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My Next Chapter

By: Camey VanSant

By Ellie

I began the next “chapter” of my gap year on Saturday, January 21, as I said goodbye to my friends and family back in chilly Chicago, and hopped onto a plane. Fastforward, about 8 hours later, I landed on the warm, and sunny, Big Island of Hawaii, where I’d be spending the next few months WWOOFing (Working On Organic Farms) on this farm/retreat in a small town within North Kohala – the peak of the island.

I arrived equal parts nervous and excited. The nervous part was unlike my first “chapter” – which was a 3 month sustainability/backpacking program with other people mostly my age – this chapter is not pre-programmed. Instead, it’s work and what I make of it (or don’t). That makes it instantly feel more real, and hence I suppose the nervousness.

Now, about one month later, I feel mostly settled in terms of the new environment and people. However, I am still adapting to the new tasks and challenges that I am faced with, all of which I am so grateful for as I learn something new each day.

So, in terms of where I am staying and what a day-day looks like here, let me break it down for you. The farm I am working on is attached to a mini boutique hotel, in which many of the guests come in groups to attend different retreats (yoga, writing, etc.). I am living in one of the yurts that is designated for WWOOFers. It has everything I need in it: a bed, sink, toilet, dresser, and desk. I am surrounded by grapefruit and pomelo trees which I gather and bring to the kitchen when they fall off of the trees.

Though I live alone in my yurt surrounded by paradise, I do have guests inside with me, like small geckos and some big spiders. Actually, I view myself more as their guest.  After all, who belongs here more: me or them?  Plus they eat the roaches, so I view them as friend, not foe.

Since it’s winter, it is the “wet” season on the island, meaning lots of heavy winds and rain, and boy has it been raining! Usually, I’d be sad it was raining; however, I am always so grateful when it rains here because of how good it is for the plants, trees, vegetables, and fruit. Also, the weather shifts are drastic and neat. For example, it may be raining super hard, and then 5 minutes later it stops and the sun is out, and then it goes back to raining.

Also, I am super grateful that there are other WWOOFers and workers here with me. Though I am the youngest, I appreciate all of the friendships I have made and the ability to be surrounded by so many cool and interesting people who teach me much without even trying.

Every day here is different, but there is a general weekly schedule. The deal is I work 5 days a week (I have Saturday and Sunday off) for up to 30 hours. 24 of those hours include farming/gardening/land maintenance. Since the retreat is on 50 acres of land, you can imagine that the land requires constant upkeep, meaning there is no shortage of work. The landscape is plush with more fruit trees than I can count: banana, plantain, papaya, mango, orange, passionfruit (lilikoi), guava (strawberry and pineapple), cacao, soursop, breadfruit (ulu), pineapple, coconut…

In addition, we are in the process of starting a new vegetable garden (so we are seeding a lot). The vegetable garden will include: carrots, red beets, kale, swiss chard, radish, tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, and more. Like I said, each day is different, full of new tasks.

Not a cliche, my hands get dirty, real dirty, every day. I love that. I have had many days full of weeding around the ti, agave, kale, and aloe. Since we farm organically, meaning no pesticides are used to kill weeds, weeding always needs to be done. Each day there are fruits to harvest. When I first arrived, the surinam cherries, loquat, and lilikoi were in season. Now, the mangos are finally ripening and starting to be ready to harvest. Coconuts, oranges, lemons are always on the trees, perks of tropical weather.

Also, we have chickens (& goats and cows) on the farm that we feed with the compost from food scraps, or uneaten leftovers. I am in charge of feeding them and collecting their eggs on Tuesday and Wednesday. On the island, chickens have no predators so they are able to free-range with no issue. However, we have lately been having a problem with the mongoose (weasel-like animals) going inside their coop and eating their eggs, so we have to keep them in their coop from dusk til about noon. My favorite thing to do is gather some coconuts and chop them open with a coconut ax for the chickens. Boy do they love some fresh coconut!!!

And lest I forget, we are literally on the ocean’s edge. I walk to the property’s edge and down below, about 200 feet, is the Pacific churning, doing its thing. It provides instant perspective.

All of the tasks on the farm are different and rewarding in their own ways. Though weeding can be hard to do for 5 hours in a day, I am motivated because the landscape looks so much better and the plants have space to grow and thrive. I especially like being able to pick fruit right from the trees and utilize it in my breakfast smoothie, and just munch on them throughout the day.

I work hard during the week, and unlike most WWOOFing gigs, I am super lucky to have my own yurt and access to food and a kitchen to cook for myself.  I can also use the guest showers, pool, and yoga studio when they are not being used, and especially the WWOOFer car! Because we have a car, I have been able to leave the retreat when I am done with work and go exploring. So far, I have really enjoyed: finding cool snorkeling spots, going into town and eating yummy food, thrifting, attending ecstatic dance events, the Saturday farmer’s market in Waimea, and I can’t wait for more exploration.

Overall, I feel an overwhelming amount of gratitude for my bosses, for my co-workers, for the land and all it has to offer, and to all of my day-to-day experiences and interactions. I recognize that this is a gift, a rare moment in time, that also reminds me such gifts and opportunities likely frequently surround us, if only we looked and embraced them.  I could not be happier to be here and can’t wait to continue to update you all as my journey continues.

Categories: Ellie