By Stephanie Foden, Contributing Reporter
SALVADOR, BRAZIL – With the recent inflation and hosting of two major sports events, the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics, now more than ever traveling in Brazil can be expensive. Projects like World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or simply WWOOF, are a way for travelers to live for free with locals.
WWOOF is an exchange – in return for volunteer help, hosts offer food, accommodation, and a chance to learn about organic farming and sustainability.
Far from indentured servitude, volunteers might do a variety of tasks such as gardening, fencing, milking, sowing seeds and cleaning pens, and are usually asked to work 4 to 6 hours a day; stays range from just a few days to several months.
The organization, which started in England in the 1970s, is a global initiative with over fifty participating countries. Starting its Brazilian venture with less than five farms in 2007, the project now boasts around hundred hosts and two hundred WWOOFers.
“For WWOOFers [volunteers] it’s an opportunity to see and experience a different side of Brazil and learn about organic techniques. And for hosts, the program brings the world to them without having to step out of their place,” Natalia Chiu of WWOOF Brazil told The Rio Times.
“The first few years were hard as we had to educate people about WWOOF,” Chiu reminisces. “But now more and more people know about WWOOF in South America, and we have more and more participants from countries in South America as well.”
Four years ago WWOOF host Marianne Soisalo moved from London to the remote town of Alto Paraíso, near Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park. Here she bought land and started building, planting and preparing a retreat for people interested in their health- and self-development.
Ms. Soisalo plants her own fruits and vegetables for subsistence, and for the past year and a half has been hosting WWOOFers who help cultivate organic shiitake mushrooms.
“I love receiving travelers from all over the world who are keen to experience life on the land, learning together about the production of an important alternative protein superfood such as the shiitake… I feel I have a lot to give as my land is somewhere I would certainly appreciate spending time if I were a visitor traveling in Brazil,” explains Soisalo.
Carioca couple Daniel Cintra and Juliana Torres got married on a WWOOF farm in the village of Aldeia Velha, Rio de Janeiro state. Since then the avid WWOOFers have been traveling throughout the country trying their hand at building tree houses, beekeeping and mushroom cultivation, to name a few.
“Brazil will remain a great place for WWOOFing due to its biodiversity and hospitality of its people,” Cintra conjectures. “We were very well received in the vast majority of the farms and have only good memories. We still want to know other WWOOF farms, but more than anything we want to have our own place where we can welcome WWOOFers the same way they welcomed us.”
A year-long membership costs US$38 and includes a WWOOF Brazil ID and a list of host’s email and phone number, which you are then free to contact to organize your stay.