Archive for January, 2013

The Makahiki, hellos, and goodbyes

It’s been a busy week here at the Hui. I feel as though I had barely settled in before things started changing again. Connie left on the Maui ferry on Monday to return to teach a course on Vancouver Island, so I’m officially The Gardener now. In just a few short weeks, I’ve gone from total novice to managing a full-scale garden and seed house providing gourmet food for a well-to-do retreat clientele and I’m about to jump into 10 days of leading a garden work camp team. Whew! And I have Connie to thank dearly for this. I’ve learned an incredible amount of knowledge from this expert who has been not only my teacher but a mentor, roommate, and friend. It was sad to say goodbye, but I feel very prepared to take on this exciting challenge and I am looking forward to continuing to learn from my work here and from Connie in the future (check out http://www.gardensonthego.net/apps/webstore/products if you’re looking for a great garden course on VI, or if you want to do an internship like me here on Molokai next fall/winter!

On Saturday, we spent some of our last down time together watching the Makahiki on the playing field in Kaunakakai. Here’s one description of this old Hawaiian tradition: “The Makahiki is a designated period of time following the harvesting season when wars and battles were ceased, tributes and taxes were paid by each district to the ruling chief, sporting competitions between villages districts were organized and festive events were commenced.” What a beautiful tradition to be able to halt conflict and celebrate in community. I feel like there’s something that other cultures can learn from this! It was an amazing sight: graceful hula dancers in flowing white with long, wild hair; elder women in colourful flowered dresses, drumming; youths holding long poles draped with ceremonial cloth. During the opening ceremony, three men in white loincloths with traditional tattoos stood in the centre. Groups of kids from different schools took their turn singing in procession and handing the men gifts of sacred plants and traditional foods like taro. In slow ritual, the eldest man received the gifts, who handed them to the next-eldest man, who handed them to the youngest man, who placed them among a circle of rocks as an offering. The most surprising part was the last group to pass up an offering. Three officers in naval attire brought up a gift to be placed among the others. The stark contrast between cultures and yet the beauty of this symbolic gesture of peace was astounding.

It was an incredible honour to be able to watch this annual celebration of a tradition that is strongest on Molokai. Kualapu’u school, a mile from our home, is the only public school on the islands that has a full Hawaiian immersion program. We watched and the children screamed as little first graders went head to head in traditional games. In one game, two children held up one foot behind their backs with one hand, and locked onto each other’s palm with the other hand, each trying to cause the opponent to fall or to drop the held foot to the ground. This is the 32nd year of the revived tradition, and our hearts leaped when the MC took to the mic to talk about this year’s theme: food independence. He spoke of the issue that Molokai imports nearly all its food, which is not only difficult to afford, but increasingly unreliable: “We need gardens, and we need them in schools to teach our keiki how to grow their own nutritious food.” It’s truly a time of awakening here, as it is in other parts of the world that are realizing our food system is cracking.

Reinvigorated by this marker for cultural revival and resilience, and motivated by Connie’s imminent departure, we put in long hours doing last-minute instruction in the garden. I learned about irrigation, sheet mulching, banana harvesting, and macadamia nut cracking (what else would you expect in Hawai’i?) It felt really satisfying doing some final walk-throughs of the garden together. This month has been tough on the plants, heavy harvesting coupled with the nematodes and short day lengths has resulted in little growth among our salad greens. But it’s incredible that after every rain, the whole garden looks bigger. There is some kind of energetic enhancement a rain imparts that just doesn’t happen with irrigation. The same goes for eggshells, as we found out when Connie decided to try loading them around the broccoli. The first time it happened, both her and Sabine were shocked to see the plants stand up straighter. I tried it myself the other day, and sure enough, within just a few hours the slightly wilty plants were taller! As the day lengths get longer, we can tell the plants are already starting to grow faster again. It truly nourishes the soul to watch a little seed grow up into a beautiful, strong plant.

