Monday, April 28, 2014

Musings: Be It, Live It

My friend Kaimi stopped by to visit the other evening and saw, atop a pile of old clippings I was sorting through, a story I'd written about his family losing their taro farm lease in Hanalei. It was dated August 2005.

Wow, he said. Nine years already, and I still never get back on the land.

He's planted and harvested a lot of taro for other people in that time, at Anahola, Hanalei, Haena, Limahuli. He's trying to maintain his varieties as best he can, with huli banks here and there, including my yard. But he's never been able to secure his own loi, primarily because he's a young guy living hand-to-mouth, with no money, no credit, no business plan and no connections to those who own land.

Just lots of hands-on experience and practical knowledge about how to grow, hunt and catch food that is local, sustainable and healthy. In other words, he actually knows how to achieve the rhetorical ideal of the Kauai “sustainability movement.” Yet he's completely unsupported.

And I was reminded, again, of how much time, energy and money is regularly poured into pro- and anti-movements with very little to show for that tremendous investment, aside from ever-more polarization.

So in response to the folks who have asked, "well, what's your solution?" consider this: Instead of seeking political “solutions,” which are typically more akin to a bandaid than a cure, what if we focused on practical solutions? What if we focused on shared values, instead of conflicting (and often shadowy) agendas?

Take, for example, the oft-promoted goal of reducing imports and increasing food security. 

Under a political solution, people waste hours in the acrimonious dead zones of the County Council and Facebook fighting over a pesticide/GMO disclosure bill that does nothing to reduce pesticide use, promote small farms or improve the availability of land. Special interest groups fund opposing sides; money is wasted on advertising, lawsuits and jetting to other islands to protest or testify; conflict increases, divisiveness grows. Ideologies are bitterly defended, the community weakens and fractures. No food is produced, food security remains illusive.

Under a practical solution, folks mobilize for work days to clear, open and plant loi. People get exercise, learn useful skills, gain an understanding of land, water and culture, meet neighbors, build community and feel a sense of pride every time they look at that loi, or harvest from it. Money is invested in buying tractors, fixing water systems, securing leases. Healthy, indigenous food is produced.

And the island moves closer to achieving a widely shared value:  food security.

Let's pause for a moment and reflect on the past year. Think of how different things might be right now if all the passion, idealism and discontent that birthed the anti-GMO movement had been channeled into scenario B, as opposed to scenario A. 

Yes, politicians will tell you scenario A is the only way, because it feeds their ego and increases their power. But that old conflict and control model doesn't serve our community well in any way, shape or form. We can do things differently, ya know. It's fully our own choice.

As Dawson wrote in comments a few days ago:

People can work through differences of opinion and values, given a bit of empathy and some feeling for the long-range (both future and past). But not when they're running with the pack and high on the self-serving emotional rush of Good vs. Evil. Then their humanity goes cold, their brains turn tribal, and they become territorial. 

I was struck by his use of the phrase “their humanity goes cold.” It seems to me that's where we're at on this island, in this world. We're eager to vilify and label, madly pointing the finger at others to avoid looking at ourselves. Because really, that's where all change begins: within each and every one of us. There's simply no escaping the fact that we — yes, all of us — created the problems that face humanity. There is no convenient bogey man to scapegoat and blame, only ourselves.

As Luke Evslin wrote in comments:

We have a massive, structural, enemy-less, multi-faceted problem on Kaua’i that we are all complicit in. How are we going to fix it?

It seems one place to start is by actively embracing cooperation and rejecting the intransigence that seems to characterize social and political movements. I think of that often when I watch bee and ant colonies, which function as single organisms, though each individual has a specific role. What if we put as much energy into working things out, as we did into plotting the destruction of those with different beliefs? Especially since the global problems we're facing affect all humans, as well as other species.

I know that some people take extreme positions in hopes of ending up in the middle, but what if we started in the middle, where most folks naturally gravitate? What if we dropped the idea of an “out there” enemy, be it developers or chem companies, and faced the fact that we have met the enemy and he is us? Because really, no one on Kauai can claim he or she is exempt from culpability. Each and every one of us is having a major impact simply by virtue of our existence.

