WRITTEN BY DANIA KATZPHOTOGRAPHED BY MIEKO HORIKOSHIEvery so often, I eat something that literally makes me stop mid-bite. During a recent visit to Sale Pepe my friends ordered a charcuterie platter. In the middle of the plate sat a pile of what appeared to be olives, but turned out to be something much more interesting: pickled grapes! In the days to come, I kept thinking about this unique and delicious flavor and even attempted to recreate it in the edible Hawaiian Islands test kitchen. I failed, so I called Sale Pepe’s owner, Qiana Di Bari, and asked her to wrangle the recipe from her husband, Chef Michele. Here is the recipe, which you can pare down, but trust me you’ll want to make them by the gallons.
Course: Appetizer, Side Dish
Author: Chef Michele Di Bari of Sale Pepe(Lahaina, Maui)
Large Container with Lid
1GallonApple Cider Vinegar
2lbs.Black Seedless Grapes
Gently mix the vinegars and spices in a large container with a lid.
Add the grapes, cover tightly, and let pickle in the refrigerator for two weeks.
Photograph by Executive Pastry Chef Cainan Saber of Stage Restaurant, Oahu
Author: Chef Cainan Saber
Half Sheet Tray or Hotel Pan
Almond Panna Cotta
14Sheets of Gelatin
Ka'u Orange Sorbet
1Qt.Ka'u Orange Juice
1tsp.Citric Acid or Lemon Juice
1pcLemon Juice and Zest
Ka'u Orange Segments
Fresh Lemon Verbena Leaves
Prepare Almond Panna Cotta.
Bloom gelatin in ice water.
Bring all ingredients to a boil, mix in bloomed gelatin, strain into a double bowl ice bath, stir until it’s cooled down and pour into an oil sprayed half sheet tray or hotel pan and let it set for 3 hours in the refrigerator.
When set cut into squares.
Prepare Ka'u Orange Sorbet.
Bring water, sugar, corn syrup, and citric acid to a boil, chill.
Combine syrup with Orange juice and freeze in an ice cream machine.
Prepare Elderflower Syrup.
Bring all ingredients to a boil and chill for 3 hours, strain.
Plating and Serving.
In a bowl place almond panna cotta squares on one side and top with fresh fruit garnish, flowers, and verbena. On the other side place a scoop of the Orange sorbet. When serving pour some elderflower syrup table side. Enjoy
WRITTEN BY FERN GAVELEK PHOTOGRAPHY SOURCED FROM DREAMSTIME
Edible flowers add texture and flavor to a recipe while packing a palette of color to brighten a dish. Blossoms bring a spark of celebration to dessert, a touch of freshness to a cheese tray and a bite of texture to chilled soup.
The concept of flowers as food might be “out of the ordinary” for some, but the usage is nothing new. The Bible mentions the use of dandelions as a “bitter herb” and the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome thought flowers were flavorful herbs. The Romans incorporated mallow, violets and roses into meals. Monks supposedly renamed calendula “pot marigold,” as it was commonly plucked for the soup pot.
During the Victorian era, edible flowers were all the rage as people were enamored by the allure and romance of flower-encrusted sweets and salads. Candied flowers were particularly popular.
Throughout time, the blossoms and buds of plants appeared in more food and drink. Capers were sourced from capparis shrubs, saffron from crocuses, vanilla from orchids and beer from hops.
Those who think eating flowers is unusual are surprised to learn that cauliflower means “cabbage flower” as the white flower head, or inflorescence meristem, is consumed. And when munching on broccoli, be advised you’re eating the plant’s florets or flower buds.
A product request by Chef Sam Choy is what got Adaptations, Inc. of Hawai‘i Island into the edible flower business in 1989.
“Sam was our first champion and, at that time, involved with the founding of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine,” recalls Adaptations co-owner Maureen Datta. Adaptations was invited to be the agricultural advisor to the group of original HRC chefs, providing information from the farmers’ perspective. That connection with the chefs was invaluable and Adaptations expanded their product offerings to meet demand. The company’s continued willingness to collaborate with local culinarians earned it the 1995 Associate of the Year Award from the ACF Kona Kohala Chefs Association.
Edible flowers are the “longest standing crop” the company grows, which also includes micro mix greens, herbs, spices like cinnamon and allspice, salad greens, avocados and medicinal plants. The company additionally acts as a distributor/marketer for over 100 small growers, selling to 65 outlets including restaurants, schools and food producers. Because of Adaptations’ support of small, local farmers, it was awarded the 2015 USDA Small Business Advocate for Financial Services Award for Hawai‘i County.
