Sunday, April 28, 2013

Advanced WWOOFing - Community Ties

 I have no concept of time and I blame Hawaii's awesomeness for this fact. Let's just overlook the pertinent detail that I never wear a watch or look at a calendar.  Why should I have a concept of time, really?  The sun wakes me up gently, allowing me ample time to prepare for work.  The birds that rise a full three hours before dawn to sing the sun into wakefulness used to be annoying, now I just see it as a chirpy little snooze alarm that lets me know I have another few hours of blissful languishing.

From there I complete my four hours of work/trade, then go about my business.  These days my "business" takes the form of doing whatever the heck I want.  My most difficult decision is choosing which fun thing I want to do first. Rough life, yeah?

Who You Know, What You know  

While I would like to say that much of my success as a WWOOFer is due to my work ethic, tenacity and genuine desire to help, I can say with honesty that I wouldn't be where I am today without the help of my friend Diane from Joe's Nuts

I'm slow on reporting this (no concept of time, remember?) but about a month ago we moved over to Living Aquaponics.  Yup, a new farm, this one makes our third.  Still no pictures, I know!  A new laptop is in my immediate future, and collected pictures are soon to follow.    

Living Aquaponics is a fantastic farm.  It was hard to leave the Sanctuary of Mana Ke'a, that place is so beautiful, serene and magical I practically had to be pried away by force.  I still visit when the opportunity arises, cause I sure do love Randyl's place, pets and everything the Sanctuary has to offer.  

Diane played an integral role in helping us secure two of our three WWOOFing opportunities, both the Sanctuary and now with Living Aquaponics. Generosity seems to be her middle name, because she continues to help as often as possible.  Trips to the thrift store, rides to potlucks, and armloads of free clothes - Diane gleefully doles out all of these and more, to friends and volunteers alike.  

Speaking of volunteers, the WWOOFers at Joe's Nuts enjoy some truly comfortable lodgings and tasty food.  I know because I've been grocery shopping with her and I've envied the cozy digs of her workers.  I haven't worked for Diane yet, aside from an hour or two here and there, but I would certainly arrange a long-term stay if the opportunity presented itself.  If there's one woman who understands the power of community, networking, and bringing people together to share talents, it's Diane.  Sounds like I'm gushing, sure, but this woman truly embodies the spirit of Aloha and the sense of community that I was looking for when I took the leap of faith which brought me to Hawaii. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

WWOOF Wear – What to Pack

When I was in Junior High and High School I was quite a clothes horse. This trend carried over into my adulthood where I was stuck in the same rut as a lot of other women – too many clothes and nothing to wear.

Realizing that I was cycling through the same handful of outfits from one week to the next, it started to dawn on me that I could simplify my life dramatically while helping out other women in need. Once I made the decision to start WWOOFing I donated all of my business casual garments to a charity focused on helping at-risk women find their way back into the workforce.

Only the Essentials

Now that I'd given away enough clothes to outfit half of Columbus, I was faced with a new dilemma – what to take to Hawaii. There were the obvious options like t-shirts, a hoodie for layered warmth, a couple of changes of shoes, but if I had really done my homework first I would have packed a blanket and long-underwear as well.

Absolute Must-Haves

  • Long Sleeved Shirts – Yes, Hawaii is practically smack-dab on top of the Tropic of Cancer, and we're hovering somewhere near the equator. All this amounts to is fairly consistent weather year-round. Folks who are fortunate enough to live near the beach probably experience the warmest weather, while those of us dwelling at 17,000 feet elevation get to deal with brisk breezes and chilly mornings. If the weather doesn't convince you to bring along at least two long-sleeved shirts, the mosquitoes will convince you to bring another three.
  • Long Pants – Nothing thwarts a mosquito attack quite like hindered access. Weed-whacking and other farm duties can be dirty work, having a few pairs of pants dedicated to this sort of labor will keep you comfortably guarded against mosquitoes, and keep the rest of your clothes from getting ruined as you move from one task to another.
  • Socks by the Ton – You can never have enough socks – ever. I thought that 10 pairs of socks would suit me well from one laundry day to the next. I was wrong. I would have been better off with 30, maybe 50, pairs of socks. Granted we do a lot of walking, and the terrain is rugged as can be, so the wear and tear is exponentially increased compared to my lifestyle of old. Still, if you appreciate a fresh pair of socks, you'll take my advice and come prepared.
  • Waterproof Footwear – My $30.00 hiking boots are holding up surprisingly well! Probably because I wear them only once a week. My footwear of choice these days is a pair of rubber rain boots, they slip on and off easily while also keeping my feet comfortably dry. Living on the edge of a 10,000 acre rainforest means there is a persistent dampness to everything. Plus it rains for about 15 minutes every day, if I had to walk around in soggy shoes I would be miserable.