And that leads me to the elephant in the room in Hawaii — colonialism. As an anonymous commenter wrote:

Its easy to fight the newcomers but no one wants to touch the marginalization of kanaka that have been disenfranchised from their ancestral lands. There is deep seated anger that has festered for generations and continues today. That is the perspective I come from and don't want to be caught up in the fight between those who call themselves "locals" and newcomers.

Which brings me back to that pile of clips I was sorting through. One of them was a 1994 piece I wrote for “In These Times.” In it, the Rev. Kaleo Patterson shared his view that our environmental problems won't be solved until the citizens of industrialized nations face the spiritual consequence that stem from centuries of subjugating the world's indigenous peoples:

You cannot talk about the environment and the integrity of creation without also talking about justice and the systematic oppression of communities and poor people. And you can't talk about justice without an analysis of what's going on with the land. We have to make the connection between land and the environment.

Unfortunately, as Kaleo pointed out, that link is difficult to achieve in a Western belief system that grants humans dominion over the natural world. Such a worldview makes it easier for folks to oppress other people, mistreat animals, plunder the Earth. Isn't that the core of the ugliness we're confronting?

Fortunately, world views can be changed, and it seems to me that's the fundamental first step here. Until we honestly examine our belief systems and abandon those that don't serve us or the planet,  we're going to keep walking the same path, repeating the same mistakes, pursuing the same solutions that are not solutions.

As the old saying goes, think globally, act locally. And nothing is more local, more under your control, than what's inside your own heart and head. Just as nothing is more revolutionary, or more challenging, than truly being the change you want to see in the world. Not preaching it, imposing it, wishing for it or waiting for somebody else to implement it. But actually being it, living it, and setting an example for others to follow. 

In closing, I'd like to say mahalo to the folks who have clicked on the Donate button and sent contributions to my post office box (PO  Box 525, Anahola, 96703). I've been touched by your generosity, and also by the thoughtful notes that have accompanied some of the donations  The fund drive continues, and if you value Kauai Eclectic, I hope you will support it. As always, thanks for reading and commenting.


Anonymous said...

That plan sounds a lot like Malama Kauai's community garden and food forest projects, which I agree, were worthy endeavors.

islandwide said...

You the best for the silent majority! Please keep your blogs coming!

Anonymous said...

Outstanding points, Joan.

The reality is that the "sustainability" movement should be called "I got mine, raise the drawbridge" or "not in my backyard".

Anonymous said...

good stuff Joan..
family members quiety scold me for my heartfelt active involvement within the community i was born and raised in. Letters and council testimony cause riffs with "why do you care?" hmmmm…Some i've head butted could care less about open dialogue for depolarizing the plight, another rich ex boss would say "keep your enemies closer" as if there was a sinister way to better his position by knowing the other side up close. Utopia won't condense from the very well intentioned few . I will continue to read yours and others opinions to further my heart in how to better this lush isle community. Life keeps life-ing…

Anonymous said...

Our haole economic system is about to hit the wall. When that happens we will turn to the people who should have been our teachers all along. They are living a sustainable life style. They know how to grow healthy food, fish, hunt and barter and they do it with aloha. When this happens, i hope that there will be some land left on these islands that isn't too toxic to farm, and some people who are not too sick to farm them. You are trying to play nice with dealers in death who don't care about you or me or indigenous people, or sustainability. Unlike other nations, ours does not protect us, so we must protect ourselves.
Ka'imi is my good friend too, and needs support. We need to embrace and support him and others like him. To do so is to support ourselves; the very best part of ourselves. I understand what you're saying, and believe we are doing the best we can to address all of the issues you mentioned.

Anonymous said...

"Haole" economic system?

There is plenty of nontoxic land and healthy people to grow food. Are you waiting for economic collapse to get started? Quit blaming the chem companies!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for reminding us we always have a choice.

islandwide said...

Show evidences that Seed Companies are poisoning the land. If the land is poisoned, why are they still growing things on it? If countries have banned GMO's why are they importing millions of $$ in food and farm feed from the USA? We are the only country that is capable to feed more people in the world more than any other country, That's a fact!
Why is that?

Troy said...


Poisoning the land may be a bit of an emotional overstatement, but I can help clarify what the previous poster meant.