“Flower food” is grown inside and out of green houses on a halfacre at Tane and Maureen Datta’s 7.5-acre Honaunau farm. The blooming inventory provides chefs with a variety of fresh colors and flavors. The yellow Little Gem marigold offers a citrusy flavor. The purple/yellow Johnny Jump-Up viola provides a fresh taste of wintergreen. The red, orange and yellow nasturtiums (and their leaves) have a peppery flavor. And for cooks who prefer flowers for presentation, over flavor, Adaptations sells petite and elegant pink-toned Heirloom fuchsias and dianthus carnations. Also available are larger pansies and miniature roses.
The Dattas sell their flowers as a single variety or as a mix. Also available is a “bento box” of 50 nasturtium leaves as Maureen says chefs like to use the leaves as a “liner or garish.” Adaptations also sources culinary lavender and buys edible flowers from two other producers.
The couple’s solar-powered farm and home are both “off the grid.” Adaptations uses ecological, certified organic practices, such as Integrated Pest Management to control pests with beneficial insects. Waste is rapidly composted using the vermiculture technique of adding worm castings. Adaptations also is listed with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and has hosted volunteers to staff farm positions.
Employees are tasked with growing and packing the flowers, which are only sold fresh and in eight-ounce deli containers. Fuchsias are the most popular flower product, followed by nasturtium leaves and the edible mix. The main challenge in flower production is “bad weather” as heavy rain damages the blooms and too-little sunshine hampers blooming. Production increases with longer daylight hours.
Once picked, Maureen says flowers have a “four-to-six day shelf life” and Adaptations ships them overnight with a chill pack to off-island customers like Koko Head Café on O‘ahu, O‘ahu Country Club, Koa Kea Hotel and Resort on Kaua‘i and the Four Seasons Resort Lana‘i. The tasty blooms are especially popular at Big Island resorts including the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, The Fairmont Orchid, Hawai‘i, the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort and Spa and the Waikoloa Beach Marriott. They also grace cuisine at restaurants like Under the Bodhi Tree and Kenichi Pacific.
As Adaptations doesn’t sell edible flowers to retailers, Maureen encourages home gardeners to grow their own for kitchen use. In Hawai‘i, they tend to thrive as perennials and some will reseed. If plants are purchased commercially, she recommends discarding all flowers as they may have been sprayed with chemicals. “Once the plant re-blooms, keep picking the flowers to encourage more blossoms,” she shares.
To make sure a flower is edible, there are numerous online resources, like the Edible Flowers Chart found at whatscookingamerica. net. Seed sources for edible flowers include www.johnnyseeds. com and www.parkseed.com.
“I use edible flowers in salads and other cold dishes like soups, desserts and ice cream,” Maureen details. “I take off as much of the green as I can—the leaf and stem—to amplify color.”
Sharing that pansies are her favorite edible flower, Maureen describes their flavor as “bubblegum.” For a “stunning presentation and flavor with a surprise bite,” she likes to stuff nasturtium flowers with herbed goat cheese, guacamole or a favorite dip. “Then serve on slices of raw vegetables like Hakurei turnips, radish, jicama, kohlrabi or broccoli stems”.
“It’s really fun to put flowers in ice cubes as it livens up the mood for cocktails,” Maureen adds. Using easy-to-bend, plastic ice cube trays, Maureen recommends placing the flowers face down in each cube and filling with water half full to freeze. Once frozen, top off with water to fill the cube and freeze again. This technique centers flowers in each cube.
Flowers make the heart sing and, when used in cuisine, cry out “this is special.” Add pop to your party with some edible flowers!
INTERVIEWED & WRITTEN BY KELLY MCHUGH PHOTOGRAPHY BY MIEKO HORIKOSHI • ILLUSTRATIONS BY BAMBI EDLUND
“They could have chosen to go anywhere in the state, and they chose us,” tells Knoxville-based anthropologist Dr. Bob Leonard, a patiently sweet man with a clear admiration for what he describes as an “act of defiance” – or more simply, planting a tree in Iowa.
“This is the most cultivated piece of land on the face of the Earth. Every day there’s these giant corporate entities with their tentacles everywhere to take down as many trees as they can. This is totally symbolic.”
