AFTER THE MASSIVE RAINFALL AND FLOODING on Kauai last April, we had the opportunity to speak to a group of people who live off the grid just north of Hanalei. They requested not to be named in this story, but shared some profound experiences of their food journey with our magazine.
A few of these folks have lived off the land for years, preparing and eating only food that they grew. It was mostly taro, greens, herbs, coconuts, tropical fruit, and fresh-caught fish. Even salt was gathered right from the shoreline.
The 50 inches of rain that fell in just over a 24 hours brought floods that came and washed away their farmland, home, and way of life. The community stepped in and brought canned food and fresh water in via a small motorboat.
After day five of eating just canned food they craved anything fresh, ice cold, or raw. “We didn’t ever plan for a disaster and never imagined we would eat canned food,” they said. They felt the absence of the simplest of spices – like pepper – anything that could add some texture and complexity to their emergency rations.
This story inspired us to think of ways we could doctor up some basic, non-perishable meals, should we find ourselves in a similar situation. Here are six recipes we created or adapted from our archives to get us through a time of want in the wake of a natural disaster. They say hunger is the best sauce, but a little bit of seasoning can go a long way, too, so remember when you’re buying canned food for your storage – don’t forget the spices!
Photography by Barry FrankelRecipe Adapted from edible Hawaiian IslandsAsk most keiki (children) about their first foray into pancake making, and many will remember Bisquick playing a central role. Once sold in a box, Bisquick now comes in a wide-mouth, easy-pour container. It’s a perfect opportunity to turn breakfast into dinner by adding a few ingredients.
Course: Breakfast, Main Course, Pupu, Side Dish
110.6 oz.Shake ‘n Pour Bisquick
15 oz.Can Corn
Canned Green Chilies
Follow label instructions, adding your chosen ingredients to the wet mix. Pour and cook on a flat griddle.
Add corn, green chilies, chili flakes, and drizzle with honey for a Southwestern flavor.
Try replacing water with canned coconut milk, adding coconut flakes and crushed macadamia nuts, and serving with coconut syrup or try adding finely chopped apples, walnuts, and cinnamon and topping with applesauce.
Photography by Barry FrankelRecipe Adapted from edible Hawaiian IslandsSure, anyone can open a can of tuna and eat it right out of the can. But in a disaster, around day 5, you may start dreaming about something more delicious. Prepare now by adding some extra spices, oils, and vinegars to your emergency pantry box so you can dress up some simple recipes.
Course: Main Course
25 oz.Cans of TunaWe Prefer White Albacore, Packed In Water
1tsp.Lemon Juice or Juice from Capers
Pinch of Black Pepper
Olive Oil Optional
Open and drain tuna, reserving liquid.
Finely chop onion, capers, lemon juice, and pepper and add to tuna.
Stir to combine. Add olive oil if desired.
Add liquid from tuna to your pet’s dry mix. Give them a special treat too.
Sunflower seeds get all the attention, so you may be surprised to learn that almost the entire sunflower plant can be eaten one way or another. This nutritious plant can serve as a good emergency food, eaten raw or boiled like greens.
Sunflower seeds, like most edible seeds, can be eaten raw or roasted. Rich in fats, the seeds can be ground into a powder and mixed with flour to make a delicious bread. Seeds can be used for sprouting, eaten raw in a salad, or enjoyed on their own as a simple snack. Young flower buds can be steamed and served like globe artichokes. The leaf petioles can be boiled and mixed in with other vegetables. Flower petals, leaves and roots can all be used to make tea.
Beginning with the 2019 Winter issue, we will be selecting individual covers for each of the four main Hawaiian Islands, as we seek to reaffirm our commitment to sharing culinary stories from across the islands in Hawaii’s only statewide food and drink magazine.
Kauai. This photo was selected because it shows a flooded taro field in Hanalei that is significant to the editorial in this issue. The massive rainfall and flooding that occurred in this area of Kauai in the spring of 2018 sparked many meaningful conversations about food security, and the intersection of self-sufficiency and community.
