"I want to volunteer on a WWOOF farm over the holiday break," I once said to a friend.
"A wolf farm?!" came the incredulous reply. Despite its popularity in recent years, WWOOF is still far from a household name. The acronym stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and it allows travelers to experience life - and lots of hard work - on a farm in one of the hundred-odd countries worldwide that participate.
Volunteers barter physical labor - typically five to six hours a day, five to six days a week - for meals and accommodation at their host farm, as well as a hands-on education in farm life. In their free time, volunteers can explore their immediate environs (often remote rural areas), visit nearby towns and cities, or any number of other leisure-time activities in and around their host farm (provided that it doesn't clash with the lifestyle and wishes of the hosts). Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and help their hosts for the prescribed number of hours. Besides these basic facts, it's hard to summarize a WWOOF experience: each location, host farm, and a combination of personalities will yield a dramatically different experience.
How to Connect with WWOOF Host Farms in the Netherlands
Some countries have their own national WWOOF organizations, but the Netherlands - with just shy of 30 host farms - falls under WWOOF Independents, a network of farms in 41 countries that lack a national organization.
Prospective WWOOFers in the Netherlands can preview the list of host farms on the WWOOF Independents website but must become a member (at a cost of £15/$23 a year for individuals, £25/$38 for couples) in order to access the contact details of the farms and send out inquiries. Not all farms accept volunteers all-year-round (winter is, understandably, a slow season for WWOOF activity); moreover, the farms have limited space, and don't always have vacancies, especially in the summer or on short notice.
Therefore, it's essential to contact prospective hosts sufficiently in advance, and not to expect that the farm of your choice will have a vacancy; sometimes, it's necessary to contact multiple farms before a WWOOFer can find a match.
Where to WWOOF in the Netherlands
WWOOF farm are all over the Netherlands, chiefly in the less densely populated areas outside of the Randstad: the north, east and south all have their share of farms, each of which has its own specialization, be it certain crops or animals, or other activities. (Learn about the different characteristics of each of the 12 provinces of the Netherlands.) Similarly, accommodations differ between the farms, from a conventional bedroom to a caravan to a tent; whether the accommodations are shared or private also depends on the host. These details are usually listed in the brief description each farm writes for itself in their WWOOF Independents profile, which prospective WWOOFers are advised to check well before they send an inquiry.