Archive for the ‘gardening’ Category

Closing the loop at O.U.R. Ecovillage

Closing the Loop at O.U.R. Ecovillage

Our fresh group of learners stared wide-eyed as the ecovillage gardeners heaped layer upon layer in the compost pile. Nutrient-dense stalks of comfrey and nettle, soggy spoiled hay, kitchen scraps, and six brimming buckets of liquid cow manure each waited their turn to join a steaming process of organic fertilizer production. Renegade chickweed and miner’s lettuce stretched out in all directions from cracks in the split wooden bins. The buzzing and chirping of pollinators signaled health in the community.

“Our community is about building a different kind of culture,” our tour guide, Patrick, explained. A bushy ponytail poked out from under his rainbow-streaked knit hat, bobbing with the smirking little girl who clung to his shoulders. “At O.U.R. Ecovillage, we’re intentional about the relationships we want to create, and being in community helps us learn how to live sustainably.”

Community – one of those nebulous concepts open to infinite interpretations that my gut nevertheless roars for. The concept of being “in community” was a new one for me, and yet I would find it offered by many residents when prodded about what brought them to the village. I began to suspect this was why we were really there, although the premise of our stay was a permaculture design course. I was thrilled when Marc, my partner, signed on too. Two weeks of early summer camping at an ecovillage while learning about sustainability sounded way too tempting to pass up. As I would come to realize in the weeks and months to follow, it was a good thing we chose to encounter permaculture together. It shifted both of us onto new paths, leaving behind our identities as green environmentally-minded folks, and uncovering an entirely new layer of ecological consciousness.

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Permaculture is another slippery concept whose founders even proclaim not to know exactly what it is. Out of many definitions I have heard, one of the few that has really stuck with me is “learning how to take care of your own shit.” This can take on multiple meanings. It can mean learning how to build your own house using materials from the landscape in which you live. It can mean setting up systems to take care of your own energy and water needs, or growing your own food and medicine. It can mean learning how to “take care” of your natural and human community by taking care of yourself and taking responsibility for your actions. And it can mean taking care of your own shit. Literally.

I quickly learned this lesson in action at the Credit Union, the ecovillage’s composting toilet. With unlimited deposits per day, and only one withdrawal per year, the entire community profits from the value generated by the Credit Union. Our individual investments are returned in the form of a safe, rich fertilizer that helps to create the food we eat. It’s called closing the loop, and it’s a perpetual cycle that humans have been a part of since time immemorial. Coincidentally, it’s how all other animals participate in the ecosystem too. Somewhere along the line, we forgot about this fact. We started building sewage systems that conveniently flush our unmentionables away, so that we don’t have to worry about dealing with the shit we create.

“One of the main problems with how our dominant culture operates is the false notion that there is an ‘away,’” remarked Brandy, a radiant earth mother in long flowing purple and co-founder of the ecovillage. “We don’t want our half-eaten dinner so we throw it ‘away’ into a black bag whose contents are hidden. The garbage truck removes it from our sight. But the reality is that it doesn’t go away, it always ends up somewhere, in somebody’s backyard. And in the process, we turn a valuable resource into pollution.” She described how the conventional sewage system uses one valuable resource, energy, to turn two valuable resources, water and excrement, into a biohazard that pollutes our waterways and oceans. The added effect of removing organic nutrients from the cycle is that we need to find other inputs to replace them in our food-growing areas. Without compost, these inputs become fossil fuel-based fertilizers, which – you guessed it – create more pollution and energy use. Seems crazy, doesn’t it?

I pondered this as we gathered with the ecovillage residents for our first meal together. People of all shapes and sizes converged from different directions on the outdoor kitchen. Marc and I followed suit as the group “circled up”: before each meal, the community holds hands in a circle. One by one, all the people announce their names, and share one thing they are grateful for. Reflecting the spin cycle my brain was still on, I offered, ”My name is Kat, and I’m grateful for finally being able to close the loop.”

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After a shared cheer of “Ho!” with raised hands, we lined up for one of the delectable dinners that O.U.R. Ecovillage prides itself on. “Mostly organic, mostly vegetarian, and mostly from O.U.R. garden,” as the community describes them, the meals reflect the non-dogmatic, common sense approach at the heart of permaculture practice. Tonight, we were havinga special treat: heritage chicken raised and slaughtered onsite, slowly simmered with onions and garlic from the garden. Roasted carrots and purple potatoes still on hand from last autumn’s harvest, sprinkled with freshly picked rosemary and thyme. Homemade kimchi for digestive health. And for dessert, blackberry crumble. Even though I was swimming in locavore bliss, I was still envious watching the resident cow-share members enjoy their crumble with freshly whipped cream supplied by Bossy, the ecovillage’s stately dairy cow.

