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10 May 2010


Growing Kona coffee is a lot of work.  Sometimes it's a little too much work.  I can usually handle it all myself but every once in awhile I need a little extra help.  For the big jobs, such as harvesting and pruning, I will hire a professional crew.  They are fast, hard working and efficient.  Unfortunately they are also expensive so I can't afford to hire out all the farm work.

When I get behind schedule, but not so far behind that I need to hire a crew, that's when a work exchange volunteer comes in handy.  Most of our volunteers find us through the WWOOFer program (Willing to Work On Organic Farm).  Even though Kona Earth is only partially organic, we still get plenty of volunteers.  Being a coffee farm in Hawaii may have something to do with that.

The deal is thirty hours of work in exchange for free rent and food.  Some other farms expect the volunteers to live in a tent and shower under a hose.  Our accommodations are a bit nicer.  Although we still don't offer luxuries such as TV, phone, Internet or transportation.

I stress to the volunteers that this is not a vacation, they are expected to work.  So far we have had good luck and no serious issues.  The first few volunteers were young guys on the theory that they'd be able to do the most farm work.  Our most recent volunteer however was an 18 year old girl and the guys would have had a difficult time keeping up with her.

Here is her story about her stay on the farm:

On my first day, I dragged branches into rows and melted, happily, in the Hawaiian sun. Following the grunt work, we went surfing, a common tradition on the Big Island.

Computer, eat, TALK, beach - The life of Gary in a nutshell.

Dig, plant, water, move rocks, prune, pull suckers, bag coffee, pick coffee cherry, break the trailer, have Gary's best friend fix it before Gary comes home - The life of the intern in a nutshell. Oh, and go to the beach sometimes too. And eat at the amazing Adrianna's Burrito shack.

I managed to get 71 trees in the ground before I decided I hated bugs, especially centipedes. In addition, I attempted to grow watermelons, corn, lettuce, and a few other legal plants. Valerie guided me well with managing the not-coffee, but as soon as I tried something on my own, I fried my watermelons with miracle-gro and annihilated the marigolds. The seeds I forgot about grew beautifully.

I arrived wanting to be some super-intense tough girl who could keep up with the immigrant workers and my boss. Farmer Mariana the Amazing, The Invincible, The Courageous...The Empowered. After 7 weeks of blood and sweat, no tears, except from laughing about Gary's ridiculous anecdotes, I am satisfied with being Mariana the Eager, Playful, sometimes Feisty, and Hard-Working.

These people are great. Funny. Unique. I can't say I enjoy the chickens outside of my room as much as them, especially the roosters that crow at 6:25 AM daily. Maybe they are in cahoots with Gary to get me started early.

Hammock And a few things I couldn't fit in to the creative bit:

Favorite job- picking coffee- in a love/hate kind of way

Favorite meal by Valerie - Taco Night

Something I wish I'd done differently- Picked up after myself more

Best thing to do at night- watch Sarah and Emily argue lovingly while playing Zelda, or attempt to do strange yoga poses with them

Lessons learned:
I am no longer a vegetarian because I care about animals

Becoming independent is kind of fun

Don't wear a bikini body surfing

The dark roast is by far the best

For the amount of labor, Kona coffee is not overpriced

Organic practices are stupid

Getting dirt under my nails doesn't mean I have to be a man

Macadamia nut pie is delicious

I might have met someone who knows more fun facts than my sister

Not only did she work hard, Mariana was also pleasant to have around the house and the farm.  Sometimes it could be a bit difficult to have an extra teenager in the family but overall it was all good.  Her enthusiasm and energy was often quite contagious.

Mariana loved to bring home any new exotic tropical fruit she could find.  She wasn't scared to get out in the big waves.  She cooked for us and used her barista skills to teach us a thing or two about coffee.  She got the girls to take Yoga lessons and she got Valerie to take belly dancing lessons.  Yes, belly dancing, which Valerie is really enjoying.  Sometimes it takes a crazy teenager to discover these things.

We will miss Mariana, she was a great choice for our first female intern.  Next on the list is JT.  He sounds like he will be a great choice too.  That's good because the bar has been set high by the likes of Mike, Nicholas and Mariana.  If you're reading this JT, good luck and bring sturdy shoes.  We have plenty of work waiting for you.  It's not all work though so be sure to bring your bathing suit and some sunscreen too.

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