While Leonard’s flavor of symbolism of this simple yet defiant act may not have been front-of-mind on the morning that Plant a Wish instinctively came to be, it certainly carried with it an extraordinary influence. Meet Sara Tekula and Joe Imhoff, an eruption of ideas, intellect and pure love for planting native trees and telling stories. Together, they lead the Plant a Wish project, holding public, hands-on native tree planting events in communities in all 50 U.S. states while encouraging participants to plant hand-written wishes under these trees that become historic, living legacies – symbols of our hopes and dreams literally taking root for all to experience.
I was enchanted by the opportunity to talk story with my Hawaiʻi neighbors Sara and Joe to learn more about their year-long journey planting native trees across the U.S. Having followed their tour on social media and later learned of their post-production work editing the documentary that will share their story with the world, their vision of “people living in close connection with nature” and “an abundance of backyard biodiversity thrives in neighborhoods everywhere,” so simply, elegantly, and yes, defiantly makes way for the kind of storytelling that any and all of us can relate to.
What motivated you both to start Plant a Wish?
Joe: I was never an environmentalist; I was a metal head from Wisconsin who moved to Hawaii and got a job in “ecotourism” – a term I had never heard of. On the morning of my marriage to Sara, an idea hit me to plant a tree at the entrance to the farm where our wedding took place. I dug a big hole that day and as each guest arrived and walked in, they came upon a table with sheets of paper and pencils to write down a wish for us. It wasn’t until midnight that we remembered that we had to actually plant the tree. We thought, “do we read all 200 wishes?” and quickly decided that no, just the idea that all of that good energy was going into the ground with our tree was what made it such a profound experience – not necessarily knowing what was being said. It was the first tree I had ever planted in my life.
Sara: The experience of falling in love took place on that farm; our dates consisted of clearing invasives, dirt, chainsaws, gloves and lots of kisses. But simultaneously, I was learning to get really angry about the fact that this work was even necessary. I remember finding the book “Remains of a Rainbow” on property with these beautiful, lush, native forests throughout Hawaiʻi and thinking “why did this happen?”
We became the “wish plant” people, being asked to replicate the idea at events that we were invited to (baby showers, Birthday parties, funerals, etc). Plant a Wish was a completely organic design for us, with wishes geared towards the wisher: what do you wish for this tree? What message do you want to share with those that have passed? Is this a thank you note? And so eventually Joe encouraged me to combine my three favorite things into one great idea: 1) planting native trees, 2) telling stories and 3) traveling. It was initially his (crazy) idea to plant a native tree in all 50 states – and I thought, “Letʻs make a film. Let’s tell this story.” We had nothing to lose.
Why plant trees? Why native trees?
Sara: Planting trees is a very simple, neutral, yet revolutionary act. Native trees co-evolved with all living things in their particular place. Because of that they know how to be trees in a way that no other thing could; they have an intelligence that nothing else does. They know that soil, those birds, those insects. They are the great engineers of the ecosystem. When they return, we see less erosion, fewer landslides, water returning to the soil, birds coming back, everything in balance. Because we come from this isolated, unique place, we have an opportunity to teach the rest of the country.
Joe: If you don’t understand how these ecosystems work, then you are more likely to destroy them without knowing. The education is key. Your average landowner on the mainland might have this big, great open space and go to the nursery down the street that sells them big, exotic plants and trees that will not survive because they just don’t know what it takes to care for them, (the right place, first of all). Planting trees can really change the world. People have the power to do something huge.
How do you feel today, several years after completing your tour?
Sara: The time and space that has passed since our trips to all 50 states has given us some time to get over the sadness that we felt and experienced in some parts of our travels. Our story is about inspiration. Regular, everyday people who had nothing and did this extraordinary thing while keeping the mood fun and adventurous while also educational. We’re sick and tired of documentaries that are crazy depressing up until the last 10 minutes where you are briefly told about what you can do to help change things. We want to say that we were mad and paralyzed for a minute, and here’s what happens next. We want to teach by example.
Joe: I feel hopeful, like we can make a change through our young people to take back the planet and make it something that’s healthy for theirs and future generations. When we completed our trip and had our son, I took him out every day of the first year of his life to plant a native tree.
Sara: I feel empowered. So many people across the country just don’t know what is native to their area. There is this growing pattern of community associations with “can plant” and “cannot plant” lists where you’ll see natives listed as weeds. How are they making those determinations? Shouldn’t people in the neighborhood start asking those questions? If you have this manicured lawn with plants based purely on aesthetics throughout the landscape, you may be wasting water and creating runoff that grass alone cannot hold; your soil cannot hold its value. We saw seas of lawn out there. Let’s get together and change that.