My plate glowed. The dominant colour was green – the biggest assortment of greens I had ever seen in my food. Bright greens, light greens, yellow-greens, and blue-greens, set off by a smattering of edible flowers in hues of red, orange, purple and pink. Picked only an hour earlier from the garden, the leaves gifted me with an equally big range of textures and flavours – nutty, bold, peppery, crunchy, crisp and sweet. The chickweed and miner’s lettuce I had noticed earlier in the garden – maligned weeds in most landscapes – played a tasty role. In permaculture, unexpected plants are not thrown away as useless matter, but recognized for a role they can play in ecosystems that we often don’t understand. In a system designed with intention, it is possible to have no waste.

Admiring my dinner, I was truly grateful not to be wasting these nutrients. When I was done with them, I vowed, I would put them back in the cycle, so that future eaters could enjoy them too.

Special thanks to O.U.R. ecovillage. Photos supplied from their website athttp://ourecovillage.org/about/photos/

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a school field trip

It’s hard to believe I’ve been at the Hui for a month. In fact, work camp is already half over! It’s been an eye- and heart-opening experience meeting the people who return year after year, willing to pay to work eight full days on projects to improve the space just because they are so drawn to it. Some are friends who have been around longer than the Hui itself, some were family of friends who have now themselves become a foundation of support, some came for a workshop and fell madly in love with this place. Listening to stories of the transformation of the space into what it is now, and the ways that it has transformed individual lives makes me feel very privileged to have been chosen to come here. It’s sure a sight to see beaming, dust-covered folks in painting clothes–who are secretly doctors, university professors, and Superior Court judges back home–getting so much enjoyment out of painting buildings, cleaning windows, pouring concrete slabs, or replanting a hillside with thousands of native plants in the grueling sun.

It’s kind of like summer camp for grown up kids. Before returning to work after lunch, we suntan while bare-bottomed swimmers splash around in the pool. At three thirty every day, the Zen Team rolls in with Sweetie Cart, loaded with chips, cookies, fresh Hui bananas, and Mocha Mamas. Mocha Mamas are an institution here, the iced mocha coffees are sold a mile down the road at the Coffees of Hawai’i plantation. And oh my, are they delicious! At five fifteen, popcorn is served on the front deck and it’s a BYOB mojito happy hour. On Sunday, most people took the afternoon off to watch the Superbowl on the giant screen. So of course, it was chili and cornbread for dinner, shared with a bunch of real live Texans. Talk about a cultural experience! Yet these folks are very conscious types. In fact, we’ve been just as likely to curl up together and watch artsy independent movies and historical dramas or to have spontaneous hugging lines as we watch the sun go down. Last night, a funk jam erupted out of nowhere in the living room just as the Thai curry dinner was being served. It was a good thing we happened to be eating something that fit into an easy-to-carry bowl. Otherwise, I might have been too busy getting down to “Play that Funky Music White Boy” with silver-haired punks in sideways hats and sunglasses to have a chance to eat.

It’s true, they sure know how to keep the community vibe strong. Every morning, we all circle up together and hold hands while someone offers a prayer, intention, poem, or other expression to set the tone for the day. On the first day, a new friend shared a hilarious and touching piece of writing he’d written about how friends are like gardens. You’ve got your veggies, your shrubs, your trees, your flowers.. and your weeds. And they all play a part in life. After a deep conversation last night with one of the women, in which I described the gratitude circle I learned at O.U.R. Ecovillage that’s becoming a trend among our friends back home, she shared the gratitude circle this morning. Each person took a turn saying something they are grateful for. Among so many things, I was grateful that this simple practice had found its way into yet another group of grateful folks.

