When we think of agriculture in the US, we picture large farms with endless fields of a specific crop or livestock. But here, in Kauai, the attitude towards food production is very different. There is a spirit of personal responsibility in taking care of the land, reflected in the Hawaiian phrase “Ola Lakahi” – life oneness, or the unity of all life.
“Ola Lakahi” means taking care of the land, preserving it for future generations to come. Rather than land owners, the native Hawaiians viewed themselves as stewards of the land, saving it for their children. They developed a land division system, separating the island into ahupua’a: stretches of land from mountain to sea. Their economy depended on cooperation. The fisherman gave fish to the population, the taro planters provided kalo, the sacred starchy root so crucial to the Hawaiian diet, and artisans provided tools, and so on and so forth. The strength of the community was found in each individual, and each individual’s strength was the community; to harm one was to harm all.
We began working with the Waipā Foundation, which aims to preserve the 1,600 acre Waipā ahupua’a: one of 8 in the Halele’a Moku – a district of Kauai. Through the Waipā Foundation, we have tried to preserve this spirit of treating the land like family. When we plant crops, we plant sustainably, and rotate crops based on soil fertility and season. We harvest just enough to encourage future plant growth, without overharvesting and destroying the crop, but also checking to not “underharvest” and reduce productivity. When we harvested kale for the farmer’s market, we took care so that the plants would produce in the future.
In keeping with the spirit of “Ola Lakahi”, we also consider the complete life cycle of the
crops. After a thorough rinse, we prepare the kale for dinner and for sale at the farmer’s market! We make a delicious kale salad with the shredded kale, and we bundle and bag the rest.
After meals, anything that can still be eaten is donated to the designated leftovers fridge, which is kept for employees, children that forgot lunch for the summer camp, or sometimes a lucky intern. The scraps are thrown into a separate food waste bucket, which we then feed to the pigs! Thus, Waipā aims to minimize the loss of mana, or life energy, by utilizing every part of the crop harvest, either in the transfer to humans or the transfer to the pigs, or to compostable soil and then to other plants.
Through sustainable farming and minimized waste, we manage to apply the principle of “Ola Lokahi” into our everyday work. Every living thing has value that we make sure never to take for granted, from the kale to the pigs. We treat all organisms with the respect due to them, knowing that their mana is the same as our own.