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Return to Freedom

Hoea Ea II, Hawai'i Island Youth Food Sovereignty Conference, June 10 - 14

Hoea Ea II, The Hawai'i Island Youth Food Sovereignty Conference, was held June 10 – 14 at Lihikai Hawaiian Cultural Learning Center in Keaukaha, Hilo. Hoea Ea II is one of a series of Hawaiian food sovereignty conferences and part of the age-old tradition of producing food. About 130 people -- youth, adults, and families – were involved in five days of malama 'aina, traditional and modern food production, cooking, and eating.

The conference purposes were:

  • To immerse ourselves in food producing lifestyles;
  • To activate our kuleana – chosen work that we love;
  • To build relationships and community; and
  • To produce and eat healthy food.

The whole Hoea Ea II experience was delicious. I'd like to share some of the relationships and work that brought us our food. We'll begin with carbohydrates: 'uala (sweet potato), poi, pumpkin, and white rice. The 'uala, kalo, and pumpkin were donated by island farmers and gardeners. The first batches of poi came direct from the mala (dryland patches) at Lihikai Hawaiian Cultural Learning Center. Youth and makua pulled kalo and all the weeds, cut the huli, turned the soil, amended it with green sand, lime, and chicken manure, and planted a cover of soybeans.

After lunch one day, we worked in silence. The sounds of our focus were the scratch of rakes and the wind in coconut trees. This focus was shared in the kitchen, where steady makua (adults) were joined by shifts of youth who cleaned, steamed, and peeled kalo. Then they ran it through a Champion Juicer to make our poi. This kuleana was especially attractive to youth not yet disciplined in working. On the last morning, a kanaka named Ianuali demonstrated ku'i 'ai, or poi pounding. Everyone watched how little water he added and how silky (not sticky) he turned out the pa'i 'ai (unmixed poi). Besides poi, 'uala, and fresh garden pumpkins, we also ate white California rice at Hoea Ea. Some folks chose to skip it in favor of only homegrown carbs.

Second on the menu were proteins. As a community, we appeared strongest in animal protein production. Hoea Ea II was gifted half a cow from Laupahoehoe – that was a hands-on butchering lesson! The cow provided beef stew, beef tomato, and more. How about pork? Keoki Kahumoku and his nephew, Dustan Tsuhoda, provided three pigs. Our women and men learned to slaughter, and we all ate hulihuli pig, kalua pig, and smoked meat. Cheers to the pua'a! The fishing people were also busy. First, the youth cleaned fish that Uncle Keoni Turalde and 'ohana caught by cross net. Then came the workshops: spear-diving off a boat with Tanya Beirne and Jen Kalauli, and throwing net with Oli Turalde. When mealtime arrived, we enjoyed steamed mullet with Chinese parsley and green onion, sweet-sour palani, smoked ulua, and fried reef fish. All of the beef, pork, and fish was home-caught or raised; we only bought chicken and eggs. We hope to connect with chicken farmers soon so we can raise our own. We can also produce and eat more beans and tofu.

Next, let's check in on our sources of vitamins and minerals. Local farmers and importers donated our salad ingredients (mahalo Hamakua Springs for the tomatoes and cucumbers, Kaiao Gardens for the basil, and Hilo Products for the lettuce!). Carrots and other vegetables came from the supermarket. Vegetable gardening is an area for Hoea Ea to strengthen.

On the indigenous side, our lu'au was homegrown, and the coconut cream was a highlight. The Kua O Ka La School 'ohana from Puna taught husking, grating, and squeezing to make coconut milk. While we did not eat a lot of limu, we had an introductory lesson. Aunty Ke'ala Swain of Keaukaha spoke of rising in the dark, walking to the beach with her kupuna, and jumping in the spring water to pick limu 'ele'ele. Now the limu is rare, she said. Limu kohu is the most common seaweed remaining. It grows underwater, protected by the waves. Aunty Ke'ala taught how to make lomi manini with limu kohu. Continuing to eat limu (or adding it to one's diet) calls us to pay attention to our ocean ecosystems.

Speaking of the ocean, Lihikai means ocean edges. Lihikai Hawaiian Cultural Learning Center is located at Onekahakaha, next to the beach park, in an area that was once fishpond. The fishpond has been partially filled and is largely choked with grass. One Hoea Ea activity was to open part of the pond, walk fish in from the other side, and fence off that area. Here, we are beginning to raise fish for food and education. A dedicated crew also built a makaha (water gate), roughed out the rock work, and put it in place where the fishpond waters flow into the sea. Somebody promptly pulled it out and used it for a footbridge. So we ask ourselves, "Was that the right move?" Any action made on the coast, on land, or in the sea requires balanced relationships within the community. In itself, a fishpond is a relationship. It is a human-influenced ecosystem that sustains life.

Food sovereignty, or the ability of a community to feed itself, is all about relationships that sustain life. For our Native Hawaiian community, this movement is a process of re-empowerment. For our community of all cultures, working for food sovereignty means slowing down, finding the food production work that activates us, and doing it well.

Let's work together! We hope to see you at Hoea Ea III in 2010. Aloha.

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