One of the most enriching parts for me, though, is realizing how far I’ve come as a gardener since I arrived a month ago. Leading the garden team and organizing the projects, I’m with a small group of women who have themselves been gardening for years, including a few that started the original Hui garden back in the day. While I’m looking to them for long-learned wisdom, they’re excited to learn a lot of the techniques I now know thanks to my internship. I’ve been showing them how to prune and train vine tomatoes, harvest fruit in the orchard, build a good hot compost, transplant young plants, and produce a highly diverse, nutritious, and beautiful salad for thirty-five ravenous leafy green eaters (trust me, it’s a significant daily undertaking). Connie would be so proud!

The last of so many memorable moments I will mention today is the heartwarming field trip our garden team took to the Kualapu’u School garden. As I’ve mentioned before, this school down the road from us is the only public Hawaiian immersion school. Eighty percent of the kids live on the homestead lands–lands that were returned to the native Hawaiians so they could farm it and become more self-sufficient. Unfortunately, farming has historically been very difficult on Molokai for a number of reasons (big winds, expensive transportation, historical/social factors) and a high number of families are third-generation welfare recipients, with very few people growing food and hardly any making a business out of it. But as the Kualapu’u School principal pointed out, the Molokai high school team is called the Farmers, and the elementary school kids should at least be exposed to food growing and have places to interact with gardens. So about seven years ago, they launched a veggie garden as their after-school program. The principal toured us around the many raised beds filled with stunningly beautiful veggie plants. Bell peppers and eggplant, two crops we’ve had trouble with at the Hui, were standing tall, strong, and healthy. Kalani, the big gardener guy, just happened to be around to answer the excited chatter of questions from my garden team. We wanted to know how they got such a forward-thinking program in place and, of course, how their plants look so good! Rich runoff soil was one factor, he said. But in his thick Hawaiian Pidgin, Kalani tipped us off to what he believed to be the real reason for the happy plants: the energy of so many happy children buzzing around them. Now there’s a wise gardener to learn from!

 

The official 2013 Hui Garden Team with our delectable size-XL salad!

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Me and QuinSerra bringing home the goods – avocados and bananas!

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Beautiful green peppers!

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Delightful eggplant!

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Marveling with the principal

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Scrumptious basil…

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The school greenhouse! what a setup!

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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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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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Ube, Kulolo, and the all-star Gotu kola

I’m sitting on the front deck of the lodge, watching long, drawn clouds blend into the calm  water as they meander across a pale peach sunset. The workshop guests are snapping photos in the quickly dimming light. Yesterday after lunch, I went for a drive with Connie. It was the first time I’d been off the property since I arrived! Our first stop: the Molokai post office. I waited for Connie to post-a-nut to her grandkids. Posting a coconut from Molokai is a classic visitor routine–the coconuts are free, you just have to decorate them and pay for shipping! As I waited, several locals passed through, each offering a friendly hello. The post office worker shuffled about, smiling as she slowly typed in each order. People here move on serious island time, allowing you to soak up the richness of each moment and interaction. I feel right at home.

Next, we went to Hikiola’s: the co-op garden store. We sailed past the RoundUp and checked out the organic fertilizers. The labels showed different mineral ratios, just like the chemical fertilizers. Connie explained that it’s not a great idea to go by the ratios: as soon as you start tinkering with the level of one mineral, you throw other levels out of whack. The solution? Skip the fertilizer and add more quality compost. Connie sometimes gathers kelp from the ocean. It has the most balanced and bioavailable combination of vitamins and nutrients (and is excellent for munching too!).

Connie walked me through the long list of impressive-sounding ingredients. Bat guano? Taken from an ecosystem where it was probably an important food source. Blood and bone meal? A slaughterhouse byproduct of the factory farm industry. Fish fertilizer? Not simply the scraps from fish processing: the scale of the fish fertilizer industry in South Africa is so massive that the harvest of fresh kelp is no doubt leaving a whole in the marine food chain. Not to mention how far all this stuff traveled to be processed, repackaged, and shipped here. If your food shouldn’t travel thousands of kilometres, why should your fertilizer? The solution? You guessed it. More good old fashioned compost.

On Mondays and Thursdays, the barge comes in, carrying literally everything to supply the island (talk about food security…) so the stores were buzzing. After stopping at the grocery store (where everything costs twice as much as it does back home, and the avocados under the sign that says “Hawaiian Grown” have “Product of Mexico” stickers on them) we did what any sane person on the island would do on a Monday: we got two scoops for the price of one. I ordered the two most exotic ice cream flavours I could find: Ube (Hawaiian purple yam) and Kulolo (taro, a traditional Hawaiian staple). They were delicious!

