Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sustainability on Maui

One of the most intriguing "take-aways" from the recent Sustainable Maui Expo was a presentation by Craig Elevitch, Project Coordinator for Permanent Agriculture Resources [] on the Big Island.

He showed a map (below, left) of North America with the Hawaiian Island chain way down in the bottom left corner. The message was that we base how we live in Hawai`i as if we are a part of North America. In reality, our only relationship to North America is ideological.

The next slide (above, right) places Hawaii in the upper right corner with the south sea island nations in the bottom left. From a sustainability perspective, we have much more in common with these ancient island communities which have been self sufficient for hundreds of years.

Unless you just woke up from an 8 year coma, you know that humanity is experiencing a profound shift of awareness. Maui residents are beginning to awaken to the profound irony that we are the most vulnerable Americans when it comes to food and energy safety.

The number of attendees to the August Sustainable Maui Expo represented a significant boost over previous initiatives. No doubt, October’s economic forecasts have people thinking much more about food and energy security. The cost of shipping food to Hawai`i, to both the environment and in real dollars, is finally acknowledged as pure folly in light of our amazing year round growing conditions.

What other ideologies do we cling to as Americans that keep us imprisoned by a simple story we tell ourselves repeatedly? Is it time to outgrow a monetary system that is designed to further the divide between the 5% who "own" and control 98% of the world's resources and the rest of us who are rich-in-spirit and cultural relevancy?

More importantly, what are we doing on Maui to return to the self sufficiency enjoyed by previous generations of Hawaiians just 40 years ago? Have you ever spent a day thinking about where every thing you consume comes from? Could you make it yourself? Your clothes? Your tooth brush? A simple candle? Toilet paper?!!! How will you live if no barges come to Maui?

Pot luck gatherings are a popular way to celebrate together on Maui and throughout Hawai`i. I’d like to propose a new twist to the local pot luck tradition; that we all make an effort to prepare dishes that we’ve grown ourselves. At first your dish might be guacamole, if you’re lucky enough to have avocado trees. Or, you add homegrown herbs to store bought ingredients. That’s a start. Over time, the goal is to create dishes from all local, organically grown ingredients, and to become a localvore.

For your health and our collective food safety, the time to start is now. Grow something for yourself. Expect mistakes and to learn from them. My personal attempts to grow cucumbers, zucchini and eggplant were less than satisfactory, but our beets, lettuce’s, kale, basil and parsley are winners.

Talk to your neighbors and encourage them. Integrate your plans so that your choices of crops are more complimentary than redundant. Share in each other’s bounty. We live in a South Pacific paradise that is artificially propped up by external inputs while dangerously compromising our capacity to be self sufficient by allowing poorly supervised open field genetic experiments. As Al Gore would say; "everything about that picture is wrong."

Let's make things pono (right) on Maui.