Category: Talk Story



We invite a community member to TALK STORY and share a personal experience related to our issue theme. Would you like to talk story with our readers? Send us an email at

I READ AN ARTICLE RECENTLY that it started some 1.5 million years ago! Passed down from generation to generation, my quest for grilling perfection started about thirty years ago on a leased ranch in South Texas, around a family made fireplace which I helped to build brick by brick. At this hearth, I watched my Dad cook all the different game we killed. We had a very rigid family rule that if you shot it, you had to eat it – no waste. There was a wide range of game prepared around this hearth: venison, wild pig, nelgi, dove, quail, rabbit, and the occasional rattlesnake. (No, rattlesnake does not taste like chicken.) 

You really need to know your way around a fire pit to cook all the different types of game we had the opportunity to hunt. I loved all of them, but if you asked me which one was my favorite, I would have to say dove. That might seem odd at first, but I base it on the whole experience from start to finish — from opening day, to shooting, finding, cleaning, and the culmination of having a big family BBQ at the end of the season. This is where we shared all the funny, exciting, and sometime scary stories of the hunt – stories about jumping cactus, rattlesnakes and some pretty bad shots. In South Texas, if you have not been peppered by no. 8 shot, you haven’t been dove hunting enough times. 

While this was a fun and exciting time in my life, I also began to pick up that the real way to eat exactly what I wanted was to cook for myself. Embarking into my college life, I realized that if I was going to live alone, I needed to learn how to cook. My mom made me a cook notebook with all of my favorite recipes, which I still reference today. At that time, cooking was not a real passion, it just got me what I needed: dinner. Then I learned I could impress friends on the weekend with homemade beef stroganoff and pot roast. Cooking seemed to come easy to me, while friends and neighbors struggled with taste, consistency and quality. Of course, grilling on a college budget meant grilling hamburgers and hotdogs. Grilling hotdogs is a fine art of char and blistering without burning. You need the right temperature, correct distance from the heat, the ever-present flame and the right dog (Hebrew National). You can make many a friend if you can consistently and correctly do this. I also figured out that I could impress dates with homemade cooking – thanks Mom!

Over the next 20 years, I learned my way around backyard grilling. I was looking to be the best amongst friends and to do so, I learned how to use all four elements: earth for the meat, wood (mesquite) for fire, the right amount of air for the temperature, and sometimes the 4th element, water, for control. Once I get the fire to the desired state, which is always different for different meats, I begin to work with all five of my senses. 

I start with my eyesight, looking for that perfect fire, and I listen to the crackle for the right burn consistency. After I get the steak on, I go by feel, letting the fire breath around whatever I am cooking. When I flip the meat I take notice of its firmness. At this point I might add some more wood for a light smoky aroma. Now that I’ve used 4 of my senses, I figure out the perfect time to pull the meat. Finally, the best and sometimes most rewarding part of grilling is tasting the first bite! Each time I grill, even if it’s the same cut of meat, it will taste slightly different – that’s what makes tasting so rewarding. 

You can read all the cook books, YouTube the latest how-to-grill video, watch neighbors, and ask friends, but the real key is putting in hours, hours, and more hours on the grill. As many say, practice makes perfect, and this is so true when it comes to grilling. 

There is nothing better in my life than a beautiful, sunny, backyard day, with smoke gently rising and friends sharing stories and laughter while I grill. [eHI]

Sam Wilburn moved to the Big Island from Texas 9 years ago. He has a degree in architecture from Texas Tech but, in his heart, is an entrepreneur. He founded Hawaiian Volcano Sea Salt in 2011, and has since grown it into a successful small business.


IMAGE BY ALLYSON TAYS We invite a community member to Talk Story and share a
personal experience related to our issue theme.

