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Hawai'i Island Homegrown Food Self-Reliance Workshop

More than 40 Ka'u residents participated in this fourth Food Self-Reliance workshop sponsored by the Hawai'i County Resource Center and Permanent Agriculture Resources. It followed similar workshops in Kona, Kohala and Puna, with each workshop uniquely designed for growing conditions in its respective district. For Ocean View, conditions are particularly challenging: shallow soils and little rainfall. The workshop addressed these issues, and enlisted local farmers to describe how they meet this challenge. A major theme was soil building and conservation and water retention methods.

The morning session consisted of four presentations. First, Nick Francisco described in detail the propagation, planting, harvesting and cooking of dryland kalo. Next, Craig Elevitch presented a slideshow/talk about tropical agriculture and homestead growing techniques from several Polynesian and Micronesian islands. His overall thesis: in Hawai'i we have more to learn about tropical sustainability from Pacific islanders than from mainland farming. The third presentation was by Renee Gronwall, who related the many advantages for home gardeners in Ocean View (and anywhere with little space or soil) of growing vegetables in containers of every imaginable size and shape. Key to Renee's success with container-grown vegetables is her extensive use of homemade compost. The final morning presentation featured a resident of the Marshall Islands, the Reverand Johnson Jetton. He told the heart-wrenching story of the reclamation of Enewetak Atoll in the 1980's after its decimation by US nuclear testing from 1952 to 1958. Enewetak islanders, who had been removed for the testing, returned to Enewetak and transformed their barren and irradiated soil to productivity, primarily by building soil through the composting of all available organic material.

The highlights of the afternoon portion of the workshop were the visits to two commercially successful certified organic farms in Ocean View. Earth Matters Farm, stewarded by Gail and Greg Smith, and West Hawai'i Farm, operated by Cher Capps, both specialize in lettuce and leafy vegetables and both grow on raised beds averaging about about 3' x 25'. Earth Matters Farm uses extensive irrigation, while operators of West Hawai'i Farm hand water their beds. Both farms have been in operation for over 10 years and use virtually no external soil, fertilizer or weed control inputs, relying entirely on increasing soil fertility through composting of large amounts of recycled vegetable matter. In addition, West Hawai'i Farm adds worm castings to their compost and makes compost tea for fertilizer.

After the farm tour, participants returned to the Ocean View Community Center for a short presentation by Craig Elevitch about the many benefits of growing perennial leafy vegetables. His slideshow highlighted six edible perennials that are particularly suited to our climate. These include cassava, Sissoo spinach, chayote, Okinawan spinach, and chaya. The final event of this Hawai'i Food Self-Reliance Workshop was a discussion, led by Nalani Parlin, about how food sustainability fits into the Community Development Plan (CDP) for Ka'u. Participants were each asked to name their priorities for how best to achieve long-term food sustainability, and the group was then invited to get more actively involved in establishing food security goals in the on-going formulation of the Ka'u CDP.

As a final send-off, workshop coordinator Craig Elevitch handed out fresh cuttings to participants interested in starting a plot of perennial vegetables!

Learn more about the workshop and see photos

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