Hawaii Island. We wanted to show the lava flow and the direct effects this natural disaster had on the surrounding farming community. We understand that this papaya farm was spared by the lava flow, but the residual poor air quality damaged most of the trees. During the most recent lava flow, over 80% of Hawaii Island’s papaya farms were damaged.
Maui. During our statewide travels we shop, meet people, eat, and poke around in search of inspiration. Shelly Ronen, our director of sales, turned us on to a Lahaina store called, Goin Left. From solar powered, hand-crank radios to surf-wear to coconut keys, this eclectic store stocks all sorts of useful items we would need in our next disaster. Stop by and pick up a giant machete- and tell them we sent you!
Oahu. This coconut braved a wildfire; when we cracked open the charred exterior we were delighted to see that the interior was perfectly fine. We reflected on this plant’s ability to withstand intense wind, rain, and fire, and wanted to learn more about what makes the coconut so good at surviving. We loved the look of this burnt coconut, and it reminded us of life in the city.
MORE THAN ANY YEAR in recent memory, 2018 underscored the need for Hawai‘i’s 1.4 million residents to be better prepared for sudden or prolonged disruptions to imported food.
From record flooding in April to ongoing volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and wildfires over the summer, Hawai‘i’s annus horribilis continued with hurricanes and near misses. Again and again, Hawai‘i has been reminded that while its vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters is not unique, Hawai‘i’s location makes those vulnerabilities more challenging to overcome.
If you live in Hawai‘i, you’re probably familiar with the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency’s preparedness guidelines that recommend stocking at least two weeks’ worth of non-perishable food, water, and other critical supplies. It wasn’t always like this.
REVIVING A CONSERVATION ETHIC
Prior to Western contact in 1778, Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) built a culture anchored in self-sufficiency. That conservation ethic of being prepared for scarcity is reflected in the Hawaiian proverb, E ‘ai i kekahi, e kāpī i kekahi (eat some, salt some).
Even if Hawai‘i can’t return to that degree of self-sufficiency, few would question the need to achieve greater food autonomy. It may be instructive to look back to the recent past, using the sugar plantation-era as a model of preparedness.
Alberta de Jetley, publisher of the Lanai Times newspaper has lived her whole life on Moloka‘i, Maui, and Lāna‘i. She remembers when people lived closer to the earth and grew more of their own food. Today, however, she says that’s just not a realistic proposition with limited land available for farming on Lāna‘i.
De Jetley believes that in the event of a major food crisis, community-organized kitchens, combined with hunting and fishing, would keep people fed, at least temporarily. But de Jetley ran her own 18-acre farm for a dozen years, and she thinks very few of Lāna‘i’s 3,400-plus residents are in a position to grown their own food, heavily reliant as they are on weekly barge deliveries.
Lāna‘i is almost wholly owned by tech billionaire Larry Ellison who is building Sensei Farms, equipped with hydroponic greenhouse facilities reportedly costing $15 million. Considering Lāna‘i’s high cost of living, the farm could offer local residents some relief.
Not far from Ellison’s operation, David Embrey owns Kumu Ola Farms, a two-acre organic aquaponic vegetable farm- one of just four farms operating on Lāna‘i. When the weekly barge that serves the island was halted last summer due to passing hurricanes, Embrey was able to help feed the island’s people. When facing emergency food shortages, he suggests focusing on a handful of crops.
“There are certain vegetables that I have on my farm, that if a hurricane came here, wiped out the whole [thing], we won’t get a barge for two months. We can survive just off my little farm. I can probably feed three thousand people.”
If someone wanted to grow just a few highly versatile, nutrition-packed crops that could feed a family during a food shortage, Embrey recommends the kalamungay (Moringa oleifera) tree, ong choy (water spinach), sweet potato, taro and cabbage. All of these vegetables can be prepared as soups and stews which is the key to feeding people, Embrey says. “Any time you have a disaster, you’re looking at soups.”
