WWOOFing: Trading City Life for Cabin Building in Utah and Kayaking in Alaska

My friend Greg and I arrived on Easter Sunday at organic farm and vineyard, Montezuma Canyon Ranch, just south of Monticello, Utah. This was our first wwoofing experience, where we stayed for two weeks (“WWOOF” stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). During our two-month long trip, the longest stay we had was five nights in Denver, where it was nice to stay in one spot for a few days. I’d never stayed on a farm before, and was unsure what work we would be doing. The arrangement when wwoofing is usually such that the farm provides room and board in exchange for visitors working on the farm. Often a wwoofer is expected to work about six hours a day, for five days a week.

Joining us at Montezuma Canyon Ranch were four other wwoofers from Massachusetts, Texas, Tennessee, and South Carolina; all in their 20s. The work day here began at 9am, which was surprisingly late to me, but it was still cool out there. During the day we dug holes, a foot deep, to plant new shrubs. I smelled wild sage, which was a lovely companion as I put my hands in the hard dirt. The intent of this work was that the shrubs would keep the sinkholes from getting larger and that it would stop the erosion caused by the canyon wind.

We planted 300 plants consisting of Arizona Cypress, Utah Juniper, Big Tooth Maple, Box Elder, Cottonwood, and a few others. The ranch has 150 acres of land, 21 acres of which are for grape vines (currently there are 20,000 vines). Unfortunately for me, the year’s vines had already been planted, and since grapes are not harvested until the fall, I did not get the chance to learn much about the vineyard industry. We pruned the pear and apple trees and prepared them for mulching. During our work we had to duck from the bees, and to keep a close eye on our feet and hands for fire ants which are quick, sneaky little critters.

There is so much difficult hand and back-breaking work to do on a farm. My hands got sore within hours of beginning, and every day I felt new soreness in my body. Although I suppose there is an adjustment period. And I must remember that I am just a city girl learning the ropes; one who has always dreamed of working outside (be careful what you wish for).

During our wwoofing experience we all lived together in the same large, beautiful, ranch-style house. I have never lived with so many people before; it felt like I was on the Real World but with less drama! We were also a tad isolated from the nearest town, and so we spent our days and nights together on the farm.

We used solar power with a back up generator. I realized how much energy a dryer takes when we used up all the energy to dry one load. We had fresh well water and we hauled out the recycling and garbage in to town.

Danny, the 25 year old farmer, was in the process of building an 800 square-foot solar cabin to accommodate additional wwoofers. Danny gets many wwoofing requests, and there’s a lot to do here. Last fall the frames for the cabin were put up. After Joey and Greg did the electrical work, we all worked together to install the insulation and dry wall. This was a very new, dusty, and unexpected experience for me, but now I know that the construction business is not for me (and that insulation is itchy!). I must admit though, that I felt like a tough guy when I sawed window frames on dry walls. The work was not as hard on your body, at first, as farming.

We cooked our meals together and being a group of eight, you can imagine how much time it took to get things started and cleaned up. I’ve also been exposed to a variety of new music that I would never have otherwise discovered. It is one of the many cool benefits of travel – just like trying new food dishes.

Each wwoof experience will be different, and not all wwoofs are on typical farms. In Alaska, I noticed there were a handful of tourism organizations wanting wwoofers. This was right up my alley, as I am seeking a career change in ecotourism and I wanted to volunteer to gain some insight into the industry.

For my second wwoof in Homer, Alaska, I stayed with Seaside Adventures for three weeks. They are a small kayaking tour group with a lodge in Kachemak Bay. It was a completely different experience from my first wwoof. For one thing, I was the only wwoofer there. Many places in Alaska only have the capacity to host, and often only need, one or two wwoofers. In Utah it was nice to meet so many other wwoofers. Although on the other hand, in Alaska it was nice to have more one on one time with the owners, which allows wwoofers to really get to know their hosts, and to better understand how things operate. There were some similarities between the two experiences; both places are very remote, and need to conserve water.

I also noticed that if you are a girl, you will not be treated differently. In both places I was asked if I had ever used a chainsaw, wood splitter, drill gun, dremel, etc. It was nice that my hosts did not assume that I’d never used those tools before. And yet when I replied no, they were happy to show me how to use them.

To me wwoofing is like a different type of the typical internship. You get to learn about a new industry and gain new skills, but you gain much more because you live where you work and therefore experience a completely new living environment as well. You also build close relationships and learn about a variety of things by talking to new people.