Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.
WWOOFing Canada – Essential Tips From A Host
WWOOFers, I could write a book about my WWOOFing Canada experiences as a host. It has been over ten years since the first WWOOFer arrived at the ranch. I never kept track of the numbers that came through.
Some WWOOFers stayed for a couple of months and came back the following year, with many of them I became friends. Others were at the ranch for a couple of days and complained that this was not what they expected; I dropped them off at the bus station the next day.
WWOOF, Workaway, HelpX or where ever they come from, all these systems work about the same; young people working for room and board and learning about agriculture or other related work and new cultures. In other words, it’s young travellers seeking room and board abroad for free. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities On Organic farms but it has become a general term. Many Canadian small farms, resorts and eco-businesses are dealing with WWOOFers.
My horse ranch has been very attractive for volunteer workers over the years and my inbox has been cluttered with inquiries daily. Who doesn’t want to live the Western Dream for a while and work on a ranch! And why not choose WWOOFing Canada for this experience.
Do you want to WWOOF in Canada?
So you decided to volunteer on a ranch in Canada and WWOOFing is part of your travel plan. Working on Organic Farms is what you are looking for. You want to get away from the tourist route and experience the Canadian lifestyle and the culture.
First, you have to realize, that there are worlds between city and country lifestyles, and huge differences between city and country folks. You don’t really know Canada until you experience both.
Whether you will have a positive WWOOF experience will depend a lot on your background, what kind of life you are used to and your attitude. All the country people know: “We are a different kind of breed!” Whether you can adjust to our lifestyle will depend on YOU.
Know what to expect
When browsing the Internet you will find lots of articles and reviews about disappointing WWOOF experiences. You will read stories about bad host places and wrong expectations. I believe that there are always two sides to a story. In some cases, the problem might have been the WWOOFer, not the host.
You think that you know what to expect, and you still might be wrong, totally wrong. In most cases, this is not the host’s fault, but the WWOOFer had wrong expectations.
Make sure that this doesn’t happen to you.
When watching the “Heartland Series” or any old Western movie, do realize, that it will not be like in the movies when you are working on a ranch.
Who is WWOOFing Canada?
Most people who decide on WWOOFing Canada are college students spending a gap year abroad. Many still live at home in a protected environment, and now want to experience adventure. Spending money is limited, therefore WWOOFing seems attractive. Travelling in Canada can be expensive and WWOOFing is a great alternative and a money saver.
Arriving as a WWOOFer, you might get picked up at the bus station, or at the airport, if you’re lucky. You’ll be staying at somebody’s home and you will get a place to sleep and all your meals. For all that, you have to do a bit of work, and in your opinion, have a cheap holiday experience.
What are the hosts saying? How do some of us think about WWOOFers?
WWOOFing Canada, Workaway, and Help-Ex are excellent programs for young travellers, but they are not suitable for everyone. So please, do your research and don’t waste the hosts time if you have any doubts. On the other hand, if you know what you want, and you are flexible, open-minded and dependable, go ahead and contact the hosts that catch your eyes.
In the area where I live we have lots of Canada woofing hosts and some call our valley WWOOFerville. Out here in the country, we don’t see our neighbours too often. When we do get together, WWOOFers are always a common topic. And what do the hosts say?
Here an excerpt:
- WWOOFers are lazy
- Most of these kids are spoiled
- They don’t know how to work
- They have no skills but big expectations
- We only take WWOOFers from certain countries.
Using the Red Flag System over the years has helped me pick some amazing WWOOFers for my ranch. It is an easy system, I look at your emails and check for red flags. If I find too many, I won’t be interested in hosting you.
Red Flag Guide for WWOOFers – how not to do it
The first impression I get from you is by your application Email. Reading it, I quickly know whether you could be a good match. Below you can see how I interpret an application email.
- Hello (the host name is missing). – I know that the WWOOFer wrote a serial email to many other hosts. Red flag! Use the host’s name and make it personal.
- Soon after the “Hello” I read about all the hobbies the WWOOFer has, and what he likes to do, riding horses, looking after animals, hiking etc. – This WWOOFer wants a cheap holiday.
- How many hours do I have to work and do I get weekends off? – This WWOOFer wants a cheap holiday.
- I also get questions like this: Do you ever go to Vancouver? – Vancouver is a six hours drive from the ranch and “No, I’m not taking you for a trip to Vancouver, but you can rent a car to go there”.
- Do you go to the Calgary Stampede? – Calgary is a seven hours drive from the ranch and “No, I’m not taking you to the Calgary Stampede, but you can rent a car to go there”.
- Do you have Wi-Fi and can I use Skype? – Internet use is limited out in the country. You are looking for the outdoor life, don’t you?
- I only eat organic – There will always be food on the table.
And what about that:
- I’m from the city – No excuse, you can prove that you city people are okay on a farm as well.
- I live with my parents – You better learn fast to do things yourself.
- I have a girlfriend/boyfriend back home – She/he might not hear from you for a while.
- I mainly like to work with horses/animals – Then you should book a ranch vacation.
- I don’t like cooking, only baking – You will change your mind! Maybe I give you a cooking lesson with my Thermomix!
