the hop farm

Tapawera, New Zealand (2022-2023)

There was no doubt that moving overseas would push Jace and me to rediscover ourselves, but working at the hop farm was definitely the catalyst that set it into motion. After weeks of living on the road and enjoying a leisurely schedule, working hops plunged us into a new reality. I remember feeling dizzy with exhaustion while walking back to our van on the second day in – truly wondering how I’d make it through.

That might sound dramatic, but I’ve never done something so physically demanding. We first came to Tapawera for hops in the spring, which meant our job was to train the hop vines so that they grow correctly for harvest. 8 hours a day (or more) were spent bending up and down, row after row, to wrap little vines up the line, with the enjoyability of our days completely dependent on the weather.

I didn’t bring my camera out in the fields so here are some phone snaps.

I think what made it so hard was how sore we were most of the time during training, and I suppose living in a cramped van didn’t help us feel rejuvenated each day. Also, I realized how bothered I was by bugs once we got there. A few days in there was a massive spider above my head while falling asleep in the van and a level of fear that I didn’t know existed set in. Lest we forget, we also had the pleasure of showering with spiders! And we were constantly getting bitten by sandflies. But, New Zealand doesn’t have poisonous insects, snakes, or anything that could truly harm you, so I knew immediately that the fear and uncomfortable feelings were just a mental battle that I needed to overcome.

I’m aware that I’m really not selling this experience to the reader right now, but you’ll come around to it – just like I did. Because the hop farm wasn’t really about doing something epic or beautiful or impressive, even. It was about doing something that was different than anything we’d ever experienced before. But – not gonna lie – it was kind of epic at times. Instead of sitting at my desk on a Tuesday afternoon, I was running through fields smashing dead vines with a machete.

All of the uncomfortable feelings were there to remind me that I’m smart, resilient, and strong. It really stretched my perception of what I’m capable of. Hard manual labor has this weird ability to rewind your physical clock and invite a more youthful spirit in – I spent a lot less time living in my head, took life less seriously, and started living in the moment more. Well, I suppose when you’re riding a four-wheeler through narrow, muddy rows and getting sprayed in the face while trying to fix irrigation lines, you kind of have to pay attention to the present moment.

After six weeks of training hops and tending to irrigation, we left the farm to travel more and returned a couple of weeks before the start of hop harvest. If I thought the first duration was hard, boy was I in for a new challenge with harvest. Thanks to his welding and fabbing skills, Jace was happy to be brought onto their engineering team at the end of spring and once again when we returned in the summer. I, on the other hand, joined a team of travelers and temporary workers from around the world to harvest hop vines and put them through heavy machinery that separates the hops to be used for brewing.

Working with a team of interesting, new people definitely boosted my morale and helped me make it through six 12-hour days a week, but the physical labor was even harder than hop training. We spent our days lifting hop-heavy vines onto hooks and shoveling piles of loose vegetation. Everything was heavy and got even heavier when it was cold or rainy (don’t underestimate the weight of water). All that to say, I definitely got a lot stronger and even felt kind of ripped by the end (or, my version of ripped, which is just… not weak).

Everyone who came to work the harvest arrived in vans, cars, and campers. It was really exciting to get to know people from so many different places and walks of life. The six weeks we spent working at the farm before harvest consisted of the small management team that worked there full time, me and Jace, Max (from Germany), and Duncan (a Kiwi). So the living quarters went from the four of us living on-site to over 25 people all living together during harvest.

We were all working such long days that it was hard to spend time together outside of work, but the connections I did make stay with me, even now (months later). I met two Kiwi sisters, Jordyn and Lulu, who left their mark on me even though we’re all living in different places now. I also felt like my eyes were opened to the multitude of pathways one can choose for their life. A South American couple that we met had been traveling for years in Australia and now NZ. I was so impressed because they were living out of their car and a tent and were incredibly resilient throughout it all. They said they’d like to find more farm work after harvest. Later I found out they were both highly educated with Masters degrees and lucrative career options, but they chose to continue traveling and working on farms.

In retrospect, I can honestly say I’m a big advocate for this kind of work at any stage in life. Enduring a tough lifestyle is really grounding and a great reminder of just how adaptable we are as humans. This experience also taught me and Jace how little we need to feel happy – as long as we’re fed and clean (sometimes a cold shower will have to do), everything else is disposable. My only regret is that I didn’t document my life there more. There were so many people I met that I would give anything to go back in time and take some portraits of, but to be honest, I was at my limit almost every day so photography took a backseat. How about this photo of a magpie in a tree, though?

Thank you for reading ♡ And hey, if you feel like you need a mental and physical reset, try getting your hands dirty.

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