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So, you wanna volunteer on a farm?

After graduating high school in the midst of a global pandemic, I felt unsure about what my next year would look like.  Jumping right into college, especially with so much uncertainty, was not a good choice for me.  I wanted to travel and learn things outside of a classroom that I could carry with me throughout college and my career.  After much research and contemplation, I decided on a program that would allow me to volunteer and spend two months in Hawaii camping, hiking, and of course, farming.

To make my decision, I spent a lot of time googling various gap year programs before settling on Carpe Diem Education.

Websites like Gap Year Association (GYA) and Go Overseas are particularly helpful since they give a list of top programs, a description of the program and reviews from people who went. The most reliable organizations will fall under the Accredited Gap Year Programs which are determined by GYA’s guidelines. I landed on Carpe Diem after seeing it at the top of the list on various gap year websites and reading about the experiences that former students had.

Worldwide opportunities on Organic Farms or WWOOF is another great organization if you’re looking specifically for a sustainable farming experience or place to volunteer.  If you have an idea of where you’d like to travel, you can look for farms located in that country and read about what kind of experience you would have there. Farms you find through WWOOF will provide housing and food in exchange for a certain number of hours of work per day. These sites might seem more directed towards gap year students, but most organizations will offer summer programs and volunteer options as well.

Safety is incredibly important to consider before traveling abroad, and it’s also crucial for getting your parents on board. Each program page should have their own Health and Safety section where they discuss how they handle emergency situations. Since you will be traveling during the pandemic, pay special attention to their Covid-19 policy to make sure you stay safe abroad. All programs should have staff available to schedule zoom meetings to clear up any questions or concerns before traveling.

“Choosing to travel abroad was the best decision I ever made.” 

During my time in Hawaii, I spent two weeks living and working on an organic sustainable farm called Pono Grown in the East Maui mountains.  As the owner described it,

““Pono” is the Hawaiian word for righteousness and harmony.  He chose the name based on a deep belief that the earth will only take care of you if you take care of it too.”

At Pono, I came to realize how reliant we are on the environment.  The farm provides fresh food for the whole community, and it made me wonder where my food comes from and if my practices are honoring the land as Pono tries to do.

Another two weeks of my trip were spent working with Maui Cultural Lands on a land restoration project called Kipuka Olowalu.  Unlike the farm in East Maui, the Olowalu valley was considered a sacred space.  Each day we would begin with a chant led by a cultural practitioner to ask permission from the land to enter the valley.  At Olowalu we learned not just of the connection we have to earth through food, but also of the spiritual connection that is possible.  The staff taught us the Hawaiian phrase Malama ‘Aina, meaning “to care for the land.” This mantra was repeated many times over the course of our two weeks with them.  I came to realize that this was not just their job at Olowalu, but something meaningful that many Hawaiians live by.

Over the two months, we spent almost every day working with the land.  Our longer stays were at Pono Grown and Kipuka Olowalu, but we had volunteer days at the Botanical Gardens, in taro patches, and even at Grammy-winner George Kahumoku’s home farm.  

“At each of these places, the pattern of love and appreciation that Hawaiians have for the earth was not lost on my group. We left with a new perspective and greater appreciation for the land and environment.”

It’s not only where our food comes from, but it’s where we live.  The simple concept of Malama ‘Aina and having love for the earth is lost on many Americans.  I didn’t quite understand it myself until I spent time with people for whom it is their whole life. I can’t express my gratitude for getting to experience the land the way I did on Maui, especially as the climate crisis becomes a greater threat.  Such a strong connection to the land is incredibly rare, which is why most people are so quick to ignore the destruction we have caused.  We stopped taking care of the land, so it stopped taking care of us. 

It is essential that we learn to appreciate the land in order to reach a state of pono in which both people and the land care for each other. 

I highly encourage students to take any opportunity they can to work with the land and volunteer when they can.  Growing food that feeds people, and especially yourself, helps you develop an intimate relationship with the earth.  It is an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and belonging that comes from living in connection with the land.

Sustainability and Education Abroad: What you should know and what you can do

Temple Office of Sustainability and Education Abroad and Overseas Campuses teamed up to design a host of resources to help you incorporate sustainable practices into each step along your journey, from choosing your program to planning for your travel and life abroad, to implementing lessons learned abroad upon your return.

Your carbon footprint

Calculate your study abroad carbon footprint and explore resources to reduce and offset.

Global impact of climate change

Find out how climate change is affecting countries around the world, including your host country.

Community perspectives

Check out what our students have learned about sustainability and climate change from living abroad, and hear from faculty experts on our community perspectives page.

Sustainability courses abroad

Enroll in courses focused on sustainability abroad.

Temple Global Green Grants

Want to be an ambassador for sustainability abroad? Apply for our new Temple Global Green Grant!

Sustainability events

Explore sustainability events happening at Temple.

The recommendations, views, and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the original authors. Theses recommendations, views, and opinions do not represent those of Temple University, Temple University Office of Sustainability, the staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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