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Experts Share Food Security Wisdom and Woes

Influential farmers examine realities of Maui’s vulnerable food system.

January 3, 2013
Trisha Smith - Senior ContributingWriter (dishairwaves@gmail.com) , The Maui Weekly

Although Hawai'i boasts a variety of climates and glorious farming weather year-round, nearly 85 percent of our food is imported, with a "guesstimate" of less than a week's supply in stores if a natural disaster occurs or "the boats don't come in."

Retail giants aren't concerned with food security--having access to goods that are environmentally safe, affordable, healthy, culturally accepted and attained through a noble manner.

But is it even possible to maintain a "locavore" lifestyle? It's challenging to find affordable and locally-grown food in stores here, as Hawai'i agriculture suffers due to domination of low-cost imports. Many also question the safety of goods brought in or grown here, as contentious methods by big businesses exist.

Article Photos

Although Hawai‘i boasts a variety of climates and glorious farming weather year-round, nearly 85 percent of our food is imported. But hope grows as knowledgeable Native Hawaiians continue to perpetuate farming and cultural practices from the rolling hills to the sea. A few of these leaders shared their stories in the McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. A gathering and healing place in Hna, Ala Kukui was proud to present their “Man/Woman and Nature: Restoring the Balance” series in 2012, covering intriguing global topics such as the rights of nature, the universe and food security.
Photo: Trisha Smith

And, when children think tomatoes come from supermarkets, there is a problem.

But hope grows as knowledgeable Native Hawaiians continue to perpetuate farming and cultural practices from the rolling hills to the sea. A few of these leaders recently shared their stories in the McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. A gathering and healing place in Hana, Ala Kukui was proud to present their "Man/Woman and Nature: Restoring the Balance" series in 2012, covering intriguing global topics such as the rights of nature, the universe and food security.

The evening's moderator was Dr. Manulani Aluli Meyer, a well-respected educator and the current international indigenous professor in New Zealand, following two decades at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo.

Upon a stage lined with fresh Maui produce, she led a "trialogue" with George Kahumoku Jr. of Kealia Farms in West Maui, John Lind of Kapahu Living Farm in Kipahulu and Karen Washington of the New York City Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC).

"We need to hear the stories of our farmers," said Meyer. "Through discretion, we are universal and different, and knowledge is a fundamental spirituality that saves us."

Although Kahumoku and Lind are successful Maui famers with similar missions, they met for the first time that month They agreed they are makua o ka'aina, or guardians of the land and teachers of youth.

"We know about working the ahupua'a, from the mountains to the ocean," said Kahumoku. "We are also good observers, and know how to follow as well as to lead."

A master fisherman, among other designations, Lind works with Haleakala National Park to maintain a precious area near 'Ohe'o Gulch as part of the Kipahulu 'Ohana, a collection of Native Hawaiians striving to restore traditional living. He's dedicated to educating keiki, residents and visitors alike through hands-on learning on the organic farm, from the taro patches and coconut trees to the 'opihi and limu.

"I teach kids to plant seaweed, study fish and we learn from the ground up, and to not be greedy with resources," said Lind.

He's a simple man living off the land, and advises we devour the knowledge around us instead of what modern society feeds us.

"Learn from the land, educate yourselves on GMO [genetically modified organisms], feed your 'ohana and invest in the younger generations as they carry into the future," he said.

Originally from Hawai'i Island, the Kahumoku family has fished and farmed there since 1830. George moved to Maui from Kealia in 1992 to elevate his Hawaiian music career--which has been extraordinary, earning him multiple Grammys--and to teach in Lahaina. He continued Kealia Farms' operations with his extended family here, farming and ranching on the Cliffs of Kahakuloa since 2004.

"I grow almost everything we eat, then share and sell extra to Local Harvest, our distributor in Napili," he said. "Music is 2 percent of my life, with farming and Hawaiian culture at 98 percent."

Kahumoku recalled a recent day's collections to be over 250 pounds of papaya, spinach, green onions, lilikoi, herbs, eggs and more.

Kealia flourishes as a living classroom, worked by former students and music protgs in trade for lessons, for example, and has been maintained by Kahumoku, his 12 hanai kids and hundreds of youth over the years.

"We need to take charge of our food supply by ho'o makaukau, or making ready for when the boats don't come in," he said.

The Maui farmers also discussed their symbiotic relationships with the sea and 'aina, stressing the importance of developing a "sense of place." "You don't need land to farm--that's a fallacy," said Kahumoku, sharing how he once planted enough food to feed 1,000 annually on a group of homes plots, lots and graveyards.

A lifelong resident of New York City, Washington is a leader and grassroots activist working to make her city a better place to live. She found motivation 20 years ago in a small garden in her Bronx backyard. From there, she transformed low-income neighborhoods by turning empty lots in community gardens and spearheaded the City Farms Market, working passionately to grow and promote sustainable food in an urban environment.

She said Hawai'i is fortunate in its natural resources, but all land has its politics, laws and consequences.

"Finally though, people are listening in NYC," said Washington regarding food security. "There are farmers that really care about the land and know how to farm it."

Since the gardens flooded during Superstorm Sandy, community groups have been coming together to clean up and rebuild the areas.

Follow Washington's extraordinary work via nyccgc.org, and read more about what she shared on Maui from "The Dish From Trish" blog at www.mauiweekly.com.

Visit www.alakukui.org and submit your email to learn about next year's conversation series.

 
 

 

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