I’m also looking forward to some nourishment from the human realm. Tomorrow, our household of twelve staff will swell to thirty-four people, as the Great Fullness Winter Camp is upon us. Twice a year, the Hui hosts friends, family, and past retreat guests for ten fun days of working on team projects, building, planting, painting, co-creating, and sharing. Needless to say, my posts might be slim for a while. With four of us on the garden team, I hope to finally get ahead of the game and able to breathe for a bit afterward, because as soon as it’s over, another person is joining the Hui family: my wonderful partner, Marc. He’ll be here for two months working on the native plant restoration project. I’m counting down the days soaking up gratitude that we’ll be able to be in this place together, and amazed at the possibility that this experience is about to get even better!

Connie and I in the native plant nursery, with the shadehouse in the back:

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The Makahiki opening ceremonyImage

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the microbe universe

Well, everything in life has its ups and downs, even living in blissful Hawai’i. After a fantastic day yesterday, we woke up to find our pals Sabine and Sweetie Pie gone, with only a stinky Sweetie present left amongst the torn up green onions, which were promptly ripped out and composted. Then we hit a bigger bump in the road. Or, more accurately, millions of little bumps in the road. They’re called nematodes. There are estimated to be one million different species of these tiny microscopic worms. Many of them are beneficial in the garden, eating pests that spend time in the soil. But others eat living plant material–the roots of vegetables–and this is the kind we have.

It started a little while ago when we realized the chard was stunted and showing spots on the leaves. This is actually Cercospora leaf spot: when the fungus spore lands on a leaf, the plant kills its own tissue in a circle around the spore to cut off its food, killing the spore. Pretty cool (and you can still eat the leaves). But when a plant is getting visibly attacked by a pest, it’s a sign that the plant was already stressed or weak. Taking a closer look, we pulled up a few chard plants. Back home, healthy chard roots dig into the soil up to 6-8 feet deep. But we pulled them up with ease, revealing tiny, brownish roots–many with big red tumour-like galls on them. At first, we thought it was the season: too much rain could have encouraged root rot, and the shortened day length has been causing everything to grow a lot slower (you’d be amazed by how much the changing day length makes a difference here in winter, even though the change is way smaller than where I live further north).

After some internet research, Connie identified them as root knot nematodes, which we have since discovered are very common in Hawai’i. They aren’t a problem back home, and in fact, Connie has told me that she doesn’t remain on the cutting edge of pest control knowledge. Why? Because she doesn’t really get any pests to speak of anymore–evidence that a biologically diverse system focused on building a healthy soil food web through compost and other habitat for beneficial organisms keeps a natural balance. If harmful nematodes are getting out of hand in our garden, it’s because there aren’t enough other microbes to keep their numbers in check.

The nematodes were bad news because they’re very difficult to get rid of; mostly we can just keep their population down. We’ll do this by adding compost over time to balance out the organisms, planting marigolds (nematodes don’t like them), rotating and fallowing the beds, and planting veggies that are nematode-resistant to starve them of the foods they eat (the kales, broccoli, mustard greens, collards, cilantro, green onions and leeks are doing fine). In the meantime, though, we aren’t keeping up with the ravenous appetite here for salad greens. We thought the poor plants would bounce back from us pillaging them every day now that the days are getting longer, but because of the nematodes we waved our white flag and the cooks bought a crate of Romaine. We’re hosting a work camp here in one week, with around 35 people onsite for ten days. I’m grateful for the plants to have some recovery time.

So to cheer ourselves up, we played science lab today. I took soil samples from all the beds, disinfecting my tools between each one so as not to spread the little worms (we’ll have to do this every single time we use a tool in the garden now). At a friend’s place down the road, we examined the samples under a microscope. We didn’t see as much life moving around in the beds with compacted soil. We saw lots of tiny nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the bed where the clover cover crop is still growing among the plants. These awesome bacteria, which live on legumes, convert nitrogen from the air into a form that plants can use. We also brought some freshly brewed and very lively compost tea. The lactobacillus, a beneficial bacteria, looked like a sausage (or a string of sausages). Zippy little ciliates shot across the slide in a hurry. Long fungal strands were covered in ladder-like rungs. And the nematodes were easy to spot: little worms squiggling around, wrestling with a tiny piece of humus. But we couldn’t identify whether they were the good kind or the bad.