MORE MOUTHS TO FEED
In the event of a crisis, it’s not just local residents who would face empty shelves. Hawai‘i’s tourism numbers have risen sharply from 7 million arrivals in 2010 to over 9 million in 2017, with more than 10 million expected in 2019.
With over 80,000 hotel, timeshare and other tourist-targeted units across Hawai‘i, the question arises: What responsibility do lodging providers have to feed their guests in times of crisis and food shortage?
Both the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority and Hawai‘i Lodging & Tourism Association were contacted for this story, but neither responded to requests for comment.
LESSONS FROM THE LAND OF ‘INIKI
When Hurricane ‘Iniki struck Kaua‘i on September 11, 1992, JoAnn Yukimura was mayor. She recalls that in the early 1990s, many on Kaua‘i were already used to “living in the woods” and were a bit more self-reliant than people in urban communities. After ‘Iniki, Yukimura remembers neighbors coming together, sharing and helping each other.
In the quarter of a century since ‘Iniki, Hawai‘i’s population has only swelled, resulting in greater reliance on imported food. With only a 7–14 day supply of imported food, what will people do when the barges stop and the shelves go bare?
One person who has given this scenario careful consideration is planning consultant Juan Wilson of Hanapēpē, Kaua‘i. Living off the grid since 2014, Wilson draws water from four sources: a ditch that feeds his taro fields, rooftop-collected rainwater, a 500 gallon well-fed tank, and county water. “I never think about buying bottled water,” Wilson says, “It would never even occur to me.”
On just three-quarters of an acre, Wilson and his wife Linda grow kalo (taro), cassava, and ‘ulu (breadfruit), all of which produce nutritious starchy food that can be stored frozen. They also grow their own citrus, papaya, pineapple, avocados and bananas.
Together with chickens for eggs and bees for honey, macadamia nuts, and cacao, Wilson reckons he’s prepared for almost anything. So are his neighbors who hunt, fish, and grow food. Wilson explains, “…the local people in my valley are related to each other and pull together to get things done. They generally don’t look to the government for advice or help.”
But Wilson argues that preparedness is more than just having a pantry full of Spam or growing your own vegetables. He thinks it’s time to re-examine how Hawai‘i’s land is zoned.
“One big problem in the expanding, small-plot suburbia of Kaua‘i is you must have a car and be in debt,” Wilson says. “You aren’t permitted to do the things needed to have your own food, water, energy, and a livelihood.”
READY OR NOT
Wilson admits that being well-prepared comes at a cost—both financially and in the time required to plan and build home infrastructure and maintain crops. It took him about a decade to reach the point where he has created a softer landing in case of a sudden catastrophe or crisis. If that sounds alarmist, think back to the morning of January 13, 2018 when cell phones across Hawai‘i lit up with the message:
BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII.
SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
False alarms notwithstanding, in a crisis or perceived crisis, well-stocked stores can be stripped bare, gas stations pumped dry and a jungle order can descend quickly. Mayhem is not limited to post-Katrina New Orleans or economic collapse in Caracas, Venezuela.
A FOOD DESERT IN THE PACIFIC?
Megan Fox, executive director of Mālama Kaua‘i, a nonprofit that advocates for a more sustainable island, says it’s useful to create your own local resources to reduce reliance on imported food. “As we start seeing more frequent weather and transportation disruptions, more people are starting to pay attention,” she says.
Fox adds that when possible food disruptions are predicted — as in the case of a hurricane — it can be helpful to be in contact with farmers who may be rushing to harvest and sell fresh produce quickly to avoid a loss.
Another Kaua‘i resident, disaster preparedness consultant Bart Abbott, says that while local diversified agriculture can buffer Hawai‘i against imported food shortages, crops like taro can be decimated by a natural disaster, especially if they’re being grown in flood plains.
