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Community Gardening Kaua'i Style

Written by Colleen Carroll on 27 April 2011.

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"Grow Your Food, Grow Your Future"

Sylvia Partridge moved to Kaua`i eight years ago, and is best known for her musical talents with two CDs out–Heaven is Waiting and Walking Home. She joined the Kilauea Community Garden to learn the answer to her question, “Where does my food come from?” Sylvia, like many of us, has easily navigated through the food pyramid, creating hundreds of meals, while maintaining a distance from the origins of the food on her plate. Today she has set about changing that. By immersing herself in the soil of Kauai’s north shore she is learning to distinguish between the weeds and the small papaya plants that she hopes will soon be lining her breakfast table with their fruit. One of Sylvia’s greatest pleasures is spending time with the other gardeners. “They are inspirational. They come here with a deep seated passion for the garden, the plants, and the land.”

Jerri Di Pietro of GMO free Kauai see hawaiiseed.org for more on efforts in Hawai‘i to keep taro GMO free.
Jerri Di Pietro of GMO free Kauai. See hawaiiseed.org for more on efforts in Hawai‘i to keep taro GMO free.

Kilauea Community Garden, based on the principle ‘Grow Your Food, Grow Your Future,’ is a four acre parcel on Wai Koa Plantation leased to Malama Kaua`i for the purposes of establishing a community garden (see malamakauaiNews).
Gardening community-style is not a typical feature of Kaua`i’s contemporary agricultural landscape. While in years past, plantation camps offered a bit of land for gardening or individual plots for families, the notion of formalized community gardens has really blossomed just in the past few years. A major impetus for Kaua`i is that in the past decade we have become more influenced by economic issues, more concerned about the quality of our food, and cognizant of our isolation from our food sources. Lets face it–3,000 miles is a long way to go for groceries. But generally that’s at least the distance 80 to 90% of our food travels to get to the island’s shores and stores. Building our capacity to feed ourselves has been a great motivating factor for many of our small farmers and gardeners on Kaua`i, and today the idea is growing.

A successful community garden needs to be tended  by a dedicated gardener like Paul Massey, who takes the lead at Kilauea.
A successful community garden needs to be tended by a dedicated gardener like Paul Massey, who takes the lead at Kilauea.

One practice that sets this community garden apart is the commitment to preserving genetic diversity. In the Regenerations plot (see ribg.org), eight varieties of taro, known in Hawai`i as kalo, intertwine, completely filling the 18 x 20 foot space and reaching for the sky. Some of these kalo are seldom seen today.

Here in Hawai`i, the growing and cultivation of the kalo plant is a tradition that stretches back for centuries.

The Hawaiians loved, honored, and cared for kalo and were in turn, as the creation story implies, fed and supported by it for generations and generations. By tending carefully the kalo, the Hawaiians eventually cultivated more than 300 varieties by selecting the plants for certain conditions, climates, and soils and by hand-pollinating over years and years. (Excerpt from interview with Walter Ritte and Jerry Konanui. For more see malamakauai.org/radio/).

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Laurel Francis helps with the harvest of Spanish Pumpkin, Cucurbita maxima.

Other treasured taro varieties have been brought into Hawai‘i by different cultures. For example the Fa`a Fausi, one of the kalo flourishing in the Kilauea garden, originated in Tonga. This taro boasts beautiful variegated stems, patterned leaves and reportedly a fantastic tasting orange corm. Growing these varieties in the Kilauea Community Garden produces a wealth of planting material destined for distribution to gardeners island-wide. Taro is vulnerable, like many plants, to a range of pests and is considered quite delectable to the wild pigs. The largest collections of taro on Kaua`i are maintained at UH CTAHR’s Research station in Wailua, and at Limahuli Garden in Ha`ena. Sadly other collections have been wiped out by the foraging of feral animals looking for a tasty treat.

If you want to learn some basic gardening skills and discover hidden tips and insights from experts, then a community garden could offer you just the right setting. Here at the Kilauea Community Garden, while ground breaking only happened in November 2009, it is filled to the brim with plants and people. The site is 4 acres total with the initial 48 plots filled, but more are in the planning. Malama Kaua`i (see malamakauai.org) has exciting plans for the next phases of the community garden.

The Kilauea Community Garden is a site of exceptional peace and beauty. People come to learn about food, to grow food for others and to share in the bounty and joy that comes from growing your own. Some might come just for the sanctuary it offers.

Colleen Carroll is an urban forestry and environmental educator. She has written the first Directory of Sources for Native Hawaiian Plants, and Growing an Educational Garden at your School: A Study of the Hawaiian Experience. Colleen created NatureTalks to connect people with nature. Her style of educating is as a storyteller for gardens and gardeners.  

This report is reprinted with kind permission from Colleen’s NatureTalks blog.