The coolest thing we looked at were some indigenous microbes. Before I arrived here, a bunch of “pristine” soil was gathered from up in the hills. We spread cooked rice in a planting flat, poured unsulphured molasses over it, and laid the soil on top. We’ve kept it covered and moist for the past few weeks as the indigenous microbes feed and multiply. When the rice has disappeared, we’ll make a compost tea from this highly active and locally appropriate microbe universe to help build soil fertility in the garden. In the meantime, our small sample from the mushroomy-smelling, mould-covered tray has showed us there’s plenty of beneficial life in there.

I can’t remember using a microscope since high school science class, and I have to say I never thought I’d get so excited over soil microbes and mouldy trays of rice. I think my biologist roommate will be proud 😉

Unfortunately I don’t have any shots of the microbes, but here’s some lovely sunflowers instead.

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These are some of the bucket-full of edible flowers we harvest every day for the cooks to garnish the food.. hibiscus, calendula, nasturtiums, and.. blue butterfly pea I believe..

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Food for the soul

After some heavy duty posts the last few entries, This one will be fluffy and full of joyful experiences here at the Hui. We are now the caretakers of the sweetest, cutest, and most beautiful black pit bull girl I’ve ever met!

Her nickname is Sweetie Pie, and she just showed up on the property the other night, scared and starving. So I’m helping babysit her until the weekend’s over and the dog catcher can come for her (everyone says the dog catcher is a very compassionate guy who loves animals so we have nothing to worry about). Something important I’ve learned from my partner Marc–who loves pit bulls–is that they are widely misunderstood as aggressive, dangerous dogs. Yes, it’s true they were bred as fighting dogs in Britain. But what many don’t know is that their handlers were always in the ring with them, and any dog that bit a human was culled right away, never to be bred. The bottom line is that pit bulls LOVE humans and are very loyal. The trouble generally comes when adults are placed in unrestricted situations with other dogs or have irresponsible owners that encourage them to act against their good temperament (normal behaviour for the breed).

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Well, the other dogs that live here aren’t big fans of Sweetie Pie, but Sweetie just sits there looking at them with a “what’s-the-big-deal” expression. She’s incredibly wily. After attaching herself resolutely to Sparky, we tried to keep her enclosed in the garden (having a stray pit bull following the hostess around isn’t the best scenario when you have paying retreat guests onsite). Without knowing the garden at all, she bolted straight to a hidden weak spot in the fence and burrowed for a grand escape. She sits on command and is obviously well-trained, and calmly waited every time we put a leash or collar on. But she freaked out when she realized she was leashed in the garden, leaping around and tearing up the chard and green onions. All she wants is to be with someone. So I’ve been sitting with her, scratching her ears and rubbing her belly (which looks like it might contain a few pups). She calms right down and nuzzles in, and eventually after a big meal and a cuddle she lays down and sleeps in the sun. What a sweetie!

There is certainly something about this place that is deeply grounding and healing for earthlings of all sorts. I saw it happen with the guests at the last workshop, and I have already seen it in the faces of those who have just arrived today for this week’s workshop on building mindful relationships. Our staff shared an opening circle with them, placing leis on each person’s shoulders and welcoming them into our community. With twelve staff members, full workshops, and friends always dropping by, the Hui is always full of energy. It’s a happy, healthy energy, full of cooperation and mutual care.

I attended my first staff meeting the other day, which couldn’t be more different from a regular worksite staff meeting. In a circle, we all checked in with each other about how we were feeling in the group. This creates space to nurture the sharing of joy and gratitude, and also creates a safe container for the hard things too. I have been a part of many circles like this. But I’ve never seen such peaceful and caring words from the heart AND productive short-term planning rolled so neatly into one functional meeting before. I’m reading Starhawk’s Empowerment Manual right now–it’s a guide for collaborative groups–and I think they should take a page out of the Hui’s book. Everyone is so motivated and happy to be here that they all put in more than their share. The other day, we spent hours scouring a nearby house that was at least 100 years old, dancing around to old funk hits till the place gleamed (and I made some money!). No matter what the work is, somehow it turns out to be fun. Everyone pitches in to keep the place clean and to cook meals together, play charades, and hold dance nights in the yurt.

