I first found out about WWOOFing from a friend who had gone to Mexico over the summer, and I was just blown away by the crazy stories she had from the experience. I didn’t know that such a thing existed before, and I always figured extensive travel required a ton of money and coordination skills, neither of which I really possess.
By the end of last year, I was feeling really overwhelmed by Los Angeles and urban life in general, so I wanted to pick a location that was as antithetical to Southern California as possible, so I chose to look for a place in Iceland. It was a pretty arbitrary decision to be honest; my only connection to the country was my mild obsession with its music scene, but I knew very little else going into it. I was attracted to its open landscape and to its magical bleakness, with summers where the sun never sets and winters of perpetual darkness.
Applying to the farm was pretty simple, I found it through the WWOOF database of farms, which cost a minor fee (however if you know the name of the farm you can usually just contact them independently). All I had to do was email the farmer and he replied that I was welcome to come. The farm where I stayed last summer, Vallanes, accepts anyone as long as there is room, so the more notice you give the better chance you have of securing a spot.
I tried not to go into the experience with many expectations, although I figured it would be filled with hard work and solitude, and although I was pretty accurate as far as the hard work, I was surprised by the strong and vibrant community that I would become a part of. The farm was located in almost complete wilderness, with the closest town of 2000 people being ten miles away. Therefore, we all became really close since the routine of the day synchronized our lives, and we depended on each other for our well-being. Rather than being a self-reflective experience, I got to see how an intentional community could function smoothly, even across language and cultural boundaries.
If I ever needed solitude, I only needed to go out of the door and walk in any direction—to the mountains in the east, the lake in the west, the forest in the north, or the marshlands to the south. Hitchhiking is also really easy there, so on our days off we usually went into the town of Seyðisfjörður, which is the center of music and art in the East. The people there were super nice, and we made friends just by talking to people on the streets.
I met an artist in residency outside of a hotel when she offered me cupcakes and beer. After that, we started hanging out: going hiking, picking wildflowers, baking cakes, and knitting cactus costumes. It’s just what people do there apparently. WWOOFing opened up so many opportunities to learn new things, and it is really up to you to focus on what you want to learn. It is obviously an incredible space to learn about organic farming and permaculture, but it also fostered a space to learn about different cultures, languages, yoga, reiki, how to bake bread, how to clean a house without chemicals, how to tame a wild horse, how to knit, and so many more things I could never fully list.
My experience on the farm has helped me grow in many ways, but its most obvious effect has been in building my self-confidence. I faced many obstacles there, both physical and mental, yet the strength of the place helped me to overcome them all. On my last day there, I climbed to the top of a nearby mountain barefoot and looked out onto the expansive valley that had cradled my life for the past two months. To me, that was a physical manifestation of what my farming experience had been. It is reductive to try and explain this experience in words, and I cannot truly encapsulate the feelings of wonder, humility, love, and tranquility that I experienced each day there. I am not alone in feeling this: many of my fellow WWOOFers return there each season, and some have even moved onto the farm permanently. I am currently looking to move back to Iceland after graduation this Spring, and it is all because of my experience on the farm.
I highly recommend WWOOFing to everyone, especially Vallanes, which you can find at vallanes.net.