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Living Aloha

By: Camey VanSant

By Ellie

A lot has happened since I last blogged on Feb 22 – about a month since I had first arrived to WWOOF/farm (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) on the Big Island. Now, almost three months into the experience, with only a month left, I feel the proverbial sand falling fast through the hourglass, so let me fill you in on all the deets . . . .

Over a month ago, the head of the WWOOFers left for California. As she is supposed to supervise us, it has made for some uncertain and even disorganized times, which leaves me with mixed emotions. On the one hand, lacking structure and direction leaves me feeling a bit uneasy and frustrated at times. But then I remind myself that it is a good dress rehearsal for real life where much is unstructured and you need to adapt. For me, it has provided a lot of freedom to pick the jobs I want to focus on. Obviously, there is always weeding to do, but I have been learning all I can from one of the older WWOOFers and “master” gardener, Kathleen.

To give you a little backstory, Kathleen lives in the yurt down from me (12 ft away – see picture) and is basically my Hawaii mom and best friend. She has taken me under her wing and taught me so much about gardening. So together, we have seeded tons of vegetables (red beets, radish, squash, tomatoes, cucumber, kale, Swiss chard, arugula) and fruits (cantaloupe, watermelon), and herbs (thyme, cilantro, rosemary, parsley, oregano, basil, fennel). For the soil we use, it is all from the big compost pile which we sift out to get smooth and luscious soil. The trick is adding a bit of goat manure to it, which acts as the best fertilizer. Who knew?

But better yet, she has taught me how to graft. Grafting is important when growing trees. This is because let’s say you have a nice, mature Cara Cara orange tree which has delicious oranges on it, and now you want to grow more of the same tree. If you take a seed from one of the oranges and plant it in fertile soil so it can grow, you cannot ensure that the seed you took will produce the same yummy fruit on the tree. So, to increase the odds and speed up the process, you graft.

This means you take a scion (branch cutting from the mature tree) and merge it onto the stock of the juvenile tree using cloth/grafting tape to secure it. Then, if successful, the scion and stock will grow into one another (takes about a month). The tape/cloth can come off and the scion will start budding, which is a sign the grafting was successful. Only then can you be confident your juvenile tree will eventually produce the yummy fruit that the mature tree (which your scion came from) produced.

Fun fact: through grafting, you can actually have a singular citrus tree with lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges, and any other citrus growing on it! Kathleen told me she once grafted a singular apple tree that had 4 different varieties of apples growing. Isn’t that amazing?! The grafting process makes me wonder if college may be a grafting exercise – or experiment – of sorts, meaning it provides an opportunity to graft (or merge) seemingly disparate things and see what comes of it, both inside and outside the classroom.

Besides learning how to graft, through observation, I am learning a lot more about the land’s ecosystem. How the trees, plants, birds, wild boars, goats, chickens, bees, flowers all work together, and sometimes against one another. For instance, the wild boars are a farmer’s nightmare. They will break into the chicken coop and steal all of their feed and tip over their water jug, and when I bring down the compost for the chickens, if I wait about 30 minutes, the pigs will be there eating all of the chickens’ compost.

But in other situations, it’s quite amazing to see how when nature is balanced, it works really well together. Like how the free-roaming chickens will take care of all the pests. It’s a win-win, meaning the chickens get food, while the plants aren’t eaten. Similarly, fruit that drops from the tree, if we don’t pick it in time, will either be opportunistically eaten by the birds, bugs, mongoose, pigs, chickens, and goats, or if not, it will compost and fertilize the soil.

There is so much beauty in being able to experience and truly connect with the natural cycles of mother earth. Apart from being very grounded in taking care of the land, I feel like I am a deep part of it. Since I’ve been able to connect with my circadian rhythm being out here in nature, I wake when the sun comes up and go to bed when the sun comes down. Growing up in the big city of Chicago, I am able to reflect and realize how out-of-touch I was with my circadian rhythm. I wasn’t able to be deeply connected to nature, our source, which in turn limited my ability to truly connect with my body’s inner cycle. Overall, I feel blessed to be here.

In addition to the utter awe I feel by the sunsets and night skies loaded with stars, I felt the same awe when our three pregnant mama goats each gave birth to two kids. We now have 6 baby goats, 3 girls and 3 boys. They are the cutest, and most playful, creatures. Jeanne, the owner of the retreat and farm, taught me how to care for the goats. Ever since, I have been taking care of them by myself, which feels amazing. In the mornings I cut Ti leaves or Hale Koa to give to the goats. Then I feed them some grain and milk the moms. The moms are sent up into the pasture to graze in the day with the rest of the goats, and at night I bring them back into the smaller enclosure to nurse their young ones. This is imitating the goat’s natural cycle in the wild because the mama goats are with their young at night, and in the morning, they will leave their young behind while they scavenge for good grass/plants to eat, returning to their young before sunset.

Taking care of the goats for about 3 weeks now, sometimes the little ones confuse me for their mama and will suck on my fingers. They are not timid around me anymore and will let me pet them, pick them up, and sometimes if I’m lucky, they will, on their own, come sit in my lap.

Besides the farm side of things, on the weekends I have been going to the Waimea Farmers market, which has sumptuous baked goods and delicious falafel, along with local artists displaying their works, and tons of fresh vegetables and fruit from local farmers. I also love to snorkel, taking the WWOOFer car (which unfortunately just broke down, because it’s so old) to spots around me, or sometimes down to Kona where the snorkeling is amazing. I love looking for shells so I will free dive down and look in all of the crevices, especially for cowrie shells, which are my favorite. I found two huge ones the size of my palm, both of which had creatures in them, so I couldn’t take them. But, a couple days ago, Alli (another WWOOFer) and I went snorkeling in Kona and found this secret cave, which had a ton of shells washed up on it, one of which was a massive cowrie shell with no creature in it… finally! We are planning to wire-wrap some of the shells and make necklaces and earrings.

Another highlight was my mom recently flew to the Big Island on my birthday week (March 17), and we island hopped to Kauai. It was my first time going, and she planned an amazing girls’ trip for us. From kayaking down the only navigational river in all of Hawaii – Wailua River – to a secret waterfall with a swimming hole; to hiking parts of the “Grand Canyon” of Hawaii, aka Waimea Canyon; to going on a boat tour alongside the beautiful Nā Pali Coast and seeing tons of spinner dolphins and humpback whales surface; to snorkeling at some of the best beaches, and so much more. It was so nice to celebrate my birthday with my mom, especially because I hadn’t seen her or any other family in over two months.

With one month left, I hope to continue to embrace each day with gratitude, and embrace all new, and even uncomfortable, situations that come my way, as they all provide learning opportunities.

A hui hou,


Categories: Ellie