Abbott urges people to learn how to preserve their own food. Whether canned, dried, pickled, or fermented, he suggests starting with nutritious foods you already eat — things like kimchi or preserved root crops such as taro, sweet potato, and other foods that can be stored for a long time.
A crisis needn’t be apocalyptic to interrupt food imports. Abbot points to climate disruptions and economic malaise as factors that could lead to imported foods becoming unavailable or unaffordable for extended periods. Those in lower income brackets would most likely be the first to feel the pinch. Ironically, they are the people who can least afford to prepare for food shortages.
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, nearly 10 percent of Hawai‘i’s population lives below the poverty line, with rates much higher in specific communities. The Hawai‘i Food Bank reports it provides food assistance to one in five island residents.
Abbott suggests a greater emphasis on family and community farms and making more land available for small farmers. If imported food disruptions become common, he imagines it could lead to people reducing their normal 5-day work week to three or four days, allowing them time to tend their own food gardens.
THE CAN AND THE CAN NOTS
Denise Laitinen lives in Puna on Hawai‘i Island where she has over a dozen years’ experience volunteering with disaster preparedness groups. Laitinen has seen empty grocery store shelves caused by something as simple as a delay in barges.
“At any given time, any supermarket on the Big Island only has a 20 day supply of food on hand,” Laitinen says. “Add to that the fact that every airport in the state is in a tsunami inundation zone.” Because imported items are largely routed through the port of Honolulu, the whole state is, to a degree, dependent on one port.
Laitinen says that while kama‘aina know how food-insecure Hawai‘i is, newcomers don’t fully appreciate Hawai‘i’s geographic isolation. “That reality doesn’t fully set in until you are actually faced with no power for two weeks,” Laitinen says. “You think that you will respond to a disaster in a certain way, but then when that disaster happens, things may not go the way you had planned.”
She recalls tropical storm Iselle in 2014 when Big Island residents were trapped in their homes, main roads were blocked, and keeping ice frozen became a major concern, not only for food, but medicine as well. Fortunately Hilo had power and although people were eager to help for the first few days, as Laitinen points out, enthusiasm can flag as the weeks drag into months.
Last May, after the Kīlauea volcano began erupting, over 500 people in shelters instantly needed to be fed. In response, affected residents created ‘Pu ‘uhonu o Puna, a hub to help the community. As roads were cut off and stores became empty, some residents were forced to flee their homes to avoid becoming isolated by lava flows. Others, Laitinen says, were already growing and raising their own food and had no reason to escape.
So if you have food trees, crops, a few goats or chickens and a reliable water source, will you be ok? What about the rest of the state? Juan Wilson in Hanapēpē says even people living in urban and suburban communities can take steps to cushion the blow of a major food disruption.
First, he urges people to collect as much energy and water from their roof as possible. Invest in a Berkey or similar filtration system, at least to get you through a few weeks without county water. Next, grow food in raised beds in your yard or even some potted leafy greens in an edible lanai garden. Even better, connect with a community garden. Wilson also urges people to live in a community where they aren’t dependent on cars to get around.
Wilson suggests people “energy up” as much as their property and finances will allow, even if it is minimal. You don’t need a mega-expensive system to improve your ability to weather an extended power outage. Even a $125 wet cell battery, $100 panel, $75 inverter and a couple of light bulbs will improve your ability to weather a disruption. Start small and build up as you see fit. “It’s a huge difference if you have lights or don’t,” he says, in case things really hit the fan.
Empty supermarket shelves, Wilson believes, could lead to serious unrest, possibly riots. Being prepared, he says, is finding ways to be independent of those things that, if they come down, will be life threatening.
“You’ll have what happens the day after Thanksgiving — Black Friday,” Wilson says. “That’s the problem — that is the future.” [eHI]
WHAT IS A GROCERY STORE? How does it differ from a market? How have supermarkets evolved over the decades in Hawaii? And how will people get groceries in times of disaster?