Dress for Success

Okay, so chances are you're more likely to book a trip to Hawaii with the help of a site like than you are to donate all of your possessions and dedicate yourself to WWOOFing full time like I have, that's cool, you can still benefit from my packing experience. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

WWOOFing 101 - The Good, The Bad, and The Weird

Hello Friends!

It's been a few months since my last update, I apologize for that. Things have been a little hectic and I've been waiting for the dust to settle. At the end of October we left Bebo's Kona Coffee farm and moved up the road a few miles. We're nicely settled in at the Sanctuary of Mana Ke'a Gardens and life is sweet.

WWOOFing has been a learning experience, to say the least. There's something primal and satisfying about building a fire pit and frying up some eggs and sourdough pan bread for breakfast. The work we do is varied and not overly taxing. Both Tony and I are showing signs of increased strength and muscle tone. I haven't looked in a mirror in over two months, but my shadow is appearing less doughy as the days go by.

A few folks have asked me to describe the experience, even point them in the right direction so they can get involved as well. This makes me tremendously happy, because that's the whole point of my keeping this blog and providing updates. Not everything is sunshine and candy canes, however, so before you dive in and volunteer to help a stranger for several months out of your life, be sure to consider these valuable points.

The Good
  • The Scenery is Amazing! Okay, so it's Hawaii, gonna be hard pressed to find a truly ugly spot. I keep promising pictures.  It's going to happen soon, as in the next few days type of soon.
  • The Weather is Awesome! - Every day has been spring-like and beautiful. Even when it rains it's pleasant.  I have yet to experience what I would consider a truly crappy day.  Check out this video I made for my mom as proof (filmed at Bebo's).
  • Aloha is Everywhere! - I have met some truly amazing and resourceful people here in Hawaii, people that have inspired me in ways I can't even begin to describe.  Somehow I've become quite a social butterfly.  My friends back home would be surprised to hear that I often trek down the hill to visit neighbors and attend potlucks.
  • Beauty Abounds! -  Seriously, wherever I look there's some gorgeous tropical flower growing on some lush green thing that just makes me wish I had a camera handy. I'm surrounded by so much green goodness it's hard to believe I'm normally bedridden with debilitating asthma around this time of year.
  • Growing food is fun! - I get a special thrill watching little sproutlings grow into tasty edibles. Besides, walking up to an orange tree, plucking a fruit and eating it while it's still warm from the sun is magical in its own right.
  • There is Always Something to Do!  Hawaii is so picturesque, and hitchhiking is acceptable so even folks who walk everywhere are mobile. When you have time off, you should certainly take advantage of the hiking, sunshine and local color. There's always some sort of community event taking place and admission is almost always free. If you can get there, you should make a point of going.
  • Food Falls From Trees – Avocado, citrus fruits, passion fruits, guavas, bananas, you name it. It falls from the trees. It is very difficult to go hungry in Hawaii.