Joe: 90% seems to be the magic number right now. Hawaiʻi is 90% non-native. The redwoods are 90% gone. This seems to be the critical moment when people begin to start caring. We see this more locally as such a small microcosm of the mainland, with rare birds – for example – that can only get their food in very specific locations and become stuck in tiny pockets throughout the landscape. They can’t go to the grocery store like the rest of us. Most healthy ecosystems are full of biodiversity, which is in danger of being homogenized or undone. Having a healthy watershed and ecosystem is truly one of the only ways of investing wealth into future generations.
Sara: Wealth and health. We see a lot of people out there doing plantings because of what the wood is worth – that’s a short term mindset. In order to balance that out, some of us have to do it for the long term (“If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.” -Confucius). Thinking back to our original wedding day wish tree, it’s a work in progress. That place has become special to us as we go visit and remember that day and the 200 wishes from loved ones that are buried there. Every time Joe passes by, he sends me a photo. Recently there was a bird nest there. The tree grows more and more with each visit. This idea has become a tool to get people dedicated to their place in the world; a place where they can feel a sense of stewardship, where their dreams and goals are growing. As you plant and get your hands dirty, you become intimately involved with the process. We met people who had never planted a tree in their lives. That’s a special moment.
How were you able to fund such an ambitious trip?
Joe: Believe it or not, this wasn’t an expensive trip. With the exception of maybe two hotels, we camped the entire time. We broke the project up into three separate road trips and tried this new “crowdfunding” thing as it was just rolling out. We felt like a rock band, with “Plant a Wish” static stickers on rental cars that we were selling tee shirts out of. We posted on Facebook and Twitter and just did our research to feel out planting locations and community partners to donate trees. By keeping people in the loop every step of the way through social media and WordPress, it felt like they were on the road with us – and so they gave.
Sara: We made genuine friends in all 50 states, most of which were giving us ideas for who to meet on our next stop. Planting a tree together is a way to connect. It’s doing something together that will live on for a long time.
Joe: Our only requirements for each place were that the tree had to be native and there had to be a caretaker to visit and water it. For example, we Googled “tree” and “Iowa,” and found a microbrewery (Peace Tree Brewing Company) in a really small town planning an Earth Day event where every purchase came with a native sapling “peace tree.”
Joe: We sent them a message on Facebook pitching our film idea and asking whether or not this was something we could do with them and the response was, “Yes. You are taken care of. Don’t worry about a thing.” Next thing we know, they put together a radio broadcast for a “biggest tree” contest, asking the 97% of statewide farmers to assess trees on their properties. They built this hype for our arrival, put together a big party and gave away a case of beer for the biggest cottonwood owner in the county.
Sara: They also just so happened to have the perfect piece of land. The process was about finding a person and finding a public place for the planting. What we didn’t know was that our event became the first step in turning the space into a public park; the whole town had come out, the media, writers, government officials and a whole bunch of smart people. There was a lot of curiosity. “Who are these movie people coming to our town?” So much pride! The owners of the brewery put us up in their guest space, who turned out to be super creative designer marketing people.
What were some of your favorite tree planting moments?
Joe: Our tree in Washington State was the first planting of the Elwha River Restoration, (a National Park Service project that includes the largest dam removal in history, restoration of the Elwha River watershed, its native anadromous fish, and the natural downstream transport of sediment and woody debris). One hundred years ago this dam was put in to create energy for the logging industry, ultimately removing the whole salmon ecosystem in this amazing river. Native Americans, community members and others took the government on and said, “this is our land,” and 20 years of litigation later we showed up to witness the undoing. People were owning up to a mistake by removing the dam – undoing it rather than doing it over, (developing), which was incredible.
Sara: The people stood up and won. They had a dam removed. This was an unimaginable scale of possibility. Joe: We got to plant the first tree in the soil that was under water because of the dam. There were ghost trees under there as the water receded 15 feet from the original shoreline. It was powerful to be a living part of that history; to know that the maps would be changing and that a canyon and a stream would return like it was 100 years ago.
Have you received updates on any of the trees planted?
