In the summer of 2012 I decided to quit my job and leave everything I knew behind in order to go volunteer at an organic, sustainable farm on the Big Island of Hawaii. When I told my friends, they thought I had gone crazy, “who are you?” they asked. I had never been to Hawaii, never really shown a big interest in growing my own food and the words “sustainable,” “off the grid,” and “organic,” didn’t normally run in my vocabulary. I mean, I didn’t even recycle.
Somehow I learned about an organization called “Wwoof,” which stands for “world wide opportunities on organic farms” and I was hooked. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that I was tired of the everyday life I was living. I was craving to get far away from everything (and everyone) I knew and especially my job making angry people coffee and getting bagels thrown at my face (no, really). I needed to get away. But being a barista doesn’t exactly ring in the dough, so when I realized that all I had to do was volunteer my time and I would get free room and board in Hawaii, I bought my ticket.
With that being said I do not think anyone should look to wwoofing strictly as a cheap form of travel. Yes, that is a benefit of it, however wwoofers should go for learning and for the experience. Go to the farm with an open mind ready to absorb everything they are willing to teach you.
The woman whose farm I would be staying at, Taleah picked me up at the airport. I was instantly amazed by her effortless life and her kind and welcoming personality. We were on the road for over two hours already, and the longer the journey got, the more it started to dawn on me what I had signed myself up for.
Talking about past “wwoofers” and their experiences Taleah suddenly said, “Well, you know, it rains a lot here in Hawaii. We had this woman who clearly couldn’t deal with the isolation. At first she said she would be fine, that she would use her free time to write. But one week it rained every day and the next thing we knew she left, walked down the mountain in the pouring rain with her suitcases without saying anything to us.”
I tried not to panic even though the towns were getting smaller and the beaches farther and farther away. The island was beautiful, “I’ll be fine!” I thought. She informed me that there would be two other wwoofers around my age at the farm as well but that, unfortunately, her and her husband live somewhere else. “You can hitch-hike to get to the beach though, but it will take you a while.”
-“How long of a while?” I asked.
-“Well…maybe 2, 3 hours.”
I tried not to panic again. The car started to climb up a mountain and suddenly we were engulfed in fog.
-“Oh, by the way, since we’re on the other side of the volcano, its foggy a lot.”
Okay, now I was panicked.
We finally arrived at the farm and I started to feel more at ease once I saw its beauty. This particular farm was in charge of growing Awapuhi Ginger for Paul Mitchel hair products; however because the ginger is only harvested once or twice a year, we were to spend the majority of our time taking care of the large vegetable garden. Taleah then showed me where I would be staying as well as the outdoor garden and toilet. I knew I was about to experience something completely different from the European vacations I was used to.
-“Oh. One more thing,” Taleah said, “we’re off the grid and solar powered and since it rains a lot and is constantly foggy, you will run out of power past noon. Oh and also, I should let you know there is no internet and pretty much no cell phone reception either.”
Yes. This was definitely going to be different from anything I was used to.
It turned out different was just what I needed. The hours I spent in the hot sun plucking up weeds and afternoons I spent with no power while the rain banged loudly on the tin roof were just enough to bring me back to life. My world suddenly became filled with things like home brewed kombucha, nutritional yeast and sourdough bread starters. I passed my free time trying to figure out how to stop the wild pigs from destroying our garden and trying to reach for buttery avocados bigger than my head.
I was in a new world. I began caring about where my food came from, caring less about material things and became conscious of my water usage (if it’s yellow, let it mellow). My feet were always dirty, I slept in a shack built by Gill, Taleha’s husband, and my biggest problem was trying to figure out how to get the rat in the kitchen to stop eating the bread starter.
I learned that I had a passion for gardening. I worked with some fruits I had never even heard of before (ice cream beans anyone?) and learned how to eat a strong, vegetarian diet. I was taught about companion planting, diatomaceous earth, how to grow a healthy scoby and how rewarding it feels to be exhausted from working in a garden all day.
Sure it wasn’t ideal and definitely not what I had imagined in my head when I though “free room and board in Hawaii.” But my experience there changed my life and had a big part in molding me into the person I am today. If anything I wish it had lasted longer; that particular farm ended up not being the ideal one for me (or my companions either it turned out). I took what I learned in Hawaii and applied it to my daily life after my return 2 months later. I have a new thirst for gardening, the environment, re-using and up-cycling. I am an avid recycler, take cloth bags to the grocery store and try to eat as healthy as I can. The lifestyle I threw myself into managed to make an ever-lasting effect on my persona. I strongly encourage those looking into wwofing or those looking for a change in their lives to push forward. Take that hesitation you have in your mind that is stopping you, right now, from buying your ticket and shove it away. Everything will be fine. You will have a new, rewarding experience in your life and worse comes to worst, a good story to tell your friends and family when you get home.