Today was one such magical day. It started with a trip to the beach with Connie, Dougal, and Sabine. Sabine, the German WWOOFer–who makes mouth-watering spaetzle and bakes us tasty treats–has to leave tomorrow because her visa has expired, and we are truly sad to see her go. But she intends to return here in the spring, after a stint in my neck of the woods! (Victoria-Vancouver Island folks, take note!) In honour of her departing, we harvested the first pineapple from the small crop that was planted onsite. This is a big deal because pineapples, flowering only once a year, take at least a year and a half to produce a fruit! Hands down, it was the tastiest pineapple I’ve ever eaten in my life. Unlike the pineapples bred to be easily canned, it didn’t contain a big tough core. After slurping up the sweet juices, we dove into the waves at Dixie Maru beach. It felt so good to finally get into the ocean. Soon enough, a sea turtle came up and popped its head out to say hello.

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On my way out of the water, I was beckoned over to help a girl bury her little brother in the sand. Chatting my ears off like an old friend, they told me about all the best hangout spots on the island. The girl, about ten, told me her name is Puhi Kauila, which means “eel” in Hawaiian. The boy, who looked about eight, goes by William most of the time. She’s lived in six foster homes; he’s lived in five. Regrouping, the four of us Hui staff shared a deep circle of gratitude about our families who, for better or for worse, were always there for us and loved us unconditionally.

As soon as we returned from the beach, we were off again on another adventure. This time, we were headed to a trail along the magnificent cliffs of Molokai–the highest coastal cliffs in the world. Just two miles up the road, we ventured into the woods with Sweetie by our side. The trail, which is pretty much nonexistent at times, winds through invasive trees planted in strange straight lines (left there by settlers who thought it was a good idea to plant non-native species to “hold water”). We popped out at the edges, looking straight down 2,000 feet. It was spectacularly thrilling and vertigo-inducing. As the sun dropped low in the sky, we emerged onto a peaceful field that looked back toward the Mo’omomi Preserve and dropped off into an abyss of blue. We watched as what was probably a whale shot water into the air. Sometimes I can’t believe this is real. We live here!

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Sharing these moments together is certainly food for the soul. We’ve celebrated two birthdays this past week, and they only served to remind me how much of a difference it makes to your health when you are blessed with a caring community and a sanely-paced lifestyle with time for fun and beautiful moments. The two birthday women, Bronwyn (owner-founder) and Sparky (hostess extraordinaire) are vibrant, energetic, joyful, and full of beauty. Like all of the Hui residents, they look and act many years younger than what mainstream society would have you believe about what it’s like to be a certain age. I’m the youngest person here, surrounded with silver hair, and I can hardly keep up! It definitely inspires me to take care of myself, so I can have this much fun when I’m 70.
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Or even 80. As part of this health train, I’ve been tagging along to drop-in Svaroopa yoga sessions taught by a firecracker named Connie (another Connie in my life..!)–some have assured me she is 81 years old, some say even older. She looks younger than many 60 year olds, and is in way better shape than most of the 50+ age group that attends. She’s teaching core release of the deep spinal muscles to eliminate back pain, encourage relaxation, and boost the immune and digestive systems. For a $2 fee, these two-hour sessions full of cozy blankets and props is not a hard choice.

I came here for nourishment–body, mind and spirit. And I am getting filled up indeed.

Vandana Shiva vs. Monsanto

Aloha ‘aina. These words represent a deep component of the culture in Hawai’i–one that the speakers talked about passionately at the energy festival. I like this quote that gives a brief explanation of the concept:

Aloha ‘aina means love of the land. It is the profound respect we have for Hawai’i and the care we take to protect our Islands. Aina means that the land is the source of our food. In that sense, then, the land is what gives us sustenance; it is Hawai’i that sustains us. We who live in the Islands walk upon its earth, breathe its air, drink its water, and eat the food it provides. Hawaii is within us, a part of us.

What became, under development pressure, a call to reclaim Hawaiian land for the benefit of the people is now being used as a call to move toward a sustainable future. It’s a call increasingly heard across the globe, regardless of language or cultural difference. This was made clear yesterday by one of the most powerful and inspiring leaders on my radar: Vandana Shiva. Dr. Shiva is an Indian physicist, author, philosopher, and ecofeminist–and one of the most outspoken critics of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). She was in Honolulu yesterday speaking about aloha ‘aina at a rally in favour of labeling foods containing GMOs–if you have ten minutes to spare to be incredibly inspired, check out this video.