Joe: We’ve been receiving photos from our friends in Burlington, Vermont where we planted in an old, hollowed out sugar maple stump. It had been dying and rotting for a while and yet the patriarch of the family insisted it would only be cut down “over my dead body!” A few months before our arrival, he passed away and as we were getting ready to plant the tree, his wife came out with a scotch tin full of his ashes, planting them underneath the tree with wishes.
Sara: We planted 300+ trees on that tour, which is barely a drop in the bucket. This story has to be about the people; this is why we have to tell the story. Planting the tree is the easy part. It’s easy to do. It’s an honorable act. It’s enjoyable. You do it and you feel good.
And isn’t that what it’s all about?
Please visit plantawish.org to learn more about Sara & Joe’s amazing journey and to support their indiegogo fundraising campaign to complete their documentary, click here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-50-state-tree-planting-tour-documentary. If you should see them in a quiet park or at the focal point of a state’s biggest native tree contest, give them a hug from me. They are good people, doing good work, making this world just a little bit better for our next trip around the sun.
WRITTEN BY SHANNON WIANECKI PHOTOGRAPHY BY MIEKO HORIKOSHI
Bobby Pahia wraps his clay brown hands around the base of a kalo plant and wrests it from the soil. Velvet green leaves bow from the thick stalk, which culminates in a bright pink petiole and hefty round root. This is a special kalo variety, he says. Mana ‘ulu. Its starchy flesh turns yellow-orange when cooked. “People don’t grow this one,” says Pahia. “But they want it. It’s different—sweet and ‘ūlika (sticky).
In fact, every variety of kalo is special. For over one thousand years this nutrient-rich carbohydrate fed a thriving nation. Ancient Hawaiians were expert agriculturalists, and cultivated over 300 unique types of kalo—some sweet and sticky, others bearing tender and tasty leaves, and still others good for feeding babies or treating lung conditions. Heart-shaped kalo leaves flourished in nearly every valley across the archipelago. But as sugar plantations drained the streams and Western ways supplanted the Hawaiian subsistence lifestyle, the science and art of kalo cultivation languished. Only a handful of family farms carried on the tradition.
Fast forward to the twenty-first century. In 2010, one of Maui’s most progressive restaurant companies decided to try its hand at kalo farming. Hoaloha Na Ekolu—the parent company of Old Lahaina Lū‘au, Aloha Mixed Plate, Star Noodle, and Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop—feeds over 2,000 people a day. Chefs at these various restaurants steam kalo root and pound it into poi, blend it with coconut to make pudding-like kulolo, fry thin slices into crispy chips, and wrap the edible leaves around meat and fish for laulau. Given the company’s heavy demand for this traditional food, the Hoaloha Na Ekolu owners wondered if they could grow it themselves. They partnered with Pahia on an experimental one-acre patch in Wailuku.
Pahia was the perfect choice. Raised in rural O‘ahu, the greenthumbed Hawaiian moved to Maui in the 1980s to work for the University of Hawai‘i’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. There he researched and refined kalo varieties—just as his ancestors had before him. He helped produce the type that’s most widely grown in Hawai‘i today. But more than professional know-how, Pahia has heart.
“When I was growing up, there was poi on every uncle and auntie’s table,” says Pahia, his hazel eyes shining. “It’s become a luxury commodity.” He brushes clumps of dirt from the kalo in his hand and picks off its huluhulu (hair-like roots). “My burn is to put poi back on people’s tables.”
With help from his wife Juanita and daughter Kiani, Pahia planted Hoaloha Farms’ first crop of kalo. One acre quickly turned to three. Before long, customers at Leoda’s could buy bags of fresh Hoaloha poi. Kupuna (elders) got a discount: two pounds for six dollars.
In 2012, the operation took a big step and leased sixty-one acres from the Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapū. Against the chiseled green wall of the West Maui Mountains, Hoaloha Farms is as idyllic as it gets. Rainbows flirt at the edge of tidy rows of leafy stalks. Native Hawaiian geese honk overhead. While most kalo grows submerged in muddy lo‘i (paddies), the dryland varieties that Pahia propagates thrive in regular dirt. In the past, Hawaiians planted these hardy cultivars in arid regions such as Kaupō, Kona, and Kohala, which otherwise might have been uninhabitable. Hoaloha Farms—now the state’s largest dryland taro producer—is reviving this near-forgotten practice.
“It’s way easier than wet farming,” says Pahia. Still, it’s taken him five years to figure out the basics. “There’s no kupuna to tell us how to do conventional farming on this scale.”
