As you may remember me mentioning, one way I made this trip possible was by doing farm stays for about half of the time. The main motivation was that I truly wanted to return to working with the earth and gardening, the fact that it would also give me a free lodging and food, a built-in community, not to mention the most authentic traveling experience possible, sealed the deal! I can say with 100% confidence, my trip would not be nearly as rich without these farm stay experiences. Here are some tips and how to’s for finding your own farm stay!
1.What is a Farm Stay?
There are definitely different types of farm stays. You can rent a luxe accommodation at an organic farm where you have the fresh organic food but you pay for hotel-style accommodation. The type of farm stays, I’ve been on are where you are actually working as a farm-hand in exchange for food and lodging. It’s a really great way to get off the beaten track and find out what’s it’s like to live there from the inside out. There’s nothing like staying with a local family and being involved in their day to day routine, to get to know a culture! You’ll be living on their property or even in their house, eating together, working together, and often socializing together. You’ll get an inside view on what’s it’s like to work, eat, and live in their town. You can do a farm stay any where in the world and it’s not technically employment so you don’t need a work visa. That said, some countries require volunteer certificates.
2. How to Find Farms
The easiest way to find farms if you want to get it set up before you go, is to use a listing service like Workaway.info, WWOOF, or HelpX. These sites have listings of farms and other businesses or households looking for help that they will exchange for room and board. WWOOF focuses on organic farming. Workaway and Helpx cover anything from farming to nannying to cleaning hostels (Hell, No! was my reaction to the latter two:). There’s a fee to sign up for all of these sites with WWOOF being the most expensive. I think it was around $35 to sign up for Workaway, which is the main site I used. It’s based in the UK. It’s easy to navigate and you can pick a focus (I picked gardening). You can search by country, type of work, and your own keywords. The general idea behind these sites, is that you will work 15-25 hours a week for food and lodging. It’s a lovely concept! And if communication is good on both ends, and it’s the right match, it can be an absolutely amazing experience!
You don’t have to use a website. My brother, Michael, a big inspiration for me to take this trip, has traveled the world hitchhiking and just meeting people along the way. He’s stayed and worked on farms in Russia, Georgia, Mongolia, Romania, and Peru. I am not quite that adventurous. I had two farms set up when I left and I found the others as I was traveling, through Workaway’s Last Minute Host Page and also through previous farm hosts who had spread the word about me.
3. How to Search
When creating your profile, be sure to share all your skills and background. I was able to trade photography and social media help at a couple of my farm stays. You can really cater it to your own interests and skills, which is cool. Some farms are looking for people with experience in certain things, but most you don’t really need any training. Just a good work ethic. Don’t want to go alone? You can actually create a couple account or an account with a friend. Many farms are looking for pairs of people to help out!
On the Workaway site, each farm has a rating and also reviews. I placed a lot of importance on this when I first started looking. That said, I found that the ratings don’t necessarily mean everything. One of my very favorite farm stays had an 85% rating, while a farm I absolutely hated (and ended up leaving after four days) had a 100% rating and raving reviews
I spent months looking actually. Whenever I had time, I spent about at least an hour a week for 5 months searching for the right situation, emailing people, and strategizing. I definitely recommend searching 6 months in advance to find something ideal because the really good places get booked up and a lot of times people just don’t answer.
Ask yourself what’s important as you begin your search.
Here’s what was important to me:
-Europe. I knew I wanted to be in Europe as I already had a few friends here and the infrastructure was easy to keep up with blogging and other projects. I knew once I got here, it would be cheap to get from country to country.
-Private accommodation. I really did not want to share a bedroom with someone. I am 37 and have lived by myself for seven years so I am a bit high-maintenance like that. This was pretty much a deal breaker for me!
-Organic farms! I have no interest in working on a farm that uses chemicals. I truly went on the farm stays to learn something not just have a free place to stay. That said, a lot of small farms and self-sustaining households aren’t going to have an organic certification so it’s just a question to ask as you correspond with your host. I was also more interested in plants and food than animals, so I tried to focus on farms accordingly.
-Good vibes. I use my instinct. I read the profile carefully. Do these look like people I would jive with personality wise? Does their description of work sound fair or does it sound like slavery? Are they positive, use good grammar, seem kind? I looked for low-key places that would let me have my own personal space and personal time. When searching, I really had to ask myself over and over, “How hippie am I?”
-What do the photos look like? Surprise! I am a visual person. I looked for charming, pretty places.
-Length of Stay. I wanted to stay someplace 1-3 months.
-Ratings. I definitely only chose places that had reviews and a decent rating.
Tips for communicating with hosts before booking
-Mention any food allergies or preferences. When I was in France, another volunteer showed up at the farm who was vegan. She didn’t know they were killing bunnies and chickens for food and it was kind of shocking for her and frustrating for the hosts. Definitely find someone you are on the same wave length with food wise.
-Ask as many questions as possible about the things that are important to you. Accomodation? Transporation? Location? Expectations? Work hours? These things all vary host to host. Be sure and pepper them with questions before hand so you are on the same page.
-Mention any scheduling conflicts. If you are bringing other projects or work, be sure and make sure that you will have time to work on this. As well as what their expectations are for the schedule? I noticed a lot of farms were not really clear on scheduling and this could be frustrating- like not knowing when work is over?! Be sure to clearly communicate and ask what hours you’ll be working if that’s important for you to know.
-Ask what the set up is! How many people will be there? What is the family situation? This varies farm to farm! At a lot of farms I was the only volunteer or one of a few, at another there were 16 volunteers living in a house! These are things you want to know before hand!
-Communicate the length of stay. Most places won’t take someone for just a few days. It’s usually anywhere from 1-12 weeks. I noticed a lot of hosts didn’t want to confirm the leave date before hand. They want to know if it’s going to work first. So just make sure to continue communicating with them as you arrive. And, have a tentative date on the calendar before you arrive.
My biggest tip is to be high maintenance in your search! Then, once you get there be as open minded as possible, for the ultimate experience. In Part 2, I’ll cover more details on what to expect when you get there and what a typical day looks like based on my experiences in at small family farms in France and England, and a commercial tomato farm in Sweden.
Throw questions at me in the comments!
Photos by Chelsea Fuss. Taken at a small, self-sustaining small-holding in the Brittany Region of France.