Look up market in the dictionary and you’ll find, “a regular gathering of people for the purchase and sale of provisions, livestock, and other commodities.” Grocery store is defined in more simplistic terms as, “a grocer’s store or business.”
Hawaii residents, like people throughout the country, tend not to spend a lot of time thinking about their local grocery store. They wonder what’s on sale, what food staple they need to pick up on their way home from work, and what they need in order to prepare family meals for the week.
Depending on where you live in Hawaii, your definition of a grocery store can have vastly different iterations ranging from a large Costco style store with a cornucopia of produce to a locally owned shop.
Ask people about supermarkets and the names of several large national chains are usually the first to be mentioned. Yet it has been the local family-owned stores, often times started by immigrants to Hawaii, that have supplied island families with food for generations. These small stores, woven into the fabric of island communities, supported local sports teams, civic clubs, and other organizations. The past year has seen the closing or sale of several of these stores, some nearly 100 years old.
GENERAL STORES ROOTED IN COMMUNITY
Hawaii’s earliest grocery stores were general stores, carrying a little bit of everything. Take, for instance, Oshima’s on the Big Island. Founded by Kanesaburo Oshima who immigrated to Hawaii in 1907, Oshima’s opened its doors in 1926 on Mamalahoa Highway in Kainaliu, the heart of the Big Island’s coffee belt. The market was known for its diverse array of groceries from freshly caught fish to beer, plus a little of everything else, including a pharmacy. Oshima’s so epitomized the feel of old Hawaii that when Disney’s Aulani Resort on Oahu built a historic general store on the premises, they modeled it after Oshima’s. The store was owned and operated by the Oshima family until it closed in 2018 after 92 years in business.
Nearby in Holualoa, the Keauhou General Store also closed in 2018, after serving the community for 99 years. For decades the store sold everything from bread to bicycles, providing groceries and sundries to the families that worked on nearby coffee plantations. In more recent years, it had charmed legions of visitors, while still providing necessities for local residents.
In April 2018, Ishihara Market, a Kauai favorite in Waimea known for its fresh poke, announced it was being sold to Kalama Beach Company, part of the Sullivan Family of Companies, which also owns the Foodland chain of supermarkets. That store will remain open and retain its original name.
The recent spate of grocery store closings/sales caps nearly two decades of grocery store consolidation in the industry in Hawaii.
The past 20 years have seen some chains close, be sold, and merge. Founded in 1926 on Kauai by two brothers, Saburo and Furutaro Kawakami and their wives, Big Save Markets went on to become one of the largest and oldest retailers on that island with six locations. In 2011, Times Supermarkets bought Big Save with five of the original Big Save stores still in operation today.
Times Supermarket has also gone through its share of changes. One of the largest supermarket chains in the state, it too was founded by two brothers, Albert and Wallace Teruya, whose parents immigrated to Hawaii from Okinawa. Launched in 1949 with a single store on Oahu, Times Supermarkets has grown to 17 Times supermarkets on Oahu, Maui, and Kauai, the five Big Save Stores on Kauai, plus Shima’s Supermarket and Fujioka’s Wine Times, both on Oahu. In 2002 the locally owned Times chain was bought by PAQ Inc., a California-based firm.
Maui has also seen its share of local, family-owned grocery stores fall by the wayside in the past 15-20 years. In 2005, Ooka’s, Maui’s last big locally owned grocery store closed its doors in downtown Wailuku after 64 years, leaving the community without a grocery store until Safeway built a store nearby. That same year, Ah Fook’s Supermarket, a Kahului landmark since 1917, burned to the ground. Other family run grocery stores like Azeka Market in Kihei and Nagasako Supermarket in Lahaina preceded their closings.
While many of Hawaii’s mom and pop style grocery stores are now gone, replaced by larger chains, such as Safeway, Costco, and Whole Foods, there are still many independent grocery stores and multi-generational supermarket stores that continue to flourish.