The Bad
  • Not All Hosts Are Created Equal – We were asked to leave Bebo's place rather suddenly, and though we did not depart on bad terms, we were certainly thankful to leave before things had a chance to get any more uncomfortable. When researching farms, do take the time to develop a relationship with your potential host first.
  • Free Time, Ha! - In addition to any agreed upon work hours per day, expect to be asked to take part in additional chores around the farm. This may range from babysitting pets, and organizing garages, to building your own dwelling and tending your own personal garden bed. Failure to take part in self-motivated additional chores beyond the scope of work trade often results in a surly host who will be happy to hint at your perceived laziness.
  • There's Always Something to Do! The work is never-ending, and no matter how much you may accomplish during your work/trade hours, your host will always have a running list of all the work yet to be done.
  • Food Falls From Trees – Make sure well in advance that you have permission to eat the excess produce growing at your host farm. Much of what's growing is slated for the market and though you're surrounded by delicious fruits and veggies it may not be meant for you. Come prepared to purchase your own food and you can't go wrong. This can get expensive though, you're not on the mainland anymore!
  • Not Everyone Shares the Aloha Spirit - I really haven't met anyone that has rubbed me the wrong way.  Okay, except maybe Bebo, and I had even been warned of what to expect. Long before we ever arrived on the Big Island we found a very candid blog kept by one of Bebo's first WWOOFers.  I'm grateful to have been made aware of his version of BS early, I just hadn't expected it to be so pronounced and so persistent.

The Weird
  • Volunteers are from Venus, Hosts are from Mars – Expect a lot of “do as I say, not as I do” from your host farmer. Many of these folks are very busy with other matters and the farmers that actually spend time in their fields are few and far between. Yes, you will learn a great deal about tending to the land and some gardening techniques, but you must actively seek this information on your own, no farmer is going to magically fill in the blanks for you. If you're expecting your host farmer to be right out there beside you toiling in the fields, don't hold your breath.
  • Mold Grows Everywhere! - Come equipped with a spray bottle filled with vinegar and be prepared to spray down your bedding frequently. The humidity in the air creates an environment ripe for mold and mildew. I've taken to storing everything in plastic bags and plastic bins, this includes food and garments. I sometimes even store my camera in a bag of rice to reduce excess moisture that would otherwise kill my electronics.
  • Grow Your Own, At Your Own Risk - Many hosts will encourage you to start your own garden, the average work/stay arrangement lasts about two months, pretty much anything other than lettuce takes three months to grow to harvest, even lettuce takes 45 days.  You do the math. 

With all this being said, would I trade it all in and go back to my corporate gig? Eff no! I love this non-normal lifestyle. I earn enough to get by doing freelance projects on the side, and I'm making some amazing friends. Plus I feel myself growing stronger and healthier by the day. The bottom line is, WWOOFing is all about find a balance between between work and play. No, it's not a vacation, but it's certainly not a soul-crushing grind by any stretch.    

Sunday, October 14, 2012

To Bean or Not to Bean

Coffee picking season has begun in the Kona belt, so things are very exciting on the farm.  I don't think I've adequately explained the terrain and climate in previous posts - it's a jungle out there!  As the coffee pickers from Micronesia race through the fields picking the bright red coffee cherries Tony and I work hard to clear paths through the five foot tall weeds, yanking them up by hand, making way so the coffee pickers can reach the trees with ease.

What makes Kona coffee so special is the discerning pluck of only the red fruit from the trees, leaving the yellow and green fruit to mature on the spindly branches.  At this early stage of the season the picking goes slow, usually about 100 pounds of coffee cherries per picker, but as the season progresses our daily haul will be much more significant.  Not to discount each day's haul, we're easily processing something close to 1300 pounds of cherry each day.  In about four weeks this number will likely double.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Thrill of Victory - The Agony of the Feet

Each morning we rise with the sun.  Kind of hard not to, considering the myriad of free-range chickens roaming the island.  I've only ever glimpsed one which was trying to pilfer papaya from the compost heap, but I hear roosters all day, and all night.  Contrary to popular belief, roosters do not crow just at sunrise, they crow whenever they darn well feel like it, sunrise just happens to be the time of day when they all like to crow as a group.  One rooster in particular I've dubbed "Dennis the Menace" because his particular version of a cock-a-doodle-do has a distinct "Mr. Wilson!" inflection, I mean this guy is serious about making himself heard.

