My name is Ethan McArdle and I am from Moku o Keawe (Big Island). I grew up in Paʻauilo running barefoot in the mountains, and getting my feet dirty with my 10 other brothers and sisters. We spent most of our days down at the beach in Waipio, swimming in the ocean, playing in the rivers, and hiking through the valleys that were filled with ancient Loʻi Kalo. I had a deep connection to my ʻāina, my family, my community of people, and my connection to Ke Akua. When I moved to Oʻahu to go to school at Windward Community College, I felt disconnected to these core parts of my identity. I had no money, no car, no friends, and no sense of direction for my life. I was experiencing homesickness and culture shock on a daily basis. The hustle and bustle of Oʻahu were completely foreign to a little country boy.
After a year of living on Oʻahu, I got offered a summer internship at Hoʻokuaʻāina. I had never actually stepped foot in a Loʻi before, so working in one was a totally new experience for me. My first day, we were pulling kalo, and I remember uncle Dean telling me to go through and find “golf ball-sized” kalo. When I first dipped my feet into the mud, I felt it squish between my toes, and engulf my legs. I was really nervous because it felt so different to me. Soon enough the Loʻi became the only thing that didn’t feel foreign to me. That squishy feeling between my toes brought back memories of running up mauka barefoot with my brothers. I found myself looking forward to going to work and getting muddy. I was happy here on O’ahu for the first time since I had moved here. I found a place that was bigger than myself, a place that really meant something to me. From then on out I felt like I was on a ride. It seemed that I was constantly growing and changing. Now Hoʻokuaʻāina is where I am grounded.
Being a farmer comes with many challenges such as dealing with flooding, getting itchy when you harvest (I struggle a lot with this), and endless amounts of weeds. The cultivation of kalo is not the only thing we are challenged with; we are also challenged with the cultivation of character. Uncle Dean and Aunty Michele have both become mentors to me. I have found that my relationship with the ʻāina, my family, and my community as well as my relationship with Ke Akua, have aligned to form a Lokahi triangle, which is something Uncle Dean and Aunty Michele are always encouraging us to cultivate. It is what pushes me to strive and be my best self.
Sometimes I ask myself, why do I choose to come back? It’s not an easy job and you can’t be in it for the money. I think that the answer is that the people of Hoʻokuaʻāina have become my family just like the place has become my home. Nowhere else have I found a more inspirational and passionate group of individuals. The power that Hoʻokuaʻāina has to connect people, to bring them together and to build community, has brought me closer to people who have come to change my life and become my brothers and sisters. I have also witnessed the power of my work to make a difference in this world. The power to make a change when a change is needed. I feel that power to make a difference within me, and it has become my passion. I have always felt the desire to leave a positive impact on this world and to do something that will help people to thrive in a world where so many suffer. Now more than ever, I feel equipped to do this. I don’t know if my path is to continue to be a Mahi ʻai Kalo, but I know I’ll always need to plant myself in the ʻāina so that I may continue to grow and cultivate the land and my relationships with those around me.
I am now a farm manager at Hoʻokuaʻāina. I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon but if that time comes I know I’ll be proud of the impact I have made. I have gone from searching for golf ball-sized kalo to pulling seven-pound makua in patches named after the people who choose to plant their roots in the same soil as me. I started as a kid struggling in every aspect of my life and became a young man who is driven to pursuing my passions. I hope to become a leader, to feed people, and to inspire people to pursue a life of meaning and impact, just as Hoʻokuaʻāina has done for me.
Written By: Ethan McArdle, Projects Farm Manager