A group of four women spark change within themselves and the community for lasting shift in our food system. Have you ever noticed an unmet need in your community, and asked yourself, “Why doesn’t somebody do something about that?” This is what happened to me and three of my colleagues/friends a few years ago as we gazed at the Central Valley of Maui, now fallow after Alexander and Baldwin (A&B) stopped mono-cropping sugarcane. Two of my friends, Kutira Decosterd and Sandra Hay, had just seen Oprah give her “Live Your Best Life” talk at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. During her speech, Oprah mentioned that all of us here on Maui were obviously living our best lives. “Really?” they thought. The beautiful environment and tropical weather may create an image of paradise, but underneath the rainbow we still have our share of problems.  

Hawaii imports approximately 85-90% of our food, which makes us particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and global events that disrupt shipping and other transportations of food. Many in Hawaii suffer from illnesses such as diabetes after adopting a “Western, fast-food” diet. While the tourism industry thrives, we wrestle with issues of homelessness and lack affordable housing for the people who live, work, and raise their families here. And don’t forget the climate change threatening our coastline at an alarming rate. 


When Kutira and Sandra walked away from Oprah they had an “aha” moment. Around that same time another friend, Charlotte O’Brien, and I were having similar conversations. We all knew a lot about agriculture and the methods, policies and infrastructure that supports it. We understood that cultural practices of long ago had sustained populations larger than ours is now. We saw that a marriage of new regenerative farming methods with ancient cultural practices could hold the key to a healthy food future. 

During a get-together one evening, we decided to write Oprah a letter asking if she would join us in our cause to inspire regenerative agriculture practices and grow food for local consumption in Maui’s Central Valley. Food grown in vibrant, chemical-free soil brimming with healthy microbes contains vital nutrients and minerals that we need to grow strong and healthy bodies. Microbial rich soil is also one of the foremost ways to achieve carbon sequestration, which reduces carbon emissions. We wanted to live our best life, and we thought food could be at the center of making that happen. 


By growing our food locally we can grow our economy. According to State statistics: for every 10% of food grown locally, $313 million is infused into our State economy. Growing food within the State enables the expenditures on food to remain in the local economy. We can feed the people and the economy at the same time! 

Regenerative farming practices will protect our water, reefs and air quality instead of poisoning them with toxic chemicals. Many new jobs could be created and our tourism and economy could thrive. This may seem idealistic, but statistics show that new, regenerative methods are proving to increase yield, boost nutrition, and sequester carbon, all while growing a healthy bottom line. 

Our letter to Oprah was never sent. We decided we had to be the ones to take action. I am not sure what we were thinking, never dreaming we would get as far as we have. But, much like a farmer when he gazes upon an empty landscape, our vision was birthed that day. 

We called our new company “Aina First.” A love of the land is at the core of the Hawaiian culture – when we honor the land that feeds us then we honor all life, and we all win. Our motivation and guidance created our tagline: Driven by Urgency, Guided by Nature, and Supported by Community. These three guiding principles keep our mission in focus. 


Together we stumbled through the dynamics of starting a business. We gathered experts from across the State and abroad and began negotiating with A&B to purchase the land. We reached out to the community, creating a coalition for local food production for the Central Valley. Our farm plan took shape and a Pro forma was created. Then on December 28, 2018 we learned that someone else – Mahi Pono, a division of Trinitas – had purchased the land. 

Perhaps this is the best thing that could have happened. We are now moving forward in hopes of leasing a large piece of the land, and our community outreach continues to inspire new ideas as we proceed with our educational series around the benefits of regenerative agriculture. We started with a vision to grow food for Hawaii and growing takes patience. There is a momentum that is flourishing here and with nourishment we will continue to grow our dream. IMUA! 

Susan Teton Campbell, author of Eating As A Spiritual Practice, The Healthy School Lunch Action Guide, and the Chef Teton Essential Cuisine DVD Series, resides on Maui. Susan is an active educator and community organizer for healthy food and regenerative farming practices. She teaches cooking, and coaches for health and longevity.



We invite a community member to Talk Story and share a personal experience related to our issue theme.

