Uma Rapiti may be the only place in the world where you can watch your neighbors landing their helicopter while squatting over a composting toilet. That’s also what makes it perfect. Bankrolled by two American expats, it’s a permaculture “lifestyle block” on the once-crunchy-but-rapidly-gentrifying Auckland suburb of Waiheke Island. Operated by youthful farm managers and staffed by young travelers seeking adventure and knowledge, it’s a rotating door of energy and enthusiasm, but not always expertise.
It’s edges are rough. Staying there as a WWOOFer (named for the program that connects young travelers and farms: Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) means working 4-5 hours a day, seven days a week, and living almost completely outdoors, but its benefits are great: free accommodation in a beautiful setting, ample healthy food, and most importantly – knowledge.
Make no mistake, living outdoors is vastly different from the average day spent on car camping jaunt. There’s something psychologically jarring about being exposed to the elements: rain, wind, mud, and cold, year-round with no hope of a warm fire and a good book with a cuppa tea. All the routines of daily life are more difficult. Oh, it’s raining? Your shower will be colder than you’d like. Is that a bit of wind? Good luck keeping the propane flame lit to heat up dinner. But the rough life can be rewarding. Bad days are tolerated, while good days are cherished.
The farm was established in 2007 adjacent to a newly constructed home in the ritzy development of Park Point. Nestled between million-dollar houses designed by award-winning architects and panoramic vistas of looming Auckland, it’s a bit of an oddity. While the neighbors are planting olive groves and pinot noir, Uma Rapiti is fretting over kale and brussels sprouts. Why are these grungy kids rubbing elbows with Auckland’s elite old guard? Why are they huddled around a pile of soil, examining it as if it were nuclear launch codes?
According to the US Department of Agriculture, over the last century, nearly 70% of the farms in the United States have closed. Without the small farmer, our food choices will skew increasingly toward the easy-to-grow and easy-to-ship, rather than the healthy and delicious. Imagine a world where our most basic of needs are monopolized. It’s a scary thought, and we’re headed straight for it at dangerous speed. Uma Rapiti is one of those slowing us down by training young people to grow their own food.
The potential power of this type of arrangement is immense. Each year, several dozen young people interested in farming arrive at Uma Rapiti starry-eyed but ignorant, and leave armed with the knowledge and motivation to start their own version of the farm in their own corner of paradise. With small family farms disappearing, programs like WWOOF and facilities like Uma Rapiti are essential to the health of our society.