Since getting married over twenty years ago, my wife Michele and I have always had some type of garden. At one point we started growing kalo in our backyard for the luau leaf to make laulau and luau stew. It felt so empowering to grow our own and not have to rely on buying it.
Shortly after, we met a man who was clearing and opening loʻi mauka of our home in Kailua. Once we visited and helped him pull, cook, clean and pound his kalo into poi. When we ate it my first thought was “I feel so deceived having grown up eating Taro Brand poi my whole life.” Not that Taro Brand poi is bad, but never had poi tasted so good. From that moment on it was like I was on a quest to grow wetland kalo for poi.
Ke Akua then sent us on a voyage to sell our house, find land and create a place to gather people together to interact and do life differently than the norm of today. We were brought to Kapalai and feel so privileged to have been given stewardship of this beautiful ʻāina. Now thousands of people from all facets of the community come to Kapalai annually for the purpose of helping to grow kalo. Ironically though, it is the kalo that is helping to grow us.
Kalo was the staple of the Hawaiian people and from the story of Hāloa, we know the reverence and high regard our ancestors had for kalo. In my journey, I soon realized that building a relationship with our ʻāina at Kapalai and caring for it were fundamental to being able to cultivate kalo well here. The one-time esoteric statements like “the land will speak to you and guide you” became real and it became apparent that the concept of mālama ʻāina is far more than a beach cleanup.
While beach clean-ups, recycling, and other such things are indeed good, the Hawaiian concept of mālama ʻāina is much deeper. I believe it is a reciprocal relationship based on Aloha Kekahi I Kekahi or love from one to another. It is an interdependent relationship based on interaction, care, giving and receiving. Caring for our planet as a whole can only take place when one is in true relationship with a specific place on the planet. Kapalai is our place and kalo has given us the opportunity to grow in this regard. Now we simply want to share this opportunity to grow with others.
Growing kalo for me is physical and helps to keep my body going. Farming this particular crop is scientific and requires much of my mental capacity. And perhaps most importantly for me, growing kalo is spiritual. I connect to the creation and my creator. I nurture the kalo and help it to grow and it in turn nurtures and gives sustenance to my whole family.
Written By: Dean Wilhelm