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How a Hoosier Took Matters Into Her Own (Farm) Hands

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This is Allison hard at work fertilizing a fruit tree on the farm.

Confession: I am embarrassed to say that I am a born and raised Hoosier, whose first immersion in agriculture took place halfway across the world. My earliest memories of traveling always include leaving the busy pace of Indianapolis and staring, with fascination, out of the windows of my mom’s minivan at fields of corn and beans. Annual visits to the state fair were a treat, highlighted by strolls through rows of chickens and goats and horses. It was like visiting a foreign country. The closest I ever got to a farm was the plot of tomatoes and green beans in my grandparents’ tiny backyard.

In the past several years, I have fallen in love with the idea of local food production and organic farming. However, having no personal experience with growing my own produce, I had this nagging feeling that I really had no clue what I was rambling about. I felt inauthentic. So I took matters into my own hands: I decided to WWOOF. (Yes, you can use that as a verb. I think.) “WWOOF” stands for Worldwide Opportunities for Organic Farmers, and is a network of farmers and workers who are interested in operating successful organic farms across the globe. So – after a bit of research – little Allie from the east side of Indy jumped on a plane with old jeans, hiking boots, and a whole lot of “what-the-hell-am-I-doing” thoughts. I landed on the Kona coast of Hawaii, with a vision of me as a professional coffee farmer and expert on all things organic.

Did you know that coffee beans are actually seeds, not beans? These are some coffee cherries before the “beans” are removed.

Naturally, this was not entirely the case. I did, however, experience the satisfaction of planting, harvesting, and (most importantly) eating a variety of traditional Hawaiian foods. My farm was 8 acres, with 7 acres of an organic coffee plantation and an acre dedicated to exotic fruit trees, a family garden, and a fully functional bed and breakfast. Nearly everything we grew was edible, so I became accustomed to picking random berries and eating them without a second thought. (On a completely unrelated side note, do not eat raw taro plants. They are toxic and will burn your mouth and you will be too embarrassed to tell your farm owner.) The most fulfilling moments occurred at the end of a long day on the farm, when I was caked in dirt and blood. I never thought I would thrive on feeling utterly disgusting.

Allison's WWOOF “ohana,” or family, on Lyman Kona Coffee Farms.

I returned to Indiana with many nuggets of wisdom, but the most exciting is my newfound appreciation for the subtleties of taste. I was on a coffee farm, so I brewed my morning cup with beans that were grown, picked, dried, roasted, and packaged all on one plot of land. I’ve grown up paying outrageous prices for gross coffee that needs to be drowned in flavored syrup, so to identify the light acidity and flowery aftertaste was a new phenomenon for my taste buds. It was brilliant. I look forward to bringing my willingness to truly recognize organic tastes back to the Hoosier state.

As I salivate over the stands at farmer’s markets and the rows of spinach at Butler’s campus farm, I’ll feel confident knowing I am capable of growing things myself. My summer was just as educational as any semester I’ve had in college, and I encourage anyone interested to visit wwoof.org to explore your options. After years of studying sustainability and environmentalism, I’ve finally put theory into practice, and it was exhilarating.

This post was written by Allison Gardner. Allison is an intern with Indiana Humanities.

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