Did you catch what she said about Monsanto being Hawai’l’s biggest employer? Well, on Molokai this is a fact of life. When I first considered coming here, I had no idea I would be living so near the belly of the beast: with its small, remote population, Monsanto has taken advantage of the high unemployment on Molokai and now produces GMO seeds here to sell to farmers on the mainland. The eerily perfect, thick rows of corn, all genetically identical, stand out starkly against the hills of red earth and dry brush on Molokai. Workers in neon safety vests move through the rows marked with “No Trespassing” signs. At Monsanto HQ, dozens of huge white trucks and shiny new SUVs are parked neatly. A few doors down, giant painted signs read “Monsanto, get your toxic chemicals off my land!” Incredibly, the corn rows end just metres from the edge of town in Kaunakakai. In the neighbourhoods beside the fields are apparently the cheapest homes for sale on Molokai. It seems no one wants to live near the pesticide spray.

From the same company that brought us controversial chemicals like DDT, agent orange, bovine growth hormone (injected into dairy cows) and PCBs, Monsanto is probably the single largest threat to global food sovereignty. Whether it’s suing North American farmers when its seeds contaminate their land (sounds a bit backward, doesn’t it?), contributing to an epidemic of suicides among Indian farmers (Shiva pegs it at 270,000 in the past 15 years), causing birth defects and driving farmers off their lands in Argentina, causing horrifying tumours in rats, or financially controlling politicians and university researchers, (the list goes on….) Monsanto is hell bent on controlling the global seed supply–on which the global food supply rests. The company and its products are so reviled that after the earthquake in Haiti, Haitians burned seeds donated from Monsanto rather than planting them. It hired the infamous Blackwater mercenary army to infiltrate anti-GMO groups. Most recently, Monsanto donated a whopping $8.1 million to support the “No” side in the California referendum to make GMO labeling mandatory, which ultimately failed. Any company who bullies farmers into the trap of using its harmful pesticides and its patented RoundUp Ready seeds–and then takes them to court if they try to save seed from the crop–is a huge danger to global food security, biodiversity, and human health.

Monsanto is a very common topic around here at the Hui. Many have very strong feelings against the company, but it’s clearly a very complicated situation on the island. How can you effectively resist a force that is providing an income to your aunties, uncles, perhaps brothers, sisters, and parents, when jobs are so hard to come by?

And while GM corn usually ends up in Hawaiian households as high-fructose corn syrup and other additives in unhealthy processed foods, genetic modification has reached some of Hawaii’s major food plants. It turns out that about 80% of Hawaiian papayas are genetically modified. Articles claiming this “saved” the papaya export industry don’t mention the widespread contamination of backyard gardens and organic papaya farms–which can make them lose their certification.

From what I’ve heard, it sounds as if Hawaiians really began to get upset when scientists began pursuing genetic modification of taro. Taro is an ancient cultural staple considered to be the family of the people. Taro is such a culturally and spiritually important plant that the Hawai’ian word for family, ‘ohana, is derived from ‘oha, a part of the plant: as shoots grow from the tuber, people grow from the family. This starchy root crop, pro-GMO scientists have claimed, is “weak” in the face of pests. But as Connie pointed out the other day, taro survived being brought here in canoes from the South Pacific and supported a population in the hundreds of thousands. Though times have changed, I have a feeling taro doesn’t need scientists to mess with its biology in order to maintain its existence.

On a broader scale, Hawaiians–and Canadians, and all humans–have a big choice to make. Do we allow corporations to profit from messing with our biology, or can we maintain our existence without mutilating our food? I don’t want a laboratory controlling my food supply–which is a major reason I’m here at the Hui learning how to grow my own food organically. In the video, Vandana Shiva tells a story of visiting Italy as the economy collapsed in Europe. A political official took her to see what had happened in Rome: gardens had come up, and young unemployed youth had become seed savers and gardeners. Here’s my favourite quote from her speech:

“In the making of your own food is the making of freedom.”