Indeed, natural food stores, such as Down to Earth, which operates five stores on Oahu and one on Maui, Mana Foods in Paia, Maui, and Papaya’s Natural Foods in Kapa’a, Kauai have been operating for decades. In fact, Down to Earth, which started as a small store front in Wailuku in 1977, recently opened a new location in Kaka‘ako on Oahu, is expanding their Pearlridge location, and plans to move their Kailua store to a larger space, occupying the former Macy’s building in that community.
Locally owned supermarket chains also continue to hold their own. Foodland is the largest locally owned supermarket chain with more than 30 supermarkets on four islands, plus a chain of smaller stores called Malama Market, with three locations on the Big Island in Pahoa, Ocean View, and Honoka‘a and two markets on Oahu, in Haleiwa and Kapolei. Foodland, which was founded in 1948 by Maurice Sullivan, an Irish immigrant stationed on Oahu during World War II, and Malama Market are independently managed and operated but are part of the Sullivan Family of Companies that encompasses 150 businesses across 11 states.
Perhaps the oldest family-run supermarket chain in the state is KTA Super Stores on the Big Island. Founded in 1916 in Hilo by husband and wife Koichi & Taniyo Taniguchi, the original 500-square-foot store has grown to seven supermarkets across the island.
Ask independent grocery store owners the secret of their longevity and they point to their community involvement.
“I think the organization has always had a deep connection to the community,” says KTA President and Chief Operating Officer Toby Taniguchi, great-grandson of founders Koichi and Taniyo Taniguchi. The Japanese have a saying, “okage sama de” meaning, “we are what we are because of you.
“It’s because of our community, our business partners, and our store associates that we are able to exist. We’re very grateful and humbled to be afforded the opportunity to serve the community and we’ve never taken that for granted.”
“My great grandfather, grandfather, and my dad all felt that the store has an obligation to participate in and support the communities that we reside in. The communities are what support the stores and therefore the stores must support the communities.”
Russell Ruderman, owner of Island Naturals, a chain of three health food stores on the Big Island in Hilo, Kona, and Pahoa, says it is only natural for
locally owned stores to have a deeper commitment to the community.
“I think any locally owned business is going to stick it out because it’s easy for a chain to close a store, whereas if you are locally owned it’s all we have,” explains Russell. “Secondly, our ties to the community are much deeper than a mainland chain.”
Laura Orr, owner of Harvest Market in Hanalei, Kauai, echoes the sentiments of Russell and Toby, referring to Harvest Market is an “old school natural food store” where close to half their produce is grown on Kauai. “We’re community oriented and focused on customer service. We’re not like Foodland or other large supermarkets and I like to keep it that way.”
At the other end of the state on the Big Island, “about 60% of our produce is locally grown,” adds Russell. “In our kitchens we are using a lot of produce that is all local and 20 percent of peripheral items, like eggs and juices, are local.”
At KTA in Hilo, Toby says roughly 50 percent of the entire produce department is locally grown, with that number climbing to 98 percent when it comes to leafy greens and 20 percent of the their fruits and vegetables locally sourced.
In an effort to support local farmers and food producers, KTA launched its own line of food products, called Mountain Apple Brand®, in 1992. Today, the brand includes more than 200 products from 50 vendors all grown, processed, or manufactured on the Big Island.
With the growing popularity of farm to table cooking and organic foods, it’s encouraging to see so many local food markets committed to selling a large percentage of locally grown food.
And yet, as the world’s most remote island chain, these stores play a critical role in Hawaii’s food security when it comes to natural disasters.
“There’s no large warehousing of food in the islands that I’m aware of that would last more than two weeks,” says Russell. He should know. In addition to being the owner of Island Naturals, Russell is also the State Senator for District 2 on the Big Island, representing the district of Puna and the town of Pahala in Ka’u, an area encompassing roughly 500 square miles (as a point of comparison, the entire island of Oahu is 597 square miles.)
