning up, there was more to do at our farm than just garden and clean. Several people taught English lessons and the week after we left volunteers started making herbal remedies and building adobe bricks.
2. Volunteering on a Farm Doesn’t Always Mean Free Rent
A lot of people assume that if you volunteer on a farm you will get room and board. This isn’t always the case. Because we only stayed five days and worked 4 hour days, we contributed for meals and our room. Another couple on the farm was staying for several weeks, but didn’t want to work 8 hour days so they paid for food. Farming isn’t always lucrative, so even if you work for months with long hours you may still be asked to pay. In Argentina this could be $2-$10/day if you work full time; we paid about $20/day for room and board.
3. You Don’t Have to Work Long Hours
Because some farms don’t need all the volunteers they have at one time, or if you are paying for part of your stay, you don’t necessarily have to work long 8+ hour farming days. If you want to spend part of your time on the farm relaxing or hiking around the area, look for a WWOOFing experience that will allow you to pay a bit. And as Kimberly mentioned in her post, at our chacra everyone got weekends off.
4. You Can Stay for Weeks or Months
Because of timing with the rest of our trip in Argentina, we were only able to stay 5 days. I wish we could have stayed longer. Some people on our farm had been there a month and had no plans to leave anytime soon.
5. The Longer You Stay the More You’ll See
It may seem obvious that if you stay for a longer period of time you will get to see how the farm changes throughout the seasons. For some reason I thought this would only happen if you stayed months, but people who had been on our farm only a week were excited to see how much the basil grew. And even in our time there the newborn kittens opened their eyes.
6. The Accommodations Vary
We stayed in a private room on the farm, while others slept in tents. A WWOOFer from a nearby chacra told us his farm didn’t have electricity.
7. Fresh Food is Incredible
Kimberly and I participate in CSA farm shares and shop at farmers markets, and when I was little I managed to grow a few ears of corn and a couple of potatoes one summer. But there’s something different when you’re helping grow the food you eat. It tastes so much better.
8. The Area Around the Farm Matters
We were lucky to be within hiking distance of a national park, lake, and waterfall. The nearest town was also within walking distance and there was a larger town (El Bolson) reachable via bus, taxi, or hitchhiking. If you’re thinking about WWOOFing, I would definitely recommend considering what else is in the area.
9. The People (and Animals) Made Our Experience
If we had just been on a farm by ourselves, the experience would have been completely different. Getting to know the other volunteers and the family who owned the farm made our time so much better. If you’re thinking about WWOOFing find out who else might be there.
Also, our farm had three adorable (but slightly mischievous) dogs, two cats (and three newborn kittens), and three horses. It was so much fun to see these animals interact with each other and with us.
10. We Spoke in English
Because they other volunteers were from English speaking countries the farm owner spoke English, we spent the majority of our time communicating in English.
11. Start with the WWOOF Website
I visited the Argentina WWOOF site when considering volunteer and farming options, but I wasn’t sure how helpful it would be and I didn’t want to pay the membership fee to find out. Instead I spent hours reading blogs and Googling “volunteer Argentina”. That’s how I eventually came across Chacra Millalen. Turns out, everyone else we volunteered with had found the chacra through the WWOOF site. I would have saved a lot of time had I used the WWOOF site in the first place.
Overall, the number one thing to ask yourself before you choose a volunteer program is “why do I want to do this?” Your answer, be it “I spent all my money and need to live for free until my plane ticket home” or “I want to know how to garden” or “I want a different experience,” should help you figure out what type of farm you want and how long you want to stay.
Want to learn more aboutWWOOFing?
Check out these books: The Practical Guide to WWOOFing, Volunteer Vacations, and Work Your Way Around the World: The Globetrotter’s Bible.