Idle No More Rally in Honolulu

Mahalo to Connie for sharing this video with me, it’s another video of the rally that Vandana Shiva was speaking at – from the perspective of some in the Idle No More movement. It’s so inspiring to see this movement make such big waves in this short time!

garden-fresh wisdom

I’ve been chased inside by the rain, which soaked me through to the bone while I was gathering fruit in the orchard. I’ve never seen rain come down this hard! It felt wonderful, but even here in warm Hawai’i, it’s wintertime and I can’t stay wet for too long without getting a chill. So I’ve decided to write a post about some of the many things I’ve learned in the garden so far. In just over a week, I feel like I’ve gained enough knowledge to start my own successful garden, although this is just the beginning!

The past few days we’ve been doing a lot of transplanting. Because there are lots of critters that love to eat veggie seeds and tiny sprouts, we start everything inside the shade house (like a greenhouse but with screen walls). Plants begin sprouting with seed leaves, which actually live inside the seed before it sprouts! Once the plants start forming their “true” leaves, we leave the plants outside for a day or two to harden off. During this time, the plant gets used to being out in much sunnier, windier, (and in the case of greenhouses, cooler) conditions, without being totally stressed by transplanting. We dig a hole and fill it up with the hose to allow water to sink deep into the surrounding ground before moving the plant in. Then we water it with seaweed: seaweed is a de-stresser for plants, it has a very balanced combination of nutrients that help keep the plant content in its new home. Then we mulch the plant with fresh compost for more slow-releasing nutrients and water retention. Voila!

Well, I should be a little more exact here–there’s never just one plant. We always seed a few kinds of plants together: lettuce with carrots and dill, beans with sunflowers, tomatoes with basil. There are various reasons why some plants help each other grow (and others generally don’t do well together) such as what kinds of nutrients they take and what nutrients or hormones they send into the soil, whether they need shade or give it away, and whether they attract pollinators or repel certain pests. Seeds of Change has a good companion planting guide.

Speaking of unwanted garden residents, how do you deal with pests in an organic garden? I’ve learned that pests are usually a sign that the plants are stressed out, or weak from nutrient deficiencies. Using chemical fertilizers will create these imbalances as I mentioned before, as they are always made up of a mix of substances (as soon as you boost one, the others will be sent out of proportion), thus creating a need for pesticide. To avoid this, applying compost will help keep the plants strong–or applying specific organic matter can gently correct an imbalance, like the eggshells we scattered around the broccoli to boost the calcium. We’ve been brewing and spraying compost tea on the leaves of affected plants to give them a boost in warding off critters like spider mites–and we pull off the affected leaves to keep them from spreading. We harvest whole baby lettuce plants rather than cutting the leaves so the sow bugs don’t sense the broken tissue from cutting individual leaves. We’ll be stringing lights around the trellises to ward off the rose beetles that come out at night. And we enclose growing tomatoes in mesh bags to keep the fruit flies from stinging them. In short, there’s all kinds of creative things that can be done without spraying harmful pesticides.

But what about weeds? Well, I must say I like Connie’s philosophy a lot: “weeds” (what I might call opportunistic species) actually play a role in the garden, by filling in where there are deficiencies. Other sources back up this perspective. Gardens can benefit from the nutrient release from weeds when you leave them where you pull them. If you don’t want to leave them in the garden, it’s safe to put them in a hot compost as it will kill the seeds. But perhaps most of all, it’s about weed prevention: mulching, sheet mulching, and cover cropping. Cover crops can aerate the soil and provide organic matter and nutrients to plants, even boosting yields. The garden beds here that were cover cropped are currently the best beds in the garden, and they’re the only ones with worms, which provide even more aeration and nutrients from their castings.

One thing I’ve learned from Connie that fascinated the science geek in me is the effect of the plant container on water drainage. Contrary to what I would have thought, tall containers actually drain faster than short ones (or tall containers with rocks or styrofoam in the bottom). This happens because of the effect of gravity on water: the higher the volume of water, the heavier it is, and the greater the pull downward. If you’ve ever noticed why your little pots get algae on top, this is why.