WHEN DISASTER STRIKES
Hawaii saw its fair share of disasters in 2018 with historic floods impacting Kauai and Oahu and the Kilauea lava eruption on the Big Island destroying 700 homes, covering major roadways and inundating entire subdivisions. Locally owned grocery stores became a lifeline in hard-hit rural communities providing fresh produce and a smile to customers even as their own staff were being impacted by disaster.
“We stayed open for the sake of our employees and our community,” says Russell.
When a lava flow threatened Pahoa in 2014 forcing other markets to close, Island Naturals stayed open. “Back then we made arrangements to bring in generators. We also got assurances from HELCO and our suppliers that we could maintain power if lava crossed Highway 130 and our suppliers told us they would continue delivering. When we got those assurances we made the commitment to stay open.”
It was a tougher challenge in 2018. At least six employees at the Pahoa natural food store lost their homes to lava and 15 employees had to evacuate their homes and relocate. Numerous daily earthquakes occurred for months forcing Pahoa Island Naturals staff to place masking tape across the front of shelves holding glass bottles to prevent them from falling on the ground.
There were days when the air quality in Pahoa was so bad from toxic, volcanic gases being emitted in nearby Leilani Estates that the store had to close and send employees home. Even mail service was cancelled on some occasions due to the poor air quality.
“The stress was palatable. You could see it on people’s faces,” notes Russell. “Our business was down 40-50 percent with the 2018 lava threat but we never considered closing.” Despite the downturn in business, Island Naturals worked with its vendors and donated food and beverages to organizations such as Pu‘uhonou o Puna, Sacred Heart Church, and World Central Kitchen. “We were able to weather the storm and our commitment to our communities is very strong.”
Laura says it was Harvest Market’s commitment to community that helped them deal with the historic floods that devastated the region last April.
“The floods were devastating for everybody,” says Laura. “It was unbelievable. I had three to four employees that were stranded in Haena.”
She notes that while the store did have to close for a couple days they did not have problems with deliveries coming into Hanalei. That enabled them to make sandwiches and snacks for all the volunteers that were helping to take food out to residents stranded in Haena. They went above and beyond during the flooding to serve the community and are still recovering months later.
Given the state’s geographic isolation and reliance on food being imported into Hawaii, it’s a good thing that many of Hawaii’s grocery stores are committed to serving their communities. Because in Hawaii, it’s a matter of when, not if, disaster will strike. [eHI]
MASTERS IN THE ART OF SURVIVAL, coconut trees have been around for millions of years, surviving— even thriving—in harsh conditions and natural disasters brought on by an ever-unpredictable Mother Nature. In fact, this tree arms us with tools we need for survival, too.
Coconut trees are nature’s jack-of-all-trades and a completely renewable resource. In one fell swoop, they can provide a family or community with potable water, a caloric food source, rope and shelter supplies, charcoal for cooking, and topical and internal medicines.
KUMU NUI | THE GREAT SOURCE
The Hawaiian term for coconut, kumu nui directly translates to “great source.” Every anatomical part of the tree holds incredible value, from the trunk down to the coconut itself. Coconut trees can live for the better part of a century, and they’re always in season. The tree is constantly producing fruit, or drupes, that can be harvested at different points in their lifecycle for specific uses.
At six months, pop one open and sip on the refreshing, electrolyte-filled water. Wait a few more moon cycles, and you’ll have a mature coconut that’s ready to eat. There are several layers to a fully mature coconut: an outer skin, a husk, a hard inner shell, and the edible inside. Fresh copra (coconut meat) packs a big vitamin-and-mineral punch, and can be made into dairy-free milk or cream. A current craze in both cooking and beauty care, coconut oil is also made from processed copra.