Michael Moore, one of Hoaloha Na Ekolu’s founding partners, is full of praise for Pahia. “He’s the kupuna now,” says Moore.
Because Hoaloha Farms was created to augment the restaurants’ supply, it isn’t required to turn a profit. This gives Pahia the freedom to test various techniques. He plants some rows extra wide, the distance between them acting as a barrier halting the spread of diseases and pests. He borders narrower rows with black plastic to keep weeds down. Soil enthusiast Vincent Mina adopted one small row to demonstrate the effects of “natural farming.” This method relies on farm-made fertilizers, cover crops, and mulch— nothing imported. It’s 100 percent sustainable. “That’s my goal,” says Pahia.
He’s up against stiff challenges. The land was previously planted with pineapples—which means it was soaked in potent pesticides. Before planting anything edible here, Pahia sowed a nitrogen-fixing legume, sunn hemp, to remediate the soil. He doesn’t use synthetic chemicals and hopes to achieve organic certification soon. He now grows two-dozen heirloom kalo varieties, including mana ‘ulu, the popular Maui lehua, and the rare ele‘ele naioea—a blackstemmed cultivar with a lilac-purple root that produces coveted red poi. Each night at the Old Lahaina Lū‘au, servers pass out the “poi du jour” with a little card describing which variety it is.
Hoaloha Farms shares its surplus; Pahia sends four hundred pounds of kalo a week over to Daniel Anthony, O‘ahu’s energetic ambassador for the traditional Hawaiian food. Perry Bateman, the executive chef of Mama’s Fish House, buys Hoaloha halo to make the restaurant’s poi and fried chips. And kalo is just one of Hoaloha’s many yields, says Pahia. “We’re growing mai‘a [bananas], ‘uala [sweet potato], and ‘ulu [breadfruit]—crops that haven’t grown here for 150 years.”
Moore marvels at the changes he’s seen in the restaurant industry— changes his company has actively engaged and, in some cases, inspired. “When we started our business thirty years ago, you could not buy locally grown food,” he says. “For all of the woes of development, there are good things. We’re growing more of our own food than ever.”
Growing our own food sounds simple enough, but it’s a profound act. Native Hawaiians once supported a population close to one million without barge deliveries. Today, Hawai‘i imports a whopping 80 percent or more of its food. Pahia’s eyes well up when he describes meeting people who want to farm but don’t have the resources to do so. Land and water are scarce commodities on isolated islands dominated by tourism. His deepest desire is to get people back onto the ‘aina, the land, growing food for their families. “A lot of good things can evolve out of that. It’s not economic. It’s spiritual.”
For Hawaiians, kalo is more than just a food plant. It is their elder brother, Haloa. It’s also a physical manifestation of Kāne, the god of procreation. When harvesting kalo, the farmer cuts off the top of the plant. This huli is replanted and becomes the makua, or parent of the next generation.
“We’re more than just a farm,” says Pahia. “We actively promote agriculture and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture.” He partners with other farmers, distributes healthy kalo starts, and educates prospective growers, student groups, and all of the Hoaloha Na Ekolu staff about Hawaiian practices and values. “We give a lot away,” he says. Here’s just one example: When a woman at a plant sale asked him what type of kalo would grow best in her neighborhood, he didn’t just offer a recommendation; he brought a crew to her house to help start her garden.
“I am so lucky,” says Pahia, gazing across his field of bowing plants and reflecting on his relationship with Hoaloha Na Ekolu. “I can not say enough about these people. They put their money where their mouth is.”
It’s true in more ways than one. Every year, Hoaloha Na Ekolu shuts down its sold-out lū‘au for the night to host a lucrative benefit for the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust. Exemplary employees receive tens of thousands of dollars to donate to charities of their choice, in their own name. And this year the company celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in business quietly by growing community, kalo and sustaining the future generations.
“A farmer understands that what he sows is what he reaps,” says Pahia. “If he sows education and generosity, that’s what he gets.” At Hoaloha Farms, Pahia follows the example of both his ancestors and his bosses. He plants love, one huli at a time.
WRITTEN BY JON LETMAN PHOTOGRAPHY PROVIDED BY DREAMSTIME
If there was an easy-to-grow crop that was drought-tolerant, could be harvested three times a year, and had countless uses from clothing, cosmetics and construction to fiber, food and fuel, would you grow it? And if you knew it could turn abandoned fields green, provide good jobs, and reduce Hawai‘i’s dependence on imported goods, would you support it?
