Learning and Helping as We Travel



          When I packed my bags to go to Maui recently I thought about packing my CobraHead weeder. But in the rush of getting ready I neglected to do so. I wish I had. That’s right, I like to garden even when I go on vacation. There are always opportunities to help out, and to learn. A winter vacation in a warm place can offer more than just a tan and some relaxation.

 

A friend told me about an organic farm on Maui that serves developmentally disabled adults and sells organic fruits and vegetables to the community. I called the farm and offered a day of help; my three traveling companions accompanied me. It was a wonderful day – and helped me to feel a little less guilty about the carbon emissions of that big silver bird that brought me to Maui.

 

Lokelani Ohana Farm

Lokelani Ohana Farm

Lokelani ‘Ohana Farm is unlike any I have visited before. It is just over an acre in size and produces 10 kinds of bananas including thumb-sized bananas and “apple” bananas, my favorites. Apple bananas are half the size of bananas we know from the store with a rich flavor that makes ordinary bananas seem as bland as Wonder Bread. There had been a severe tropical storm just before we had arrived on Maui, and some of the banana plants had blown down. We helped by cutting up downed stalks and lugging them off to compost piles. And I got to do some weeding – while it was 20 below back home.

 

Lokelani Farm is a “vibrant sustainable ‘Ohana where “people with   disabilities live, learn and work together with reverence for spirit, creativity and nature, supporting each other’s potential and sharing a life of purpose.”, according to the vision statement in their brochure.

 

Christina Chang, the director of the farm and programs, told me that the programs have been in existence just since 2005 and are modeled on the Camp Hill initiative of Pennsylvania. Camp Hill has farms and programs that serve developmentally disabled adults in several locations in the northeast. Their farm programs are organic and biodynamic. At Lokelani adults participants learn not only how to garden, but also Saori weaving and other craft skills, and develop better social skills.

 

So if you wish to help out for a day or more on your next vacation, how should you find a good place to do so? Before heading off to Florida or Nassau or France, do a little research on the internet. Twice before this experience I have worked on farms, once in France and once in the Hebrides off Scotland. Both allowed me to learn as well as to help.

 

In my previous experiences I had joined the WWOOFer program: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It matches up volunteers with organic farms for short term work experiences. I worked about a week on each of the farms where I “woofed”; some farms have restrictions about how long a worker must stay and help – a week or a month minimum, for example. In general, woofers get room and board provided and work 4 to 6 hours a day, five days a week. Lokelani had 3 woofers working on the farm the day we were there, but we were not a part of the official WWOOFer program. In general other woofers that I have met have been in their twenties and thirties, but there are no age restrictions.

 

In order to see what is available, go to the website www.wwoof.net. The website will not give you farm locations or contact info – they want you to pay first to join – but you can see what sorts of jobs and farm placements are available before you join. In the United States the fee to become a WWOOFer is $40. In France it is 25 Euros.

 

You need to join the WWOOF organization for the country you are interested in – you cannot join once for all of Europe, for example. The web site allows you to sort the farms according to your requirements for length of stay, accommodations, type of food provided. Thus you can select omnivore, vegetarian or vegan diet, and only farms that can provide that will show up on your search.

 

I also found that there are other organic farms on Maui, some of which provide accommodations and the opportunity to learn and take classes. So you don’t have to sign up to be a woofer if you want to spend some time gardening in winter.

 

So what did I learn at Lokelani that day? I learned that bananas are incredibly resilient. Cut off the top of the plant, and the roots and base will generate a new stem. The leaves make a great mulch – they will block out sunshine and hold down weeds. I learned what a breadfruit tree (and the fruit) look like, and what macadamia nuts look like right from the tree. I met some very interesting people. I learned that Lokelani is a wonderful non-profit (www.lokelaniohana.org) that is trying to not only help adults with disabilities, but to help the broader community to accept and understand the special love and creativity of people with disabilities.

 

So think about spending some time on a farm next time you vacation. I’m glad I did.

 

Henry Homeyer is not answering gardening questions this week. His Web site is www.Gardening-Guy.com. He is the author of 4 gardening books.

 

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