Hele On To Kauaʻi

Hookuaaina Interns on Kauai in Kalo Field for Cultural Exchange

Huakaʻi – Staff visit to Kauaʻi

An important aspect of our internship program is professional development. Throughout the year we provide workshops on various subjects such as financial literacy, grant writing, nonprofit organizational development, and food safety. Once or twice a year we offer opportunities for our entire staff to visit neighbor islands and learn from peer organizations. Our spring trip was to Kauaʻi where we had the amazing opportunity to visit several loʻi kalo, connect with the farmers and community in that area, and learn about their different methods of farming and production. Our time was rich and full of meaningful connections. Here is one reflection from our intern Kealohi to give you an idea of the impact the experience had on our staff.

A Reflection from Kealohi

Our trip to Kauaʻi was a huge blessing that I am so grateful to have been a part of. Working at Hoʻokuaʻāina has definitely opened my eyes to the value of community, sense of place and being future-focused. With this basically being my first trip to the Garden Isle, it was nice to see her through a mahiʻai perspective. I think it allowed me to appreciate it in a different way than I would have, had I visited with family and stayed at one of the hotels.

Visiting mahiʻai on Kauaʻi exposed me to more ways of mahiʻai. Coming from farmwork at Hoʻokuaʻāina–shovel, machete, chainsaw, handtool–I had a shift in perspective on what farming can be like depending on your ʻāīna. In Waimea, ʻOlokele, and Hanalei, there were all types of machines and trucks that could be driven around to get the tasks done. I’m not even familiar with the names, but now I understand how such large ‘āina can be worked with maybe just two people.

Upon reflecting with Zack while weeding Kawaʻa patch yesterday, he shared how this trip reconfirmed how we are in the people business. And as I write this, it makes me reflect on how we do things at Hoʻokuaʻāina.

Initially, after seeing all the machinery and driveable loʻi and kuaauna, a great focus for a commercial based farm, like any farm, is efficiency. I think of how easy it would be if we could drive a golf cart with the hundreds of pounds of raw kalo orders, instead of hauling it in 30-pound buckets. Or even having excavators to clear new patches and not planting puʻepuʻe style (mounded) to have fewer weeds. But if we didn’t have all these tasks, we wouldn’t be able to create a space for the community to grow the people, in the way we do. We would just be growing kalo. We rely on groups and extra hands to help us out in huge tasks like weeding a patch, cleaning kalo, and clearing ‘āina. Now I see why the ʻāina is the way it is for us; the ʻāina knows we need the weeds and hau bush because the ʻāina suits what we strive to do as an organization…With mahiʻai kuleana in these moments of lima hana, we are truly able to “rebuild lives from the ground up.”

Another favorite memory of mine was the waʻa blessing for the Kilohana Canoe Club. When we talk about a sense of place and community, it was humbling to see how a blessing of a canoe brought the families of that ʻāina to Lucy Wright Park in Waimea. It was more than just a new canoe…it allowed for fellowship, ‘oli, pule, testimony, and aloha. I’m quite an emotional person, so I wasn’t surprised when I teared up frequently in seeing how these keiki held themselves, grounded and proud of their culture through their chants, posture, and respect for the blessing.

My takeaway from this blessing was a commitment from everyone in attendance, to be focused on the keiki and their futures. Reflecting back on my time playing volleyball, I felt like I foresaw how impactful the journey of being a paddler would be for these keiki, as being a volleyball player was for me. After playing for almost half of my life, that sport allowed for so many relationships and life lessons to be developed and learned. Seeing this waʻa blessing and me being there side by side with the kamaʻāina of Waimea and Kilohana Canoe, I felt yet another source of commitment to holding myself to being future-focused for these very keiki and other keiki in Hawaiʻi.

When I had the chance, I asked every kalo farmer I met, “so, do you eat kalo a lot?” Majority of them answered no. At first, I was like, what?!? But then I compared it to when I was the sausage fryer for my aunty’s catering business, and yeah, after doing that position every Saturday for about a year, that sausage isn’t my first choice either…except some of these farmers been doing it for almost their whole life! Nuts. Maybe I didn’t really need to ask them that question.

But on a serious note, returning to Oʻahu allowed me to share every nook and cranny of the trip with my family. A conversation I have been pushing with my ʻohana, is how can we incorporate more ʻāina foods into our diet. Our family eats healthy, we don’t farm kalo where we live, but now, let’s make kalo or poi, a dish we see on the table maybe twice a week, instead of twice a month. For one of our breakfasts, Uncle Dean made us a simple stir fry with pork, kalo, and palula (leaf of sweet potato), and gosh that was so good! Even Aunty Chris prepared a small kalo dish with coconut oil, diced up kalo, garlic and onions–hooo it was ʻono! It’s little things like that I know we can do in my house, to incorporate ‘āina foods regularly, or replace maybe spinach or a potato, with the foods our ancestors ate. It’s about normalizing.

This trip made me grateful. I came home with a new appreciation for those kalo farmers who make it possible to have a love for poi as I do, and probably as many do. It may not be their first choice to eat, but they farm it because they have to. I’m grateful for all coaches, organizations, supporters out there like Kilohana Canoe Club, who create opportunities for our keiki to develop, grow, learn so they are equipped when it’s time to pass the torch. I’ll even mahalo the weeds at our loʻi from now on, for providing us with “taropy” and to be in the people business. Here’s to continuing to do the work we do, and to welcoming all the aloha that comes with it.

Written By Kealohi, Year-Round Intern