Such a plant exists. It’s the lanky, lean member of the hops family Cannabis sativa. Called industrial hemp to distinguish it from marijuana, hemp is related to, but very different from pot. You could puff hemp all day long but you wouldn’t get even a little high. Industrial hemp’s THC content is less than 0.3 percent compared to marijuana’s 20 percent or higher.
Advocates have wanted to grow hemp in Hawai‘i for decades but have had to wage an endless battle against misinformation and fear. Now it appears they’ve reached a point where those voices can no longer be dismissed or delayed.
One of the most authoritative proponents of hemp in Hawai‘i is the only man in the state authorized to grow it: Dr. Harry Ako. Retired chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering at the University of Hawai‘i (UH), Ako is currently conducting a two-year research project for Hawai‘i’s Department of Agriculture.
Under a provision of the 2014 Federal Farm Bill and Hawai‘i’s own Act 56, hemp can be grown for research by a university or state ag department. Ako oversees the study at the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTHAR) research station in Waimanalo where a quarter acre test plot is divided into onesquare yard sections to see how subtropical hemp performs in Hawai‘ i.
In his findings, Ako says hemp exceeded his most optimistic expectations with “unbelievable potential” for Hawai‘i. Unlike marijuana plants which are spaced far apart to produce large buds, industrial hemp is grown in tight formation which discourages weeds. Ako’s plants also required no fertilizer or insecticide and only half an inch of water per week.
Struck by the plant’s rapid growth and productivity Ako said, “I couldn’t believe it when we crunched the numbers. You can do three crops per year with one acre yielding about 30 tons of fiber for construction, 30 tons of leaf for animal forage and 5 tons of seeds [for food].” According to Ako one acre of seed hemp could produce 40,000 candy bars -translating to $20,000 for farmers.
He also found growing hemp to be effective for phytoremediation — decontaminating soil with plants. He says water used to grow hemp encouraged bacterial growth which neutralized contaminants in the soil like atrazine — which he reports was reduced by 50 percent in two weeks.
Once his project is complete Ako says any future funding for hemp should support individual farmers so they can test how hemp could contribute to diversified ag in Hawai‘i.
Despite being labeled as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, this once commonly farmed crop played an important historical role in early American agriculture before the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act. Even as Americans debate legalizing hemp production, it’s widely grown in more than 30 countries including China and Canada which export hemp to the U.S. You may already have eaten, used or currently own food, lotions, or clothing made of imported hemp.
PEOPLE IN GRASS HOUSES
One of hemp’s most useful products comes from mixing stalks with a lime binding agent and water to create a building material called hempcrete. Durable, breathable, fire retardant and resistant to termites, hempcrete makes “homegrown homes” possible with just a few acres of land.
If it was legal, Kelly King, vice president of Pacific Biodiesel on Maui, says she’d be growing her next house right now on her fiveacre property. Calling it the “building material of the future,” King says Hawai‘i should be producing its own hempcrete, not importing it from Canada. Dr. Ako agrees, saying one acre of hemp could produce enough material for five or six houses a year.
For Don and Joy Nelson of Kihei, hempcrete was the building material of choice. Together with their architect George Rixey they designed and built a 702 square foot ‘ohana unit (cottage) — using hemp for insulation and the walls — Hawai‘i’s first hemp house.
Today the Nelson’s daughter and son-in-law live in the ‘ohana unit and the Nelsons have started building another larger home that will use hempcrete and hemp flooring. They’ve imported hempcrete from Canada which they mixed and poured on site then covered with stucco. Joy Nelson says hempcrete was an attractive choice because it’s environmentally friendly but she wishes Hawaiian- grown hemp was available.
LET OUR FARMERS GROW
Beyond the products it offers, hemp can also help the ‘āina — the land. On the North Shore of the Big Island Clarence Baber, owner of Island Herbs Hawai‘i, says research has shown hemp can help rejuvenate the land by stabilizing and cleaning polluted soil. This is consistent with Dr. Ako’s findings and other studies that have examined hemp’s tolerance for contaminated soil, suggesting it may be beneficial to grow in heavily polluted places like Chernobyl and Fukushima.
“This is a wonderful crop…It should be one our ‘canoe plants’,” Baber says, likening hemp to other important introduced plants. But he fears Hawai‘i may miss the boat as hemp makes greater inroads through ambitious projects in Colorado, North Dakota, Kentucky and Tennessee to name a few.
