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Farm to Fork Tour at 'Iole

IMG 3382Peter Risley uses French Intensive methods on his farm and was named Farmer of the Year this year by the Mauna Kea Soil and Water Conservation District.On Saturday, April 6, the North Kohala Eat Locally Grown Campaign partnered with 'Iole Hawai'i to bring the Farm to Fork Tour series to the historic Bond district of North Kohala. The Hawai'i Institute of Pacific Agriculture (HIP Ag), Risley Farms and ʻŌhua O Nā Kiaʻi No Nā Keiki O Ka ʻĀina invited the Kohala community, Hawai'i Island residents and visitors to tour -- and taste -- what's growing at 'Iole.

It turns out there is much more than produce being cultivated on these three farms. Under the ownership of the New Moon Foundation, 'Iole Hawai'i and its agricultural partners are growing a fresh generation of stewards for this ancient ahupua'a, while striving to feed the people of Kohala through sustainable, environmentally and culturally responsible practices.

As Dashiell Kuhr, HIP Ag's Executive Director explains, the current industrial food system that produces much of the food we consume in Hawai'i is unstable. We have become dependent on the massive amounts of energy required not only produce, but to transport food to the Islands. "Our energy," he believes, "needs to go into resilient, stable, diverse food systems."

HIP Ag's garden is a living model of such a system. By returning to traditional Polynesian crops like mai'a (banana), kalo (taro), 'uala (sweet potato), 'awa (kava), and kō (sugar cane) -- which can be easily propagated through division -- HIP farmers are able to accumulate a wealth of potential food for a growing population. As our group walked through the garden, Dashiell also explained his practice of interplanting the traditional crops with others like comfrey, pigeon pea, bele and Malabar spinach in a polyculture whose diverse species offer benefits that range from medicinal to rehabilitative for the soil. "It's about working smarter, not harder," he says.

After enjoying refreshing tulsi (holy basil) iced tea with ginger and fresh sugar cane juice, and sampling a few of the banana varieties growing at HIP Ag, we continued on to the next stop on our tour. Kuhr's message of resilience through diversity is echoed at Risley Farms, where Peter Risley is applying French Intensive methods to supply the weekly Hawi Farmers Market with an array of naturally grown, local produce. Here, familiar rows of bananas, lettuce, beets and carrots mix with some surprising ones like fennel and white potatoes.

FarmToForkRisleyFarms1Peter Risley shares his methods developed over the past 5 decades.The French Intensive method is a high-yield, low-acreage farming technique that was brought to America by Peter's teacher, Alan Chadwick, in the 1960s. While Peter credits his time with Chadwick as the defining period of his life, he is quick to point out that "the 'perfect garden' isn't practical." Through trial and error he is continuing to discover what does and doesn't work at this location. For Peter, who is already a seasoned farmer, 'Iole remains a living classroom.

This year the Mauna Kea Soil and Water Conservation District named Peter Risley "Farmer of the Year," an honor given for exceptional land stewardship. The healthy abundance of Risley Farms' fields is a testament to sustainable management practices which involve composting, and cover-cropping with a restorative mix of buckwheat, rye, oats and sunn hemp. And as our tour of Risley Farms came to an end, we were treated to the ultimate taste of Peter Risley's success -- gourmet tacos filled with a colorful mix of farm-fresh carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, cabbage, beets and avocado.

During the lifetime of King Kamehameha I, ʻIole ahupua'a was said to be a breadbasket of Kohala, home to a mile-long network of loʻi kalo (taro patches). ʻŌhua O Nā Kiaʻi No Nā Keiki O Ka ʻĀina are a group of young volunteers who have been working for the past year to restore the lo'i to its former abundance.

IMG 3410The group visited the loʻi kalo restored by ʻŌhua O Nā Kiaʻi No Nā Keiki O Ka ʻĀina.The last group to work this lo'i were girls from the former Kohala Girls School, whose dormitories stopped housing students in 1955. In the years that followed, invasive vegetation crept over the area, and for this group of volunteers the process of re-opening the lo'i system by hand has been a process of uncovering history. It has also become a chance to revive the lo'i as a breadbasket, and an opportunity to sustain and nourish the community with kalo, the "root of life" in Hawaiian legend. "When I go to other lo'i," says Project Chairman Sa'o Vaefaga, "I see that some are big and some are small. But what I notice most is that 'Iole's land wants to produce and give food."

The generosity that ʻŌhua O Nā Kiaʻi No Nā Keiki O Ka ʻĀina see in the land was also present in the feast of sweet potato lau lau, 'uhu (parrotfish), 'ō'io wontons and banana lumpia that the volunteers prepared for us. As we sat and savored this final taste of 'Iole's farms, talk turned to the future. The seven-building campus of the former Girls School is currently under renovation and will reopen as an education center and retreat next year. The lo'i has already been chosen as a site for the cultural activities that will take place at the center. It seems that Sa'o's prediction for the lo'i restoration project can be applied to the entire living classroom at 'Iole: "It's going to grow as we (as people) grow."



Karla Heath has set roots in her kitchen and garden in North Kohala. She is Project Assistant at Sustainable Initiatives, combining research and writing with her appreciation for all things homegrown and handmade.

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