Time so far in Kaua’i has flown. Hard to believe we’re at two weeks already. And I’ve learned so much that it won’t be possible to fit even part of that knowledge in its entirety into this post, even with my focused scope. But I’ll try!
Along with another Duke Engage student, Courtney, I was assigned to the ‘Āina team (or, more crudely put—and omitting much meaning—land team) at the Waipā Foundation.
The Waipā Foundation is a center that preserves and promotes community and traditional Hawaiian values. Not surprisingly, much—if not all—of that culture comes from food and the land.
Courtney and I usually go around helping in various restoration projects on the mountain, looking at water quality testing, raking leaves, weed-whacking, and pretty much anything else outdoors that needs doing. If it can get us muddy and mosquito-bitten, we’re probably knee-deep in it.
But for me, the most rewarding experience so far has been to be given the honor of being welcomed into the process of preparing and enjoying poi, a Hawaiian staple food (which is unfortunately becoming more expensive). On Poi Day, every week the community gets together to make poi. Much of the preparation is often done by volunteers, and stories and food are shared all day between people working side by side in good will.
The entire process (from growth to table) is incredible, as is the culture and belief system around it, and I’ve slowly been given the chance to help with each step.
Poi comes from kalo (commonly known elsewhere as taro), a root vegetable with hundreds of varieties brought over by canoe with the first Hawaiians. Skipping over its deep, fascinating cultural and religious importance, kalo is essentially harvested, steamed, refined extensively, and ground into poi—a starchy paste with many nutrients, probiotics, and an enormous shelf-life. I don’t have any pictures of poi or taro because my hands are always dirty when it’s around!
Every single part of the kalo can be used or eaten, but the stem is usually saved to be replanted. Nothing is wasted, and all of it is precious. Poi can be eaten in and with almost anything, and its flavor and benefits increase over time.
Courtney and I also help with a few steps before Poi Day. On warm, sunny, and rainy days (not at all mutually exclusive!), we’ve helped to weed-whack and maintain the kalo fields. And the day before Poi Day, we help clean the kalos and load them into the steamers. We’ve also harvested kalo (though at a different site). We then help in the refining, and I enjoy eating the steamed kalos before they are turned into poi, too.
After we help clean, one of my favorite things to do and my biggest sense of achievement/accomplishment is feeding and watering the piggies <3. In kind of a childish way, being taught how to use the Mule and trusted with it to drive the kitchen slop and giant buckets of rotten kalo/kalo shavings over to feed the pigs is not only fun but weirdly rewarding.
I like feeding the kalo scraps to the pigs because you can see that the pigs get excited for them over other foods. Something about the combination of seeing the whole life cycle of the kalo, being with the community, being trusted with the expensive farm machinery and the pigs, how absurdly adorable the pigs are, all with the verdant backdrop of Kaua’i, has made this collective my favorite experience. Which is saying something!