in     by  11-12-2015

Would you invite a young stranger or two into your home?

Would you feed and house them and treat them like family, all for the sake of 4-6 hours of work a day?

This is the deal that you agree to when you sign up with the NZ Wwoofing association. “Wwoof” stands for various phrases including Willing Workers On Organic Farms, but the association has broadened that to include “sustainable” properties too. As far as I can gather you just have to be trying to be as green as possible, within the bounds of reality, in order to sign up.

Risk and reward

We had heard of enthusiastic and energetic young people throwing themselve into the most menial task, but we had also heard a few horror stories of hosts being taken advantage of by lazy or dishonest people. Dealing with strangers is alsways a balance between risk and reward – the risk of being ripped off, and the reward of new and interesting social engagement, not to mention lots of manual labour! 

After much thought we decided to take the plunge, and are now on our 4th set of woofers. We have had only good experiences so far, but we’ve learnt a bit about how to make life easier on yourself – and them.

Useful tips for reducing risk and increasing reward:

  • Do be very specific and honest about your property and expectations, in your host profile.
  • Don’t ask them to do anything important until you have assessed their skills/character. We have had one woofer who was full of enthusiasm and energy, but short of attention to detail, so we assigned jobs that required energy but not finesse.
  • Do be very specific about what you want them to do and for how long. That includes chores around the house – after all, it is YOUR home!
  • Don’t assume ANY knowledge about a task until you have quizzed them, or demonstrated the task clearly – and watched them do it for the first few minutes.
  • Do ask them to do jobs that you are not keen on – I asked one pair of girls if they liked to cook, and they responded with a resounding YES, and happily took over the cooking for the main meal for the rest of their stay – amazing!
  • Don’t treat them like slaves – be very appreciative of a job well done and gentle if correction is needed – after all they are adults not children, and are volunteers!
  • Do vary the tasks assigned, or give them a two or three jobs to choose from.

I could go on and on, but I won't. I expect to keep on refining my ideas as time goes on.

We have had great experiences so far, and our woofers have completed many, many jobs for us. We are now complete converts to the system and hope to continue to host woofers for a long time.

Have you ever been a woofer host – or even a woofer yourself?

What would be your best tip for getting the right risk/reward balance?