Contemporary industrial agriculture, albeit gmo or not, is solely dependent on cheap and abundant fossilu fuel. Oil from the ground is used to manufacture everything from synthetic fertilizers, to herbicides and pesticides. The yields that these companies boast are made possible only by cheap energy. Simply, there is not much, if any, native fertility in the west side's gmo seed plots. If I walk out to my backyard, prep a bed and broadcast a diversity of seeds, I will have food in a couple of weeks. If I walk out to a GMO seed plot, throw some seeds on bare soil, I would be unlikely to get much food. Reason being, those fields have been stripped of the minerals and elements necessary to healthy plant growth due to excessive monocropping of sugar cane and later GMO corn. The corn looks green and healthy only because of the absurd amount of chemical inputs that are needed to sustain such growth. The kicker is, there's only so much cheap and abundant fossil fuel energy.

Troy said...

Aloha Joan,

I began reading in hopes that you might shed some light on practical individual or collective steps that could be taken get willing farmers on the land. You offered up this;

"Under a practical solution, folks mobilize for work days to clear, open and plant loi. People get exercise, learn useful skills, gain an understanding of land, water and culture, meet neighbors, build community and feel a sense of pride every time they look at that loi, or harvest from it. Money is invested in buying tractors, fixing water systems, securing leases. Healthy, indigenous food is produced."

I think organizing a neighborhood rally to clear and open land (public land, private land, the front yard of a bank owned vacant house????) is rather romantic and nice sounding, but not very practical. Are you suggesting forming neighborhood farming coops, where everyone chips in for farming infrastructure (drip tape, irrigation, spades, shovels, o'os, chainsaws for clearing, tractors for opening)? The cooperative or commune idea is just to radical for most, the environment is not ripe for it, and people are generally cantakerous.

As a previous poster stated, this does sound like Malama Kauai's projects, the community garden/food forest projects, and the farmer start-up programs where the farmer would be paired with some wealthy landowner upon completion of the course. Worthy endeavors indeed, but did it work? Did it add to food independence? Will community neighborhood garden rallies lessen our dependence on imported foods?

Will shifting our paradigms and 'being the change' accomplish our goals? I believe it will, but it may take decades, or it may never happen on a collective level in the way that some want it. Your local taro farmer friend seems to be operating from a sensible paradigm, but it's been nine years since he's found a space to farm. I've been searching for nearly six years for a place to farm. I don't have much time for neighborhood garden rallies because I'm busy making money to cover the costs; rent, utilities, even food. I would like nothing more than to find a long-term land lease, or purchase at an affordable price, but those options have not been made available.

I was hoping to glean 'practical' resolutions to these very challening issues, but found none that were very convincing. Maybe the two are incompactible, paradise and agriculture. The land becomes to valuable for growing anything but resorts, roads, and parking lots.

Joan Conrow said...

I am not intending to suggest there is a one-size-fits-all answer, but to show that we have choices in how we respond to situations. We need many different approaches, including cheap, long-term leases for beginning farmers who have some promise of succeeding.

My example of clearing a loi was based on the Hui Kalo model, where many people working together can quickly pull a loi into shape so a farmer or two can manage it from there.

No, I don't think the Malama Kauai projects did very well, but that doesn't mean any related concept should be rejected. You just need people who know what they're doing in the leadership roles. Backyard gardens could help lessen our dependence on imported food. In generations past, Kauai folks did produce much of what they ate, in part by working together in ways we do not see now.

As for practicality, I'd suggest "being the change." That will shift your own life, which is the only one you have any semblance of control over.

Anonymous said...

Let me know April 28, 2014 at 1:09 PM when you see those walls coming because all I can see are great distances open to possibilities. But I hate to observe that the concept community farms is not new. People did such things ever since it became vogue in the 60s and it was all love, peace and joy until fewer and fewer people began showing up to do the work. It’s so hard to maintain an enterprise when it’s not fueled solely by lofty egalitarian goals. Sadly, human nature always seems to lose interest in those lofty goals and community efforts fade away. That’s why we have government. It takes money from us and pays to have these things done for us so we can be busy doing the things that directly and materially reward us like developing commercial farms to feed us.

Anonymous said...

RE: the Above Comment

Sorry I meant: It’s so hard to maintain an enterprise when it’s fueled solely by lofty egalitarian goals.