There is so much joy in working on local organic farms in Hawaii. Yes, there is hardship, squabbling, and the ever-present worry about the future that our meritocratic society has driven into me since kindergarten. But working on local organic farms in Hawaii has also bestowed upon me some of the greatest experiences, thrills, laughs, and lessons that I have encountered in life thus far.

Notice the “I” in that sentence, a rarity in Gingerhill’s blog. If you haven’t glimpsed the name of the author of this blog until now, you might not be familiar with this “I.” So let me introduce myself. Hello! I am Audrey Love, the 20-something east coast native who meandered on over to work on local organic farms in Hawaii two years ago and never looked back.

As I am off the island for a little while, I am blessed with the opportunity to reflect upon the experiences I’ve had at Gingerhill. And they are many. While I am home, I have decided to take this time to personalize our blogs a little. Over the next four weeks, I will be reflecting on my own thoughts an experiences. As the first in a four week series of personal reflections on Gingerhill, I want to discuss how working at Gingerhill has radically altered my value system and my visions of the future.

Imagining A New Future

Before I arrived in Hawaii, I had a fixed, if somewhat vague, plan for my future. I was going to travel for about a year, return to the east coast, get a non-profit job in D.C. in either a political or historical field, and move on to apply to graduate school for a Ph.D. in history that would allow me to fulfill my then-dream of becoming a college professor in history.

All of that changed when I met a very special person who introduced me to a very special place. Gingerhill has radically altered my vision for the future.

I think a lot of people conceive of work exchange in Hawaii as a trip or a phase, not a lifestyle. I, myself, thought that way when I arrived in Hawaii. In my mind, I was just having a fun, experimental phase before entering the “real” world. But what I’ve learned working on local organic farms is that work exchange can actually be a lifestyle, a long-term plan. In fact, I find growing our own food and living in community to be a far more “real” living experience than sitting at a desk and shelling out cash to fulfill my every need.

Work Exchange is a Lifestyle

I’ve met people far older than me who have made work exchange an integral facet of their lifestyles. Some use work exchange as a means of gaining work experience in new places while working remotely from a computer. Others alternate extended periods of working and saving with traveling for the experience of work exchange. Still others become fixed members of a community with the intention of exchanging work indefinitely for the sake of communalism and sustainability. The experience looks different for everyone. But almost everyone that I have met that makes work exchange a fundamental aspect of their lifestyle is thriving financially, mentally, and emotionally,

Sustainability Minus Consumption

Living in a community is also an incredibly practical long-term plan. When you live in community, you can share meals and resources, like tools, vehicles, kitchens, and bathrooms. You don’t need to travel or go out to eat to have a meal with friends. You extract more value per unit of land by creating multiple living structures around communal spaces instead of multiple large houses. And you can share the responsibilities of cooking and cleaning. At Gingerhill, we work together to grow organic, non-GMO food to feed our farm. Employing methods of syntropic farming, we are able to produce abundantly with minimal external inputs. Both financially and environmentally, doing work exchange in community on local organic farms is highly sustainable.

I’ve also observed, in myself, a lower drive to consume, rendering my lifestyle even more financially sustainable. When you’re day to day life–the people you work with, the food you eat, the work you do–is pleasurable, you rarely feel the need to consume the way you would if you were working a stressful desk job and living alone. I buy far less clothing, alcohol, and mindless material goods working in Hawaii because I just don’t need the extra dopamine hit. I already get it everyday just by living my life.

A Shift in the Value of Work…

As I wrote in last week’s blog, we spend a lot of time thinking about what we want to do with our lives. But we don’t necessarily think about who we want to do it with. Sure, we might muse about an idealistic romantic relationship and think about spending a day or two a week on a short outing with friends. But what about the people that we spend all day, everyday with, i.e. the people that we work for and with? These people spend far more time in our lives than our friends and even our families, but we rarely contemplate the social makeup of our workplace environment when painting pictures of the future.

What I realized when I started working on local organic farms in Hawaii, and specifically at Gingerhill, is that who you work with is extremely important. In fact, to me, it’s more important than the actual work I am doing. I can be doing something I love, like writing or gardening, but if it’s with people I don’t identify with, I won’t enjoy it. Similarly, if I’m doing enjoyable work for a cause that does not align with my values, I won’t find that work fulfilling.

…And, Specifically, of the Gingerhill Community

At Gingerhill, I work for and with some of the most amazing people. When I look at the people around me, I see resilience, acceptance, humility, intelligence, and experience. These people make me happy. They teach me lessons. These people share their stories with me. They make me laugh. In general, they open up their lives to me, and I to them. From them I have learned empathy and perspective, and I’ve accumulated a wealth of knowledge. I have learned to be flexible, adaptive, and courageous. And with them I work toward a mutual objective: the creation of sustainable future in which empathetic individuals cultivate healthy food and healthy thoughts together.

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