At least 12 organic farms on the Yucatán Peninsula have listed themselves on an online social networking site to find volunteers from other countries.
WWOOF Mexico is the matchmaker here, charging would-be farm hands $20 yearly for access to member farms. Judging by the activity on the message boards, this deal is attractive to thousands of young travelers, who pay out of pocket to work for free.
They learn organic farming techniques and absorb the local culture, while receiving food and board, in exchange for completing anywhere between four and seven hours of daily chores, five to six days a week.
Duties at WWOOF farms would vary, but include the typical routine: harvesting, preparing soil for planting, milking, cleaning pens, digging trenches and maintaining fences.
WWOOF Mexico is affiliated with a larger international body that was started in London in 1971. Originally the acronym stood for “Working Weekends on Organic Farms,” but as the organization expanded in territory and ambition, that was changed to “Willing Workers On Organic Farms.” But then the term “workers” was thought to imply a clandestine migrant worker organization. So now, WWOOF stands for “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.”
WWOOF simply makes the introductions. The volunteer and the farmers then discuss terms and logistics, and transportation and any other costs are the responsibility of the new arrivals. No money exchanges hands.
Different farms for different folks
A semi off-grid farm in Yaxcaba asks WWOOFers to work 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Saturday for at least two weeks. Guests stay in a 36-square-meter Mayan palapa with a bed or hammock. There is a composting toilet and an outdoor shower.
Meals are vegetarian and served twice a day, and guests are expected to help prepare it — and do dishes afterwards.
Meanwhile, at the 20-acre Lemurian Embassy Eco Retreat near Chichen Itza, guests work five hours a day (days off are not listed) and can stay up to three months, and then, “if you decide you love it here and u don’t want to leave then we can discuss this further but we definitely would love to have you around.”
Rancho Los Nubes in Ticul raises tilapia in conjunction with its fruit and cocoa crops. Visitors are welcome from one to two weeks and are asked to respect their colleagues, without engaging in intimate relationships. Sundays and Mondays are free.
Deep in the forest in Ebula, the nascent Oasis Eco Village & Hostel grows bananas, papayas and vegetables, maintains a tilapia pond, and raises chickens, turkeys, geese and goats across 13 acres. They are looking for like-minded volunteers to work four hours a day Monday through Friday. “We are not asking for back breaking labor, just simple tasks that are fun and enjoyable,” they write on Workaway, another volunteer networking site.
They need help with building, clearing land, planting/transplanting, art projects/beautification, landscaping. They also offer arts and crafts workshops, trips to cenotes, nature walks, meditation and yoga — and “truly amazing stargazing.”
The hostel is scheduled to open there this month.