After about 14 months, coconuts will naturally drop from the tree and, if future generations are lucky, will take root. According to ancient proverb, ”He who plants a coconut tree, plants vessels and clothing, food and drink, a habitation for himself, and a heritage for his children.” Lovingly known around the world as ‘the tree of life,’ ‘the tree of a thousand uses,’ and ‘the most sustainable plant on earth,’ the coconut tree graces us with its gifts, all the while defying nature.
EARTH | FINDING SOLID GROUND
Many farmers and landowners hand-plant coconut in various types of soils, but nature has a way of spreading the seeds, too. When a mature coconut drops, it may be swept out to sea and washed ashore on a near or distant shoreline. It can remain buoyant for up to 120 days, protected by coir until it’s ready to germinate on land.
Handy and versatile, coir is the stringy husk between the outer skin and hard inner shell. Once primarily used for ropes and kindling, it’s now a large commercial industry. From scrub brushes to your welcome mat, coir is cultivated for a range of products. It’s also a common gardening supplement, as its nutrient dense, fibrous quality aerates the soil and helps seeds to grow. This is exactly what nature intended it to do—it was designed to house the inner part of the coconut, protecting it from intruders and salt water while granting it safe passage on its journey.
Once sprouted, a baby coconut palm will grow rapidly and can begin fruiting within six years. Reaching great heights and producing dozens of coconuts year round, coconut trees have the ability to thrive in environments that are inhospitable to others: rocky shores and sandy beaches. These grounds force a shallow, yet thick, root system unique to this genus of tree, and act as an anchor in the (likely) event of a storm.
WIND | PREPARING FOR A HURRICANE
We’ve all seen the newsreel: gusts of winds, torrential rain, debris swirling through the air. And a shoreline dotted with palms that bend to the elements—but rarely seem to break. Coconut trees are found in tropical regions close to the Equator—which, in the Atlantic, is known as the hurricane belt. From solid root systems to nimble trunks, they’ve evolved for millions of years to take these storms in stride.
Technically speaking, coconut trees are trees—but they have more in common with certain types of grass. The supple trunk, or stem, is an intricate network of strong, sponge-like fibers, which gives it tons of flexibility. Standing at 50-80 feet tall, the palm stem can bend 40-50 degrees without snapping. When milled for lumber, the sheer strength and malleability of these fibers make them well-suited for shelter, furniture, and canoes. Gusty winds and heavy downpours are no match for palm fronds, either. Engineered for such inclement weather, the tough leaves have a central spine, allowing the fronds to fold in half so water pours right off. Their durability and resistance to water makes them ideal for thatched roofs, too, which provide welcome respite from rain.
TIP: If you’re hunkering down for a hurricane, grab a rack of coconuts for emergency food and water; they can be stored in a cool, dry place for weeks at a time, depending on maturity.
FIRE | HANDLING THE HEAT
In addition to adapting to sandy soils and rough tropical storms, coconuts can take some heat. While the tree is easily set ablaze (think nature’s tiki torch), coconuts may actually withstand wildfires, thanks to the hardy inner shell.
Used in home kitchens for thousands of years, the husk and shell can be burned for kindling and charcoal, respectively. That activated charcoal supplement in your medicine cabinet? It’s likely made from coconut shells. Activated charcoal is made by adding oxygen to charcoal, and is known for its ability to bind to various poisons, heavy metals, and toxins and flush them from the body.
THE FUTURE | LOOKING TO SUSTAINABILITY
Natural disasters are increasing at unprecedented rates, causing ecosystems to shift and resources to dwindle. Renewable, sustainable resources like the coconut tree are important to note in the current climate. The more we understand about the resilience and sustainability of what’s in front of us today, the more we begin to understand its value for the future.
Want to see them in action? Book a tour at Punakea Palms on Maui. You’ll leave with a first-hand appreciation of the coconut tree in all its glory—and a quart of freshly made coconut milk in hand. Tours operate rain or shine. [eHI]
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).
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.
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