Canton residents experience sustainable, organic lifestyle during recent West Coast trip


Conventional wisdom might be to shun hitchhiking, but Ted Okun and Michelle Kaplan shunned conventional wisdom, accepting rides from strangers to get from San Francisco to Seattle during their five-month journey on the West Coast.

Michelle Kaplan and Ted Okun

Michelle Kaplan and Ted Okun

“We could have taken a bus,” Okun, 25, admitted, “but we just wanted to see if we could get a ride.”

The Canton couple used discretion when hitchhiking and even had to turn down a few offers. But the two maintained an “open and trusting” mindset throughout the excursion, noting a sense of “reversed paranoia” that everyone is out to help you on the West Coast.

“We went out there with a really positive attitude and sometimes we weren’t sure where we were going to sleep or where we were going to go next, but we trusted our path and things just worked out,” Kaplan, 20, said.

Okun and Kaplan hopped from farm to farm during the five-month stay from April to August, seeking a hands-on educational experience with a sustainable, organic lifestyle. The couple visited roughly 20 farms that are part of an organization called World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, USA (WWOOF-USA). WWOOF has a minimal membership fee and provides free meals and a place to stay for “woofers,” in return for about five hours of work per day out on the farm. It’s like a cross between a social networking program and a work-trade program.

While visiting cities in California, Oregon, and Washington, the couple “couch surfed,” connecting with host families through the non-profit website Participating members allow couch surfers to sleep on their couches (or even in their guest bedrooms) for a night or two while passing through a city, rather than spend money on a hotel room. Okun and Kaplan said woofing, couch surfing, and hitchhiking helped to minimize costs during the trip.

Okun and Kaplan spent no more than two weeks on each farm, but got experience gardening, planting seeds, transplanting seedlings, harvesting vegetables, weeding, and taking care of chickens, goats and other farm animals. On a farm in Takilma, Oregon, they even got to work with an herbal pharmacist.

“I wanted to be self-sufficient, know how to do things for myself, not have to be dependent on other [people],” Okun said.

“I’m not sure how harsh this will sound, but I feel like the last five months I was kind of making up for all the things I wanted to learn when I was in high school, but didn’t learn,” Kaplan said.

These skills include growing organic food and building homes from natural materials, like clay, straw, and sand. Okun and Kaplan embrace a sustainable, organic, and hyper-local lifestyle, preferring to buy locally grown foods rather than processed foods shipped from hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

“I don’t agree with the fact that farmers are using pesticides and fertilizers that are causing damage to the earth,” Okun said. Kaplan added that she believes the pesticides and fertilizers being used can harm humans as well.

“[I want to] enlighten people of the curtain that’s between most people and their food,” Kaplan said. “They just go [to the supermarket] and they have no idea where the food is coming from, what went on before it’s on their plate.”

Both Okun, a 2004 graduate of Blue Hills Regional, and Kaplan, a 2008 graduate of Canton High, felt somewhat confused, trapped, and unfulfilled after high school.

“When I was in high school, I thought either I could go to the military, go to college, or work … I felt kind of stuck,” Okun said. So they are hoping to spread the word of this “alternative lifestyle,” as Kaplan puts it, and let others who may be experiencing some of the same feelings know that there are indeed alternative options out there.

“We wanted a more hands-on education,” Okun said. “I guess we could have paid a bunch of money and gone to school to learn some of this, but we wanted to travel and see new places, see the Redwoods, learn what it takes to have a farm.”

“We were choosing what we wanted to learn, where we wanted to be, how we wanted to learn,” Kaplan added.

After he graduated from Blue Hills, Okun worked for a few years, but has since spent time traveling to various spiritual, ecological, and educational communities like Sirius in Shutesbury. He completed a 10-month term of service in AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps and traveled around Europe for five months before heading to the West Coast. Kaplan, who had taken some courses at Curry College, wanted a more hands-on educational experience and has spent time at the Sirius Community, as well as others in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, in addition to this trip out west.

The couple said there are plenty of misconceptions about this unorthodox lifestyle. Kaplan said when people hear about a commune or community they think of a cult or a Hippie community from the 60s. Okun said that woofing can be confused with migrant farming, as opposed to an alternative way to get an education.

They said their families have not adopted this lifestyle, nor do they even fully understand it, but they are supportive. “I look at it as we’re on the same page of a different book,” Kaplan said.

Coming back from the West Coast has been a bit of a “culture shock,” Kaplan admits, with the couple both feeling that the East Coast has yet to completely embrace the sustainable, organic lifestyle. They are unsure of their future plans, but are not fazed.

“I think what we’re doing is the best thing to do right now,” Kaplan said. “We need to find our skills that we would like to pursue before we have some sort of income.”

“[You] don’t need to feel rushed to go to college,” Okun added. “If you want to go do something, just go do it. Be positive, and things will work out for you.”

For more information about WWOOF-USA, e-mail Ted Okun at or Michelle Kaplan at

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