In 2015, I was convinced by my friend to drop the conveniences of modern living and head out to a remote homestead and get our hands dirty. WWOOFing – standing for ‘willing workers on organic farms’ – provides you the opportunity to spend time doing labor in some of the most rural reaches of our world, in exchange for free accommodation and food.
Our destination was Elands, a small village, high up in the mountains of New South Wales, Australiaet up as a community for environmental protesters to protect the luscious Bulga Plateau from oil mining, every household is eco-minded, and most of the villagers are self-sufficient.
The time I spent there was a life changing experience, and led me to believe that everyone should WWOOF at least once in their lives. Here’s why:
- Learn About Yourself
Obviously, traveling with a chronic illness is an ongoing learning experience in itself, since you’re never really sure what’s going to flare up when. So for me, throwing myself head-first into a physically demanding, isolated and wholly unique environment suddenly created a greater challenge than I could ever have imagined.
However, anxieties about the effect of the hard work on my body were only partially covered by a mud arch, and there was a lot of straw to be raked.
One night saw an extremely painful flare up, but even that doesn’t taint the memories. My time in Elands taught me that when the worst happens, or things get difficult, you always find a way to deal with it. I left feeling stronger, braver and more enthusiastic than ever before.
WWOOFing brings you face-to-face with your biggest internal challenges – be they mental or physical – and it forces you to come to terms with how you deal with them. For me, this was the most valuable
- Return To Your Roots
Chopping wood for the fire, wandering round the garden to pick salad leaves for lunch, huddling around the burning stove at night; there’s something so wonderfully organic about the WWOOFing experience – more so than just the food!
For me, it’s always been alarming how detached we are from our primal selves. We didn’t evolve to eat manufactured chemicals or spend our evenings in front of glaring screens. I always wonder whether, if civilization collapsed, how many of us would actually have the skills and knowledge to survive.
Further than that, living in these sorts of communities force you to become more in tune with your body. With limited electricity, most people sleep and wake with the sun, naturally returning you to your circadian rhythm. You are nourishing yourself with fresh, organic food, grown a few feet away from where you eat it, and the water is collected from rain and nearby brooks.
- Embrace A Community
Communal living it a term long lost from our vocabulary, particularly in the cosmopolitan western world. In big cities, many people have never even met their neighbor, never mind broken bread with them. However, out in places where living sustainably is the order of the day, embracing a community-minded lifestyle is the only real option.
It goes like this: you have a load of chickens; your neighbor grows veg in their garden. Individually you’re somewhat restricted; together you can achieve a nutritious and balanced diet. There’s a bond caused by living like this, one that can be seen in almost all travelers and nomadic cultures.
In short, it’s living as an us, rather than living as a me, and this is valuable skill to be able to use in all aspects of your life.
- Time To Disconnect
It’s no exaggeration to claim that, as a planet, we have a severe connectivity issue. We’re so chronically stuck to our screens that very often we forget to stop and take a look around. Working out on a farm all day, there’s no time for phones or laptops; your only options are to speak to the people around you and take in the views.
Similarly, often WWOOFing locations don’t provide WiFi – where I was there was one unreliable hotspot at the village shop – so evenings are spent playing cards, listening to music and building fires.
Particularly for those who suffer from mental illness, this simple change in lifestyle can work wonders on your mind state. Instead of overwhelming yourself with a constant stream of videos, pictures, and conversations, you get the chance to be fully present and live mindfully.
- Health Benefits
Leaving the best till last, this was by far one of the most incredible results of the time I spent in Elands. Almost everything we put into our bodies – minus the wine – was organic, fresh, locally-grown produce. We had eggs from the nearby chicken farm, ate fruit and veg from the garden, drank water from the brook and milk from the goat outside. With the lush forests and sparsely populated roads, the air could not have been cleaner, and we spent every day out in the sun.
Even though the hard work took a toll on my achy-breaky body, all of my conditions seemed to miraculously improve, and I was able to do more than I could have ever imaged physically. The biggest tell was after we left, returning to the convenience food and take-out driven life of the road, and my health went into rapid decline.
Our first host on the mountain told us how she’d suffered from health problems until a naturalist had showed her the healing power of growing you own food; years later she’s the most active, sprightly and glowing 60+ year old that I had ever met!
Like most people, I decided to WWOOF so I could travel further, for longer. However, the unexpected benefits I gained made it, potentially, the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had, in its own right. I’m not saying you should dedicate your life to becoming an organic farmer, but at least try it once!