Yesterday, something wonderful happened: my first seeds sprouted! It was so exciting!!! After worrying that I didn’t water the lettuce enough right off the bat, perfect rows of tiny sprouts appeared. It truly is a miracle. They felt like little babies (sure enough, last night I dreamed I had a baby…Too close of a parallel for comfort!)  Connie also showed me how to save lettuce seeds today–it was sunny and windy, so the seeds would be as dry as possible. It’s really easy, and it’s so important to save seeds from varieties that work well where you live. Saving and replanting the ones most suited to local growing conditions helps to continually improve the yield and the plants’ resistance to pests. We plucked off the fluffy seed heads and rubbed the pods open to drop the tiny seeds into a paper bag. Once they’ve dried out more, we’ll separate out the seeds and store them in the fridge. Seeds need to breathe just like we do, and keeping them cold helps them last longer by slowing respiration.

To top off the afternoon, I was introduced to another Hui ritual: 3pm green drinks. For this, I harvested fresh collard greens, yellow chard, parsley, and gotu kola. Gotu kola grows like crazy in the garden. It’s been called “the fountain of life” for its incredible array of medicinal uses in South Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. I blended these with ice, green veggie powder, rice milk, fresh lemon juice, and a bunch of papaya, mango and banana. The ladies loved my concoction! I think I’ve found the easy way to everyone’s hearts…

 

 

what do you want from your food?

When I said in my last post that Molokai was sunny, I didn’t mention that the sun was dominated by endless sheets of rain and huge gusts of wind. Sure, it wasn’t what I was expecting (or anyone else here, for that matter) but I was so wrapped up in my scarf (and my coat and sweater.. it’s winter, remember!) and my excitement I didn’t care. It made it all the sweeter today to sweat in the brilliant sunshine. The past two mornings I’ve woken up before my alarm, so something must be going right.

I spent yesterday harvesting an unbelievable amount of Swiss chard blown over by the storm. In hues of white, yellow, red and green, chard stands out for its beauty, its hardiness (except in tropical storms, apparently), its tastiness, and above all, its nutritional content. Chard is brimming with phytonutrients, over a dozen different antioxidants, and several other important vitamins and minerals. Doing a quick search of recipes for chard stems (any ideas?), I learned that it has been rated second only to spinach as the world’s healthiest vegetable. Go chard!

Last night, over locally caught Ahi tuna and beets I harvested that morning, I met the manager of the biodynamic ranch I mentioned in my last post. Jann is a wonderful woman who patiently answered my curious questions. She explained the myriad of challenges the ranch faces to keep up its organic certification. Upon prodding, she began explaining some of the principles and practices of biodynamic farming. She invited me to visit the ranch sometime to see the integrated approach in action, so stay tuned. Jann used to be a conventional farmer in the mainland US–the kind of farming with huge machinery, monocropped fields, chemical fertilizers, and Round-up galore that dominates the food system and wreaks havoc on the landscape, waterways, and ocean life.

But wait.. is chemical fertilizer really all that bad? Isn’t “unsprayed” (no pesticides) good enough? Well, I learned from Connie that this is horribly untrue: she told me about news reports that farms are failing and farmers are getting sick due to exposure to heavy metals. Sure enough, the chemical fertilizers added to grow the food you buy contain toxic substances like arsenic and lead! These are intentionally added as the “recycling program” for big industries with hazardous wastes, such as those from mining tailings ponds and steel mills! YUCK. Food sovereignty, anyone?

On the bright side, we do have the power to grow our own, and…oh..is it satisfying. I spent hours today harvesting baby greens, tender sunflower sprouts, edible nasturtium flowers, and radishes so spicy they made my mouth burn. I also got versed in orchard duty. Sabine, the lovely German WWOOFer, showed me the ropes of harvesting lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, papayas, and my all-time favourite, avocado. I’m in heaven. In fact, every morning I’ve had the joy of walking past the avocado tree beside my home, slicing into a fresh Lilikoi (known to me previously as Passionfruit), and slurping up the sweet jelly and seeds for breakfast. The Lilikoi is everywhere. In fact, it’s invasive here, and the guys working on the Hui’s restoration project bemoan the plant. But it’s tolerated (and even actively planted) because, well, it’s just so damn good. It reminds me of the juicy Himalayan blackberries back home. Everybody likes you when you’re sweet.

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