Farm Worker

Insider Info

Life in the big city was starting to drag Luc Rolland down.

Oh, he was doing relatively fine. But he needed a change and he needed it fast. Friends had told him about a small, progressive community in the mountains. Rolland was impressed enough to make it his new home.

Just hours after he arrived, an ad on a coffee shop bulletin board drew his attention. A local organic farmer needed volunteers in exchange for room and board. It was exactly what Rolland was looking for.

"I had never really thought of doing this," he says. "So when the opportunity came up, I just thought it would be something really exciting and absolutely new."

Organic farming is a general rejection of modern agricultural methods. For instance, organic farmers will not use pesticides to protect plants from weeds and pests.

Instead, they will control pests and weeds through preventive methods like crop rotation, the planting of pest-deterrent species and good old-fashioned weeding by hand.

"The place is never the same," Rolland says. "There is never a dull moment, and that to very refreshing."

There is also a lot of work to be done. Rolland starts work around 7 a.m., and his day is full of chores. But he's having fun. And he's constantly learning new aspects of organic farming -- like how to milk cows by hand.

"It's very exciting for me to be doing that because I know it's a lost art," he says. "It's nice because I feel like I'm keeping that going."

John Vanden Heuvel recently retired from organic farming. He now heads a chapter of Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF). It is a global organization that connects farm volunteers with organic farmers in more than 35 countries.

He says farm volunteers like Rolland make a tremendous difference. Organic farming requires more labor than non-organic farming, and farming volunteers meet that need, he says.

"There are a lot of projects that would have never gotten done if it hadn't been for the help of volunteers," he says.

As for the volunteers, they get free room, board and in some cases, a small stipend in exchange for their labor. And that is not all you might get from volunteering on a farm.

"It's a wonderful way of traveling and traveling inexpensively," says Vanden Heuvel.

Dirk de Geus is from Holland. He agrees. "You see more of the countryside and you see more of the people," says de Geus. He has volunteered on farms in Australia.

"You see what the people are really like instead of just being a tourist."

De Geus is currently a farm volunteer in Canada. He plans to start a chapter of WWOOF once he returns home.

Volunteering on a farm is also a great way to develop personal relationships.

Kathy Switky is a field volunteer for a community-supported organic farm in California. She works for two to four hours a week in the field, doing whatever is necessary, whether it's planting seeds or ripping out weeds.

Switky started volunteering because she wanted to learn more about organic farming. "And I certainly got that. But what I also got, and I didn't expect it, is a great community of people," she says.

"The folks who work out there and the other volunteers have been a great community and we have a great time working together. It may sound boring to be weeding or digging potatoes or picking beans, but if you are doing it with friends, it becomes a lot of fun."

Volunteering on a farm has also helped Switky in her professional work as an environmental lobbyist.

"I feel like I can do something from behind a desk," she says. "But until I actually put my hands in the dirt, it is sometimes hard to fit what I'm doing behind the desk with the [outside] world."

This connection with nature also appeals to Rolland.

"Being in a setting that's very quiet like the farm, I find that I can really take time to appreciate the very simple beauty behind a flower and the sky, and things like that," he says.

"Those things are always there, but it seems that when we live in the city, we don't take the time to stop and look at those things very simply."

But anybody who says that the day of a farm volunteer is full of idyllic moments is wrong.

"It's very hard work," says Switky. "I joke with the farmers that they should charge people to do it because it is a better workout than you can get at a gym."

It is also full of unexpected surprises, as Rolland found out barely a month after he started volunteering.

He was sitting in the kitchen when another volunteer noticed a small white ball of hair moving across the yard. They had thought one of the goats was pregnant, but they weren't sure.

"Was that a rabbit?" the other volunteer asked. Unsure of the answer, they ran outside to check it out.

"So we went out to look, and there was this little baby goat," Rolland recalls. "I was just blown away. Even though we kind of had the feeling that mamma was pregnant, we had just forgotten about it."

Rolland says that moment was very beautiful. "It was very simple, and very uneventful," he says. "Yet that kind of sums up my whole experience here on the farm. Instead of waiting for something big to happen, there are things happening all around us."

How to Get Involved

You don't need experience to volunteer on a farm, says Vanden Heuvel.

"Be open-minded and be prepared to give it your best shot," he says. "Experience is not important. What's more important is the attitude."

Rolland agrees. He says initiative is what counts. And since you may move into a home that is not yours, you have to respect it, its members and its rules. "So it is really how one relates to the place and the people that will make a difference," says Rolland.

Physical dexterity is necessary. But don't worry about having to do hard physical labor if you are not exactly a prototype of human strength. Vanden Heuvel says there are many volunteer opportunities on a farm.

So where can you find them? Organic farms of all kinds and sizes need volunteers or interns. You can also find them through WWOOF chapters.

WWOOF charges a fee for a directory that lists volunteer opportunities.

De Geus recommends that you pick a farm that you think you will like. So do some research before you head off into the world, carrying a pitchfork on your shoulder.


International Willing Workers of Organic Farms (WWOOF)
Matches farm volunteers with hosts across the world

Hidden Villa
Check out this organic farm

Alternative Farming Systems Information Center
Offers information about alternative farming in the United States

Agriventure -- International Rural Placements
Gives young people work experience in rural settings around the world

Back to Career Cluster


  • Email Support
  • 1-800-GO-TO-XAP (1-800-468-6927)
    From outside the U.S., please call +1 (424) 750-3900
  • North Dakota Career Resource Network | (701) 328-9733