Growing up, we had a thing at my mom’s house called, “Fend for Yourself Night.” It always came unexpectedly and way too close to dinner time. Amidst all the fast food, candy, and processed junk we ate, we were lucky enough to have dinners cooked from scratch on the regular – except on Fend for Yourself Night, when all bets were off. I loved cooking and relished the challenge to use the latest techniques I had learned from watching Great Chefs of the World or Yan Can Cook. This usually manifested itself as me putting on a chef’s hat and splashing balsamic vinegar and random herbs onto mac ’n cheese. It was a start, but no where close to what I eventually came to understand as Fending for Yourself.

The importance of this concept became apparent recently, just before Hurricane Lane was expected to hit, when I opened my pantry to take inventory. Although I’ve been called a fatalist, I tend to under-prepare for potential natural disasters, perhaps as a subconscious objectification of real threat. I want to believe we will all be okay, that the mainland will bail us out, or we will all get by and get back into our college beach bods just in time for the ice cream aisle to be restocked. This is called denial.

What I know is there are simply too many people, too much imported food and too much reliance on infrastructure, technology, and fuel for all of us to be okay if we do experience the worst of the worst. I contemplated this reality during Hurricane Lane while staring at my chest freezer full of food, and wondering why I had sold my generator last year; it could have kept my potential, new best friend alive through catastrophe. My concerns were muted the following day when not a single drop of rain fell at my house, however the impacts of the threat lingered. Shelves had gone empty almost instantly and the docks remained closed for days. What would have happened if serious damage to our main ports had occurred?

This is really just one scenario of many that has the potential to affect our food supply. Climate change is predicted to completely alter suitable farming zones and leave our agricultural industry vulnerable to food shortages. Drought could prevent anything from growing, and our lack of attention to protecting healthy top soil is a recipe for disaster in and of itself. But regardless of the doomsday models, I have to believe in us. Believe that supporting our local agriculture will increase our food security, believe that our islands have the ability to feed us if we just encourage them too, and believe that big changes are happening to support the people that harvest our local food. That being said, I’m prepared to fend for myself.

I started this preparation after discovering that my post college job didn’t support my KCC farmer’s market weekly budget, so I began a journey to produce my own food. I started with a garden, added an aquaculture system, learned to forage on hikes, and started my search for fishing and hunting mentors. This was an exhausting process that I relentlessly pursued and often failed at. Along the way I picked up skills here and there, and made friendships with amazing people that showed me how possible it really was to fend for yourself.

I suppose not everyone wants to know their food source as intimately as I do, but in the event of a catastrophe you may wish you’d known how to use a three-prong to spear a fish, known how to fillet that fish, and known how to build a fire to cook it on. You may want to own a weapon and learn to hunt one of the invasive species (like axis deer or wild boar) that over-populate many of our islands. You may want to know how to dress and cure that meat. You may even want to get a pressure canner and learn how to preserve food for up to a year. You may want to do this in the event of a catastrophe or you may want to do this just to truly value your food and connect with your local food sources. You could even just grow some sprouts for a start, definitely the least green-thumb-necessary gardening you could choose (I somehow still failed at this in my first attempt).

Local Fisherman, Noah Joseph Katz searches the shoreline for bait fish.

If tasking yourself with all of that doesn’t seem likely, you will be happy to know that there are people doing these things for you, and you can support them so that they grow and have the ability to produce more food. These are the ranchers, the farmers, the fishermen, the hunters, and the people producing food that isn’t reliant on imports, fossil fuels, feed, or chemicals. One thing we all know about Hawaii is that community is strong here in the islands. When people are in need we will come together to support each other and share what we have. If we continue to increase our personal self-sufficiency and challenge ourselves to go above and beyond the supermarket model, we can get there. Volunteer at a farm, grow a garden, learn to hunt, go dive, make friends with a fisherman, and support your local food providers. Let the threat inspire you. [eHI]

JESSICA ROHR is the owner of Forage Hawaii, a local meat purveyor, O’ahu-based. She grew up on O’ahu and Colorado. Jessica is an avid fisherman and slow-food lover with an endless curiosity about everything food related.