Permaculture: coming to life on Maui
The word permaculture was created in the seventies by Bill Mollison of Tasmania and David Holmgren of Australia, from a combination of the words “permanent” and “culture.” Mollison has written a book on the subject called “The Permaculture Way: Practical Steps to Create a Self-Sustaining World.”
He says, “I have been vitally concerned about the environment for over forty years, first as a scientist and naturalist, later as a vigorous campaigner against environmental exploitation.” He talks about the idea of permaculture being “a strategy which focuses on sustainable design for urban and rural properties. Permaculture is the conscious design of agriculturally-productive ecosystems and energy conserving settlements which have the resilience, dynamic stability and diversity of natural systems, like forests or grasslands. Such systems provide for their own needs, do not pollute or exploit, and are therefore sustainable in the long term.
“The impetus for all the work I do has been the desire to leave our children gardens, not deserts. I see the great challenge of sustainable agriculture is to produce the food and fibre needed, while sustaining fertile soils, maintaining supplies of clean water, and protecting and enhancing biological diversity and the health of ecosystems. Societies can meet this challenge by supporting vital ecosystems, farmers in their roles as producers and stewards, and urban conservation groups.” You can read more at www.tagari.com.
Local resident Claire Kellerman, of KLARITY.org, founded the Maui Permaculture Network (MPW) in 2006. She says that the “ethics” of permaculture are: “1) Care of the earth. 2) Care of the people. 3) Sharing and returning the surplus of abundance and beauty.” Visit www.pods.gaia.com/mpn for the latest information on that group. There are several permaculture cooperatives on Maui; Kipahulu Ohana (www.kipahulu.org) is one of them.
Penny Livingston-Stark, co-founder of the Permaculture Institute of Northern California and the Regenerative Design Institute, says: “Permaculture is a design method for creating sustainable homes and entire human settlements with the resiliency and stability of a natural ecosystem. Creating a permaculture environment is a gradual and long-range process.”
And that idea is a very real way of life right now at Hale Akua Garden Farm out in Huelo, on Maui’s North Shore. Beginning with a “house blessing” by spiritual leader Lei’ohu Ryder on April 5, 2007, Hale Akua Garden Farm is busily growing. They sell certified organic produce to local restaurants and to neighbors. They host WWOOFers (see www.wwoof.org for information on World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and regularly hold classes on “all aspects of organic farming and permaculture in the Hawaiian Islands,” according to a brochure I was given one morning not too long ago when I went out there to see for myself.
Deva Sundaryo, (former) Farm/Marketing Director of Hale Akua Garden Farm, gave me a tour of the impressive grounds, the office and the three main gardens. “This is an educational, agricultural retreat center and a first-class, certified organic facility, on two acres. We started participating in the WWOOFer program in January; we have ten WWOOFers right now. They are people of all ages and occupations, from all over the world. They stay for a minimum of six weeks, getting room and board in exchange for 25-30 hours of work a week, depending on whether they stay in a tent or a room while they’re here. They come in usually knowing nothing about gardening, and leave being able to feed themselves for the rest of their lives. ”
We walked by neat tool sheds, compost piles, a beautiful view of the ocean and Haleakala, solar panels, a kitchen, and a well-kept pool and hot tub. “There are about twenty kinds of fruit trees on the property – pomelo, cashews, Surinam cherries, mulberries,” Sundaryo said as we walked past a cashew tree with ripe fruit on it.
First stop was the Aloha Garden. “Alo means to face, and ha is the breath of life. The Aloha Garden is the first step to learning how to face gardening, to make beds, plant and harvest. It takes about two weeks before the WWOOFers are actually helping us. I think it’s really marvelous that they come here to learn.
“We have to keep immaculate records to be certified; that makes it easy to show people what to do, and to teach local organic farming and spread the word. We don’t have to have a huge carbon footprint on the food we eat. And it just makes everyone so happy to be in the garden; people love it.
“We grow all sorts of vegetables – turmeric and ginger, golden beets, red beets, Italian parsley, radishes arugula, daikon, fennel, green beans, eggplant, cilantro, poha, or gooseberry – they look like tomatillos but they’re not. Turmeric is a wonderful plant; it sells for nine dollars a pound – everyone should have one in their backyard. We’re growing to sell to restaurants, though, and the produce has to be A grade, the strongest and very best plants. We package up the B grade produce – it tastes just as good and is identical nutritionally, but may be crooked or too small or too large – and sell it to people in the neighborhood. We try to help out by contributing and being a part of the community.
“Sherrie (Sundari) Klappert and Christopher Buehler and I are the main farmers; we all have different methods of farming so people learn all sorts of things,” she said with a smile.
Lori Grace is the property’s owner, and Sundaryo told me about a saying that originated with her: “We’re not just growing vegetables, we’re growing consciousness.” Shiva, the farm’s manager, who has taught yoga classes here for 15 years, said, “The farm has gone through many incarnations. The owner has always had environmental consciousness. We have solar panels and are going to put in a wind-generator; we use a biodiesel van and truck.” Non Violent Communication (NVC) meetings are held at Hale Akua Garden Farm once a week. (See the Center for Non Violence’s website, www.cnvc.org).
“We recently attended the seminar at Maui Community College on Food Safe Farms, and want to make this one of them. We also want to make our kitchen a commercial one, so that you’ll be able to have lunch here in the garden, prepared from fresh organic vegetables, and buy some on your way home to bring with you when you leave. We’re a teaching facility and have gardening classes here every month; we have yoga classes too,” Sundaryo continued.
“The youth, especially, understand that it is essential not to lose our link, our feeling of being connected, to the earth. We all naturally, instinctively, love the earth. It is very nourishing to our souls. We want to show by example that Maui could become an agricultural blueprint for the world.
“Just between here and Paia we could be growing enough food to feed thousands of people daily. It’s not that hard, it doesn’t take that much, and organic farming is not a new or foreign concept; ALL gardening anywhere in the world was organic before 1940, and for well over 15,000 years before that. What it really takes to garden organically, is attention and nourishment. You tend your garden more, you care for it more, but you get so much nourishment, both physical and emotional, from doing that,” Sundaryo explained. She owns a design and consulting firm called Edible Landscaping, and teaches a popular class called “Edible Landscape Design for the Tropics,” that’s offered through the VITEC program at Maui Community College.
Teachers who regularly conduct classes at Hale Akua Garden Farm include Lei’ohu Ryder, who speaks of the Hawaiian spiritual and cultural relationship to the ‘aina and the cycles of the earth; John Pollack of Rancho Relaxzo, a permaculture cooperative in ‘Ulupalakua, teaches permaculture; Richard Kahle, who teaches about things like building windbreaks and growing vegetables in the tropics, and Sherrie Klappert, who also does air layering and teaches How to Certify your Farm Organic and Organic Farming for Children.
Claire Kellerman says, “Permaculture was inspired by an awareness of ecological crisis. Permaculture’s promise is an opportunity for us to establish a new way of living as we are emerging from a dying system, allowing us to preserve our oceans, forests and wild lands from further destruction. Regeneration is possible. We can work with nature with less and less labor required over time, freeing us to focus on more creative and socially responsible work. The network of permaculture designers and dabblers spreads around the world empowered by their connections, supported by organizations like Intentional Communities (www.ic.org) and on-going trainings and workshops.”