Rising early has its perks.  The coffee is especially warm and soothing as the last of the evening chill leaves the air, by the time we've finished breakfast it's about 8 AM, and if we get straight to work we can be finished with our daily chores around noon.  Leaving us with the remainder of the day to entertain ourselves as we like. There's plenty to do in the way of entertainment and relaxation.  After all, this gorgeous spread of land overlooks Honaunau Bay, Kealakekua, and the City of Refuge.  I personally like sitting in my makeshift office because it gives me an opportunity to greet tour groups when they arrive.  Tours tend to equal coffee sales, and that equals spending money in my pocket.

The work involves a lot of rock climbing, and various forms of physical strength, weeds around here grow up about three feet overnight.  That's only a mild exaggeration, they really grow closer to two and a half feet overnight, requiring daily treks through the seventeen acre farm to chop, mow, and pull up weeds by hand.  Lava rock is no joke.  In only 10 days of working the farm Tony's already shredded the soles of his work boots, we're talking serious blowout, all the way through, and these boots were practically brand new when we arrived. My own hiking boots are holding up much better, but I won't lie when I say I have to sit for a good two hours after a day's worth of chores are complete.  The terrain is every bit as grueling as it is picturesque.  

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Day One: The Toughest Job I'll Ever Love

This job is a workout!  From head to toe, and everywhere in between.  I have bruises on the inside of my knees because my current chores require me to use my whole body as much as my head.  I'm beginning to understand what people mean when they say WWOOFing is "labor intensive".  At the same time, I can't stop grinning like a madwoman because I'm having a ton of fun.

Our day starts around 6 am as the sun is coming up, that's about the time of day when the night has reached its coolest and by then we have goosebumps.  Just as the sun is coming up over the edge of the volcano we're able to enjoy its warmth on our face while we sip fresh brewed Kona coffee.  This coffee is out of this world, unbelievably good.  Seriously.  I usually have to doctor my coffee with copious amounts of cream and sugar before I can choke it down, but this steaming brew I take black, then return for seconds and thirds.  Yum.

Then we start making our way up the sharp incline of the lava trails.  These trails are as treacherous as they are scenic, some of the large slabs of lava rock are stable and large enough to be considered pavement, while others are loose, unsteady, and ready to roll with the right encouragement, or wrong step.  With the help of some walking sticks carved from ancient coffee branches we make quick work of the trail, cumbersome equipment and all.

Once we arrive at the location of our day's work we establish a sort of base camp.  A place to replenish our canteens and meet up to enjoy a freshly plucked avocado or papaya.  Then we get right to work, Tony with his weed whacker and I with my ratcheting loppers.  Tony mows down weeds and snares of flowering vines while I cut down invasive saplings that threaten to overtake the nutrient-dense fields where the coffee grows. I just take it one snip at a time, one step at a time, and by the time we've finished for the day I'm often surprised to find a few dozen neatly-stacked piles of kindling in my wake.  I find this almost as rewarding as finding a chameleon hanging out among the branches.   

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Countdown to Kona: We Have Arrived!

Today is our first day at Bebo's Kona Coffee farm, After  a full morning of travel and a quick trip to Costco, we got straight to work chilling with the amazing Bebo and his equally wonderful wife, Karen.  The farm is gorgeous, the family dog (Posse) was kind enough to give us a guided tour of the back acres where the bulk of the coffee grows.  While the bulk of our lush scenery consists of rugged, lava rock trails and coffee beans inching ever closer to ripeness, just over the tops of these trees we have an unobstructed view of the Kona cost.  Spectacular doesn't begin to do this place justice.  Bebo and his wife represent the epitome of hospitality, anyone who stays at their B&B would be treated like royalty, and family.

Tomorrow marks our first day of actual work on the premises - weed whacking and branch removal.  To look at the sheer size of the property and consider this task is an exercise in futility.  Everyone agrees that this sort of work is just a matter of one step at a time, little by little, till the job is done.  It has to be done, just not all in one day.  We're pretty excited to get started.  I know our chores sound labor intensive, but right now it just doesn't translate as "work" to us.  I'll probably feel different after 4 hours of laborious farm chores, but right now I'm feeling nothing but bliss.

Pictures and video will posted soon, I promise!