Well, this post has been a little info-heavy, so here’s some garden photos to lighten things up 🙂

This is an incredible preying mantis that walked the tightrope (irrigation pipe) from one lettuce tower to the other. He moved so slowly, checking us out and cocking his head at our strange cameras.Image

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This is one of the entrances to the Hui garden, where the magic happens…

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This is a photo of me through the screen in the shade house taken by one of the photography workshop guests!

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the energy of this island

Yesterday I experienced firsthand the colourful and dynamic community on Molokai, famed for its seeming love of controversy. The day did not disappoint. Connie and I went to the Energy Festival in Kaunakakai, the main town on the island. The organizer was I Aloha Molokai, a grassroots group that seems to be a voice for a myriad of development concerns, including plans for an industrial scale wind turbine project. But wait–isn’t wind a progressive, “clean” renewable energy? Well, along with problems like noise pollution, endangerment of native species and sacred sites, increases in electricity rates, and decreases in property values, the main issue on Molokai is who controls the development, and who will ultimately benefit. It turns out that the energy would not be destined for this island at all, but for powering Oahu’s bright lights in the tourist hub of Honolulu. No wonder the locals are pissed.

Here’s what their response looks like: a cheery group of people of a variety of ethnic backgrounds wearing grass leis and Hawaiian shirts, engaged in passionate, articulate discussion about Molokai’s energy future and the sovereignty of the Hawaiian people. I discovered that the entire island’s electricity is produced by a giant diesel generator! No wonder people are looking for island-based solutions. A guy from the Big Island recounted the horrors of industrial geothermal development in his neighbourhood. In short, don’t try to build a ‘closed-loop’ system full of heavy metals and toxic gas beside a residential neighbourhood in an area of constant volcanic activity (in Canada, steam geothermal doesn’t pose the same risks, but it’s salient to remember that a one-solution-fits-all energy policy just won’t work).

One of the talks was a group from the Quechan Native American tribe, who discussed their experiences challenging a big wind farm slated to be built on the graves of their ancestors. As the Idle No More movement gains steam on the mainland, I have to reflect that from a historical perspective, it’s only very recently that panels of Indigenous movement-builders would talk openly about the occupation of their lands and the need for education and the reclamation of their culture, and that a crowd full of haoles (white people) would show up to listen with nodding heads. Though there is a long road still ahead when it comes to justice for Indigenous peoples, we have to stop and celebrate such successes. There seems to be a complicated tension here between Indigenous Hawaiians and haoles that I’m only just beginning to understand, but parallels can be drawn with the challenges in the territories I’ve resided in over the years. Poverty, abuse, and addiction live here–as they do in every community, but like back home, their cruel touch seems to be more pronounced among the Indigenous population. The destructive legacy of colonialism is alive and well here, but there are a lot of inspiring native Hawaiians I listened to yesterday that are motivated for change–frequently using words and concepts from their own language, they are serious about keeping their culture alive. And there does seem to be a lot of haoles who are committed to changing the dynamics of this relationship for the better.

In fact, there’s something everyone seems to be able to agree on: solar energy. If there’s one thing Hawai’i has in copious amounts, it’s sunshine. Even the smallest homesteads by the highway have rickety solar panels on the roof. Although solar is not without its problems, the technology is moving incredibly fast, and many on the island are poised to take advantage of this. At the festival, we examined a working homemade solar hot water heater, built with salvaged parts. From what I heard there, the major appeal of solar is that it empowers people. Instead of giant wind farms or dangerous geothermal plants owned by people who don’t have to live with the local consequences, solar allows people on the island to become more energy independent. A few speakers hit on a subtler effect of this kind of independence: the will of an individual and of a community gains strength, and becomes a more difficult force for outside interests to trample on.

I promised pictures, and I figure it would be fitting to share some of Molokai’s glorious sun. Here are some favourite sun shots from my beach adventures this week.

 

This is Pohaku Mauliuli at sunset (I mistakenly called it Kephui beach in my last post)

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These are from Mo’omomi Preserve at sunrise. The world’s highest coastal cliffs are just barely visible in the background.

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ImageThis is Papohaku beach, Hawai’i’s longest white sand beach.

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