Originally called “Working Weekends on Organic Farms”, WWOOF came into being in England, in Autumn 1971, when Sue Coppard, a secretary living and working in London, recognised the need for people like herself, who did not have the means or the opportunity, to access the countryside and support the organic movement.
Her idea started with a trial working weekend for four people at a bio dynamic farm at Emerson College in Sussex, arranged 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 host people keen to work on their farms in return for food and accommodation (WWOOFers). Hosts and WWOOFers made new friends and enjoyed the experience of exchanging assistance and knowledge.
Where it all started
WWOOF UK developed quickly with the organisation adapting its systems to meet the needs of WWOOFers and hosts. It remains flexible and adaptable and continues to benefit greatly from enthusiastic grassroots input and feedback. Offers of help from members are actively encouraged. All suggestions are aired and discussed and many implemented. WWOOF's ethos is one of evolution and constant improvement. Now there are autonomous WWOOF organisations in many countries; all of whom have their own ways of organising themselves. However they all have similar aims. Hosts in countries without a national group are listed by WWOOF Independents.
A maturing organization
In the year 2000 the first International WWOOF conference was held with representatives from 15 countries.
It was agreed to:
- Develop 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 created with the help and support of existing WWOOF groups so that in 2012 there are more than 50 WWOOF groups world wide.
When the demand for longer periods on farms occurred, the name waschanged from "Working Weekends on Organic Farms" to "Willing Workers On Organic Farms". However the use of the word “work” in the title caused problems in some regions as the organisation became inappropriately connected with migrant work and viewed as a clandestine migrant worker organisation.
As a result of this – and in recognition of the world wide nature of the organisation we have become "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 old versions of the name. By sharing the experience of countries that have successfully negotiated national recognition of WWOOF as a bone fide cultural exchange and learning experience it is hoped that national organisations still having problems with their immigration authorities will be able to influence change.
The advantages of acting together on the world stage have become more and more important for WWOOF groups over the years and at another international meeting in Korea in 2011 it was agreed that a Federation of WWOOF Organisations (FoWO) should be formed.
The federation's establishment involved more than 18 months of discussion and negotiation between parties within the WWOOF movement from across the world and was finally incorporated in March 2013 (www.wwoof.net).
As well as the various practical functions performed by the FoWO, such as addressing trademarking issues, helping to legalize and protect the WWOOF movement, some of the main objects of this umbrella organisation are to support and promote the various existing national organisations by providing these with a previously non-existent coordinative network. Member countries are now regularly communicating between each other and sharing precious knowledge and informations for the development of this steadily growing movement.
WWOOF is 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.