- Do you have spiders at the ranch? – Yes, and stink bugs, and snakes.
Sorry WWOOFers out there, all of these questions and comments are red flags for many hosts in Canada.
If I’m desperate to get help, I might go into your profile and check for special skills, which could be useful for working on a ranch. Most times there are no special skills but, maybe special dietary restrictions and maybe some allergies.
If your host answers your inquiry email and shows interest you can ask further questions.
WWOOFers don’t work for free
You might argue that you work for free, that I don’t pay you. I disagree, you don’t work for free. You get to enjoy the comfort of my home, accommodation, and meals, how much is this worth? Check out accommodation and food prices and minimum wage in Canada and calculate the hours you have to work to make it fair.
And if you only stay five days and worked four hour days, at some places you might have to contribute for meals and your room. After a few hours of work don’t expect a weekend off and get food cooked for you, not at my place anyway.
Farmers work hard and long hours, and if you want to team up with us, make sure you do your part. My hard-working WWOOFers were always rewarded with trips to rodeos, shopping trips, a day at a horse auction, hiking in the mountains, and lots more.
Which Work Exchange should you sign up for?
Both have a similar database of hosts looking for volunteers to help with a wide variety of projects. The hosts may be on farms, guest ranches, Resorts, B & B or in restaurants. Workaway and HelpX have the same model, you create a profile and send messages to hosts that you would like to volunteer for.
Although volunteers have to pay to register, it is free for hosts to create a listing, and therefore there are no reasons for hosts not to take advantage of both websites. Since you will get a similar selection of hosts on either website, I recommend saving your money and only signing up for one.
The good part is that both Workaway and HelpX allow users to browse the host listings for free before paying for a membership. Therefore you can check out both sites before you make your decision.
WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms)
WWOOF was the first work exchange and started in England back in the 1970s. As the name suggests, WWOOF is a database of organic farms owned by people who are willing to provide food and accommodation in exchange for a few hours of volunteer work per day on their farm.
The concept seems similar to Workaway/HelpX, but there are a few key differences. WWOOF emphasizes that it provides an opportunity to learn about organic lifestyles. This means if you’re interested in learning about sustainable farming practices it could be a better choice. That said, numerous hosts on Workaway and HelpX offer organic farm stays as well.
What to bring along
Pack smart. Farming can be muddy and sweaty work. Depending on where you go for your WWOOFing Canada experience you might need warm clothes, hat, and gloves.
- Old t-shirts and jeans
- Waterproof boots
- Rain gear
- A hat or cap
- Mosquito spray
- Working gloves (check with the host whether you will need to))
- Flashlight; in case your accommodation has no power and you have to use the outhouse at night
- Pocket knife; a farm worker is never without one
Don’t expect five-star accommodation
Your accommodation might be in a tepee, a yurt, a bunkhouse or the hay loft of a barn. Maybe you get a cozy bedroom in the farmhouse or you might have to pitch your own tent. At some host places, WWOOFers get to sleep in a stationary camper.
Be prepared to read with your flashlight at night or with a solar lamp. Get used to outhouses and composting toilets, they are very common in our part of the world.
Don’t get hysterical when you see a spider in your room or any other bug crawling up the wall, living on a farm at the edge of the wilderness, this can happen.
Water is scarce in some places and showers might be limited. Don’t freak out if this is the case, your working clothes don’t need to be washed daily.
Don’t be a tourist
Fit in and act like you are part of the team. It might be a culture shock first but might turn into the best travel experience ever.
Don’t get annoyed if plans change daily, that’s farm life. Farm work is mostly dirty, physical work, and you might not be used to it. Give your best and you will learn a lot and gain the respect of the host. Just think about all the stories you will have to tell when you get back home.
It will be hard work and there is a good chance that it will not be long before your romantic notions of farm work will go away. Despite the odds, if you have an open mind and see the good in all of it, you will have fun and an unforgettable WWOOFing Canada Experience.
More Tips to enjoy your WWOOFing Canada Experience
- Don’t expect to just show up at your host’s place and lounge around in exchange for room and board, you have to work for it.
- Be respectful. Remember that you are in somebody else’s home. If you are treated as part of the family, be grateful for that.
- Clean up after yourself and politely ask before using anything.
- If the host cooks for you, help with the dishes and with the clean-up, and remember that this is not part of your working day.
- Follow the rule list, most hosts have one.
- I always told my WWOOFers, that my place was not a hotel and not a self-serve restaurant.
- Keep an open mind about the tasks that come your way. If it is not exactly what you expected, so what!
- Don’t assume that hosts will have time to show you around the area. WWOOFing Canada hosts tend to be busy people. You are likely to be out in the country, a fair distance away from town. So do not expect tourist attractions and shops at your doorstep. That usually is not included in your WWOOFing Canada deal.
- Polite WWOOFers say thank you when the host does something for them, or when leaving the table. In my case, my WWOOFers sometimes ate together with my paying guests. Often my guest thanked me for the meal, but not the WWOOFers…
- Culture shock or not, give it a fair try before complaining about your WWoofing Canada experience.
Check out my Guide 8 Tips For Finding A Job and Working In Canada