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All About Niu: Coconuts Forever

DSCN0044Tim Head presents information about how to grow and harvest coconut trees at All About Coconut Day, April 13 at the Intergenerational Center."Grow your own future" was the theme of a coconut day program attended by sixty people at the Intergenerational Center in North Kohala on April 13th. The three-hour event offered information, demonstrations, a slide show, exhibits, coconut snacks, coco water, songs, dances, drumming and plenty of community networking about how to plant and use coconuts. Tim Head and Carolyn Mondress, co-chairs of "Coconuts for Kohala" led the event and Forrest Arnold served as group facilitator.

Tim described the history of the coconut palm, which originated near the equator in Indonesia or Malaysia then spread to Melanesia, Polynesia and eventually to Hawai'i about 1,000 years ago. Coconut palms are now the most widely used and grown palm tree in the world. Ideal elevation for planting is sea level, but the palm produces well up to 800 feet. Production slows down above that, but palms still bear as high as 1,500 feet. Tim particularly recommends planting dwarf palms because they are easier to harvest and manage.The palms bear year round, and are best planted 25 feet apart. Because the plant evolved on the beach, it is good to add crushed coral to the root zone every couple of years.

Vince McMillan and Tim Head show how to crack open a coconutVince McMillan (left) and Tim Head show how to crack open a coconutTim and guest presenter Vince McMillan (the organizer of the recent Hilo Coconut Festival) demonstrated several tools for splitting, scooping and grinding. These tools make it much easier to get the meat and milk from the coconut. The graters are available on the web (Search: "coconut tools"). Tim announced that he has excellent books available for sale on planting and production for serious planters.

Audience discussion was lively and many asked questions and offered information. Financial topics included low interest agricultural loans, tax benefits, land regulations and orchard tax depreciation. Tim and Vince predicted that within a decade Kohala could support a farmer owned-and-operated cooperative for processing nuts and producing value-added products such as "Kohala Brand Coconut Oil," for sale locally and off-island. Tim emphasized the value of patience and hard work. It takes a decade for a sprouted coconut seedling to begin to produce nuts. Thereafter it will provide a bounty of valuable nutrition and health for a half a century. A vision of a "coconut renaissance" includes a shift in the economy and livelihood of our communities. Cooperative operations for growing and harvesting provide jobs as well as a major source of local food security, self reliance, and greater economic independence.

Carolyn described numerous health benefits of coconuts and coconut oil. In addition to being anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory, coconut oil hydrates the body and protects the skin from sun damage. The oil remains stable and can be kept without refrigeration on a kitchen counter for a year and not go rancid, though it needs to be protected from direct sunlight. Carolyn noted that the oil is excellent for frying and baking, and a good substitute for butter. Coconut also aids digestion and controls cravings.

Coconuts for Kohala by Haley Graham.Coconuts for Kohala by Haley Graham.Although many people erroneously believe that coconut oil is unhealthy because it is a saturated fat, research shows that all saturated fats are NOT the same. Coconut's lauric acid converts fats directly into energy. Most popular oils, on the other hand, must be processed by the liver and gallbladder. Vegetable oils such as canola oil and corn oil are stored in the body as fat and are major contributors to America's obesity and related health problems. Olive oil and coconut oil are now the super stars of the health minded public. Coconut oil is immediately utilized as energy and promotes weight loss and a balanced metabolism including clean arteries and "good" cholesterol. Carolyn urged the gathering to become their own experts and explore coconut oil on the web. She recommended Bruce Fife's book, called Coconut Cures (at Amazon, click here).

During the event, artistic offerings were interspersed with information sessions. Forest Arnold sang songs that he wrote honoring the responsibility we have to future generations for planting trees. Natalie Young and her friends danced a hula which Kumu Raylene choreographed that expresses connecting hearts through offerings from the land. Natalie also led an improvisational dance group that honored the coconut tree. Free snacks, featuring fresh coconut harvested from Starseed Ranch, were baked and offered by Deborah Winter. Jim and Zach Williams of Kokoiki provided fresh coconut water.

For more information see www.coconutsforkohala.com or call Tim or Carolyn at 808-889-5641. Coconuts for Kohala is sponsored by Sustainable Kohala and North Kohala Eat Locally Grown.

Deborah Du Nann Winter retired as a psychology professor from Whitman College and moved with her husband, John, to North Kohala, where they grow food and medicinal plants. Deborah has published books and articles on the psychology of sustainability and peace. She helped found Sustainable Kohala in the Spring of 2008, and heads up the Green Auction at the Kohala Country Fair.

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