If you’re in great shape, love the outdoors and need money to travel, working on a farm – usually picking fruits or vegetables – may be your ticket to staying on the road just a little bit longer.
Agriculture-related jobs come in all sizes and shapes and while they may not be among the most glamorous, many travelers who have tried farming work rave about it:
- room and board are often included, but at the very least you should be able to camp on the premises
- you’re usually paid by the piece, based on how much you pick (you can be paid by the hour but it’s rarer) so if you’re good you can make quite a bit
- but don’t count on it because harvesting jobs are at the lower end of the salary scale
- on the other hand produce needs picking and the season is short so you may make up the money by working overtime
- you’ll end up meeting like-minded people and because you don’t have many other places to go you’ll probably forge strong friendships based on common experiences
SO WHAT’S WORKING ON A FARM LIKE?
The correct answer is, ‘it depends’, on so many things: the country or region in which you’re working, the time of year, the weather, the kind of farm, the working hours… but some things should be the same.
Living light on the farm
Accommodation, if it’s available, will usually be basic, but you never know – you might end up in an old farmhouse or chateau. You may also be in a small dorm (possibly sex-segregated) or in a converted barn or farm building or even in a tent. The good news is that accommodation is often free so it’s a great way to save money on the road.
Working on a farm is exhausting, at least at first
Unless you’re already super-fit, that is. You’ll ache, you’ll be begging for bed, and you’ll wish morning would never come. That soon passes as your body gives up fighting and accepts its fate.
From one apple to the next
You’ll be pushing yourself to the limit, at least at first, so that won’t leave you much time to contemplate your place in the universe. You’ll tend to live in the moment, from one apple or pear to the next. You may have a steep learning curve as well – if you’ve never climbed a ladder or cleaned a shed you might be in for a few surprises.
FINDING FARM JOBS ABROAD
Do you know where you want to go?
Here are some perennial farm job favorites:
- grape picking in France or elsewhere in Europe
- fruit picking in Australia or New Zealand
- strawberry picking in Canada, the UK or Denmark
- joining the WWOOF network to volunteer on an organic farm in dozens of countries (no money but hugely popular)
When it comes to finding jobs in agriculture, there are two schools of thought: setting things up ahead of time, or just showing up. Each job search has its merits.
Here’s what Woman on the Road Amanda has to say about grape picking in France
It was September and the harvest was just about to begin. The work is only ‘minimum wage’ and it’s true that it is hard work – particularly on your back. But you meet a good group of people and it’s nice to be outdoors all day.
We had a really lovely mix of people on our team of grape pickers. There were French locals looking to supplement their incomes, there were overseas students like myself from a wide range of countries like the United States, United Kingdom and many other European cities. We all got along really well and as well as getting paid at the end of each week, were also given free meals each lunchtime. In France this isn’t just a sandwich and a Coke – it’s a full four-course meal with starter, main course, cheese and dessert. Plus you always get a glass of red (from the vineyard of course!) and a fresh cup of coffee to round things off.
To find grape picking jobs, try Appellation Controlée but remember, you’ll have to be a EU citizen. If you can communicate in French try contacting farms directly through pickingjobs.com. If you’re not, you might find something through WWOOF in France (or click here if you don’t know what WWOOFing is!)
Arranging to work on a farm means you’ll be able to hit the ground running and start right away. You’ll have a destination and a certain measure of security. On the other hand if you hate what you’re doing, you may be stuck far from everything with no place to go. If you do decide to look ahead of time, two good sites to start with are pickyourown.org and pickingjobs.com.
Just showing up certainly gives you more flexibility, but you run the risk of not finding anything if the season is over or others have already taken all the jobs. On the other hand, you’ll be able to start and stop when you want to. You’ll need to speak the language for this, though. You won’t get very far if you can’t ask for the work and understand instructions… (find out how to learn a language the easy way – enough at least to get you by).
How easy is it to find farm jobs?
Again, it depends. In Australia, for example, if your timing is right you’ll easily find a job. In Europe, given the economic crisis and availability of cheap labor from North Africa and Eastern Europe, finding a farm job that pays anything worth having is much harder.
Be careful about your status. If you’re an EU citizen, you’ll be able to work throughout the EU with no problem. If you’re British, you can head to Australia and New Zealand and even if you’re not, they have many visa schemes for which you may qualify.
Americans have the hardest time with overseas visas, with Canadians close behind. In any event, you probably won’t stand a chance – in these days of economic crisis – of getting even the lowliest of harvest jobs without the proper paperwork (this page on the international travel visa may be of help).
A word of warning: working on a farm without the proper visa can get you into trouble with the authorities and deported. It can also allow unscrupulous employers to take advantage of you and leave you without redress. You could end up working without getting paid.
Still keen to tackle that farming job?
Try asking some of the following questions in your agriculture job search:
- What kind of farm is it? It might range from a small family organic concern to a major industrial dairy operation.
- How large is it? You may have less variety working for a huge spread whereas on a smaller farm you’ll be able to try your hand at a variety of chores, from planting crops to milking cows to fixing a shed.
- Where is it? In which country, in which region, is it valley or mountain, inland or near the sea, will you be bathing in the beauty of picture-perfect Tuscany or toiling in the flatlands of Andalusia
- What kind of work are you expected to do? Will you be shovelling horse manure or pruning vines? You may think twice if it’s the former…
- How many other workers are there? You don’t want to be mulching that field all by yourself, do you? And you’ll need some companionship since most farms aren’t near social amenities – you’ll have to make your own fun.
If you work on a farm, you’ll get into awfully good shape while learning a new skill and maybe even making money at it! That said, paid farm work is becoming harder to find as unemployment rises and anincreasing number of travelers opt for volunteering on a farm.
— Originally published on 31 July 2011