Was your last destination the overcrowded center of Bangkok or the similarly jam-packed beaches in Salento? Can’t bear the queues to the Louvre or the Uffizi? Tired of the expensive resorts, violent A/C and unlimited buffets that end up in the dumpsters causing an incredible wastage of food? Here is a solution for you. Your next destination could be a farm somewhere in the middle of the Italian countryside, and not only. To farm, raise cattle and sweat. The phenomenon is called Wwoofing and we could translate that as “rural tourism”. Basically it’s an exchange between travellers and farmers: the former is available to work 4 to 5 hours a day, the latter pays with room and board. The daily effort can vary according to the offer but no prior experience in the matter is required. Actually, learning directly on the field (literally) is part of the experience.
The World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms founded Sue Coppard is responsible for creating this type of tourism in 1971 in Great Britain. An English employee who was tired of the humdrum of every day office life and who started to devote her weekends to nature. Since then, the idea has spread and has been structured, creating a series of independent activities and natural projects that aim to build a global sustainable community, using the need for open spaces of contemporary tourists as leverage.
The daily effort can vary according to the offer but no prior experience in the matter is required. Actually, learning directly on the field (literally) is part of the experience.
There are currently over 12 thousand activities open to this type of tourism, which welcome over 80 thousand wwoofers a year all over the world. In terms of recognized local communities, Europe leads the way with 22 active wwoofing associations, followed by Asia-Pacific with 13, America and Africa in third place with six available entities while the Middle East are in last position with Israel and Turkey. To this we can add 55 countries where, although a national reference entity is not present, there are various experiences of this type available.
In Italy, for example, by paying a membership fee of 35 euros, you can choose between 700 different hosts (mainly based in Piedmont and Tuscany). And in a progressive perspective, we can see how the phenomenon is constantly growing in Italy: in 2004 there were “only” a thousand people signed up, in 2013 there were five thousand; and the numbers keep growing.
There are other platforms similar to Wwoof, such as WorkAway and HelpX, which connect people looking for room and board in the world and those who need some jobs here and there. Volunteerism and no cost are at the heart of these, too, though the same type of tie to the local environment is missing.
There are lots of different reasons to choose this type of activity, such as the need to get away from mass tourism destinations (because of so-called overcrowding) or to have a lower environmental impact when on holiday. After all, as confirmed by the ninth Rapporto UniVerde 2019 report, “Italians, sustainable tourism and eco-tourism”, the sensitivity of Italians for the topic is expected to grow to 68% of the total in the next ten years (a 5% increase compared to previous surveys). The farming sector would also benefit from this, a sector that makes up 2.5% of the GDP and, precisely through sustainable tourism, could find a new motivator to be rediscovered, beyond the food and wine circuits (which in any case, together with tourism, make up a market of over 2.5 billion euro).