Rather than more baby steps and tiny test plots, Baber wants to see hemp turned over to farmers. “If you actually put a grower in charge, instead of people that study growing, you would get different results,” Baber says. “It’s a wonderful crop…why our state is still scared, I don’t know.”
With so much support for hemp, what’s blocking progress? The law mostly, and that frustrates long-time hemp proponent Hawai‘ i State House Representative Cynthia Thielen.
“When I go door to door in my district, the question I’m most asked is “how’s the hemp project going?” says Thielen. The public by in large gets it, she says but “there are a couple of people at the legislature afraid of a crop that won’t get you high,” laments Thielen with a sigh.
Calling hemp an “entrepreneur’s dream,” Thielen says Hawai‘i needs to seize its “key advantage” over other states: the tropical climate. In an attempt to advance legislation that would expand hemp agriculture, Thielen is partnering with Rep. Kaniela Ing who says developing a hemp industry offers a chance to “come together with new unity and craft an agriculture future we can all be proud of and keep Hawai‘i green.”
Thielen encourages Hawai‘i voters to make sure their state and federal representatives know that they support hemp adding, “It’s essential to get legislation through in 2016.”
But not everyone is so enthusiastic. Rep. Clift Tsuji, chair of the House Committee on Agriculture is more cautious, asking, “What is the economic return? I don’t think we’ve…come to that point about economic return.” Tsuji is calling for more input from CTAHR and the Department of Business and Economic Development and Tourism.
Asked if he would like to see research in Hawai‘i continue Tsuji said, “I think research, whether we like it or not, will continue.” He said he does not discourage it but warns, “You must take prudent avenues and be results-driven. What are you trying to accomplish?”
THIS IS THE PLACE, THIS IS THE TIME
Meanwhile, in Hawai‘i’s state senate, Chair of Water, Land and Agriculture Committee Senator Mike Gabbard calls hemp’s potential “awesome” but warns Hawai‘i is losing out as $620 million in annual hemp sales come from outside the United States. Gabbard envisions a thriving cottage industry that could use the Hawai‘i brand to promote hemp products to the world. He also wants to establish a pilot program to allow the cultivation of hemp for agriculture and academic research, which would include the commercial sale of hemp as marketing and industry development.
Between 1999 and 2015 nineteen bills and thirteen hemp related resolutions were introduced in Hawai‘i’s legislature including bills sponsored by Gabbard but he’s frustrated that hemp in Hawai‘i “remains needlessly bound by outdated state and federal restrictions.”
He points out that his daughter, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, also supports boosting research and growing hemp in Hawai‘i. Rep. Gabbard, who co-sponsored the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015, said in a written statement “…Now is the time to move forward in expanding hemp research and creating this domestic industrial hemp sector in our economy.”
But while researchers in Hawai‘i like Dr. Ako are forced to wait eleven months to receive a handful of seeds to plant on a tiny patch of land, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture is working with over 170 participants plus 15 university projects that include around 4,600 acres of hemp production and 30 processors researching product development and marketing.
Back in Honolulu Sen. Gabbard says new hemp legislation is one of his top priorities. “This is the place, this is the time,” he says, adding that if Hawai‘i lawmakers are successful this year, “I’m hopeful farmers in our state will be growing hemp soon.”
Blue Java is a versatile variety of banana that can be eaten fresh or cooked. These popular bananas are known for their fragrant fruit which tastes like vanilla custard. Blue Java bananas start off blue and transform to a familiar yellow color as they ripen. We’ve used ripe bananas to prepare this delicious, non-dairy ice cream.
12Ripe Blue Java Bananas
2CupsFresh Coconut Milk
Pinch of Sea Salt
Peel and slice bananas and place them on a cookie tray in a single layer.
Freeze bananas for 4-6 hours or overnight.
Place frozen banana slices in a Vita-Mix or blender, add enough coconut milk to barely cover the bananas, and blend until smooth.
Steam or boil until cooked through. It’s important that taro is cooked thoroughly*.
Cool thoroughly and with the back of a spoon peel any remaining skin.
Cut cooked taro in chunks and pound until desired consistency. At this stage its called pai’i’ai. To make poi add more water to desired consistency and allow it to ferment for 24-48 hours at room temperature in a covered container.
*Note some varieties of taro contain tiny crystals called calcium oxalate, a natural pesticide. If taro is not cooked thoroughly it can cause your mouth and throat to itch and burn.