Archive for the ‘life at the Hui’ Category

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 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:


The Makahiki opening ceremonyImage






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).


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.

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!




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.

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.

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… 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.

my first Hui day

I’ve officially landed at the Hui Ho’olana Retreat Centre and the first thing I have to say is: they were right. There is definitely some special energy on this island. Everyone I talked to who had been to Molokai before had tipped me off to this already, and I can feel it. What else could explain my incredible amount of energy here on the first day? I should have been recovering in bed after several 3am nights in a row aiming for the Vancouver airport from icy Saskatchewan, followed by a night sleeping on concrete in the Maui airport baggage claim area. I almost fell asleep while my body banged around in the bumpy Cessna, but as dawn over Maui became a sunny morning on Molokai, I stepped off the plane and Connie greeted me with a warm hug and a lei of beautifully scented plumerias. Feeling immediately welcomed here, I promptly forgot about my lack of sleep and dove in.

Over a strong, creamy coffee, I got to know Connie–she is the kind of person who feels like an old friend right away. Connie is from my bioregion back home, and has several decades of experience teaching horticulture and organic food production. I will be learning one on one with her for the next month, and after that I will be managing the veggie garden that feeds the retreat guests and staff of the Hui. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I’m excited for the challenge. Not to mention the immaculate garden is a food grower’s dream! Raised beds, tall sunflowers, pungent herbs, tropical fronds swaying in the wind, and a love nest (shaded lounge bed) right in the middle. It’s not going to be hard to spend all day here.

The crown jewels of the garden are, without a doubt, the leafy greens. This is partly the reason for the name of this blog. My main job here is to plant greens, grow greens, harvest greens, and….grow more greens. The Hui folks eat tons of leafy greens, and we need to provide at least a giant bag of salad every day from what we grow. Looking at the garden, you wouldn’t think there would be enough for everyone. There are huge spaces between the plants, and most of the salad greens are very young. It used to be much thicker, but when Connie arrived, she started gardening her way, and I am fascinated to learn how this can be done.

After an afternoon seeding Devil’s Tongue lettuce till my eyes were crossed, I joined my fellow staff and volunteers for dinner. I couldn’t believe my eyes–Beef burgers and free Rogue Pale Ale for the taking! I hardly ever eat beef burgers these days, because it’s hard to get happy meat that I can afford, and because meat production has such a huge environmental impact. But this was certified organic, biodynamic, grass-fed beef from a family friend right here on Molokai! My taste buds rejoiced.

To burn off this wellspring of energy, I joined the others in their Thursday night ritual. The Hui runs on a two-week cycle: one week there is a retreat, the next week we breathe and prepare for the next retreat. In two days, a photography workshop will begin. So tonight, we trickled down through the darkness to the yurt. Eli’s Yurt is a beautiful circular building where many of the workshops take place. Tonight we turned it into an ecstatic dance space. For some, this can be a spiritual practice; for others, it’s a fun sweaty workout. We danced around wherever and however our bodies moved us, to tribal beats, Hawaiian a capella, slow fiddle notes, and Simon & Garfunkel. With an opening and closing circle and many deep stretches along the way, it was the perfect way to drop my body, mind, and spirit into this community. I was definitely meant to come here. I’m home.


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