Hale Akua featured in MauiTime!

Growing Forward

Producing Your Own fruits and vegetables may seem like hard work, but the payoff is ample – just ask the folks at Hale Akua

by Deborah Taj Anapol

This article appeared in the Green Issue of MauiTime, April 22, 2010

Lori Grace is passionate about contributing to a greener planet. When the County began enforcing agricultural zoning restrictions in January 2008, she decided to convert her eight-acre estate on Maui’s North Shore into a productive farm. The 59-year-old environmental activist, educator and philanthropist didn’t realize at first how demanding this makeover would be. Hale Akua always grew a variety of fruit trees, taro and flowers, but it’s now undergone an amazing transformation, reversing the usual trend of converting ag land into luxury subdivisions by dramatically increasing the amount of land under cultivation. While pre-contact Hawaiians had thriving communities throughout Huelo, this windswept coastal land was mostly cow pasture before being subdivided into large estates.

It hasn’t been an easy task restoring fertility to the compacted clay soil, but farm employees Mary Wooldridge, Lisa Hotchkiss and Chris Buehler enjoy a challenge. Mary planted her first seed at the age of two. She has happy memories of her grandparents’ farm in Indiana where she was inspired by her grandfather’s example of making his own compost and her grandmother’s expertise as a master gardener. Raised in the Mississippi Delta, Mary recalls, “It’s farm country. I was always on farms growing up.” After starting her own landscaping business, she earned degrees in plant science and horticulture from Louisiana Technical University before coming to Maui in 2005. Soon she was helping people all over the island put in home gardens.

When the folks at Hale Akua Garden Farm heard about Oahu-based Jay Ogden’s Gardens-to-go raised bed setups, they saw it as a perfect way to educate condo dwellers and others with tight living spaces about growing their own fresh organic produce. Hale Akua is in the process of setting up a demonstration Gardens-to-go box so visitors can see one in action. While anyone can create a container garden, these boxes—made from recycled high-density plastic—make it easy and rewarding. They require no tools for assembly and come with automatic watering systems, an aeration system and protective fencing to keep out birds and animals. Organic soil and non-toxic weed-control promise healthy produce, while the waist-high design means no aching backs or knees from bending over.

Ogden and his wife, Paulette Fukumoto, say they eat fresh produce from their container garden twice daily. “Forty minutes every three months is all it takes to maintain,” Ogden says. Ogden has five of the 36-square-inch boxes in his backyard and hopes to eventually distribute them throughout the country. “The minute we detach ourselves from the growing of our own food is the moment we go wrong,” says Ogden. “This doesn’t mean we have to grow everything we eat—that’s just not practical in today’s world. But we can all eat something that we’ve grown ourselves every day if we want to.” “I like being in my garden, being around things that are growing, because it feels good,” continues Ogden. “It makes me happy. And our plants do better when we’re around them. They miss us when we go away for a couple weeks. But with this system, we can go away, because it’s self-watering.”

Growing your own food makes sense everywhere, but especially in Hawaii where we enjoy a year-round growing season. For those who prefer to buy their produce, or want to supplement what they grow, Hale Akua Garden Farm offers greens, herbs, eggplant and root crops at Mana Foods, Hanzawa’s, Rodeo General Store in Makawao, Pukalani Superette and a variety of other stores and restaurants islandwide. Lisa Hotchkiss, who also works as an inspector for Hawaii Organic Farmers Association, supervises the use of bokashi and vermiculture to increase fertility at the farm. Lisa says any home gardener can do the same.

Bokashi is made by fermenting wheatbran, molasses and effective microorganisms, and then layering it with compost. This helps decrease bacteria and viruses, which can cause disease, and replaces them with nitrogen-rich microorganisms. It’s the same idea as eating yogurt to restore the ecology of your digestive tract. Raising worms that feed on mature compost and excrete high-nitrogen vermicast is another fast and efficient way to produce fertilizer. Hale Akua offers classes to help people implement these and other sustainable practices.

Joseph Dunsmoor, a sustainable farming consultant who’s been in Hawaii for more than a decade, wants to create large-scale systems for recovering protein waste and converting it to nitrogen fertilizer instead of sending it to the landfill. Since the 1970s, Dunsmoor has owned and operated organic farms in Belize, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Maryland.

“Hawaii soils are volcanic in origin and because of non-sustainable practices introduced by Mainland agribusiness, they tend to be poor in nutrients,” he says. “Fertilizers are very expensive in Maui. In old Hawaii, waste recovery and intact forest ecosystems kept the soil fertile. Creating nutrient-rich soil will make farming in Hawaii more sustainable for the future.”

Maui is full of inspiring people and organizations that are thinking outside the box (and in some cases, inside the raised bed) to make the most of our fertile surroundings. Hale Akua—and the individuals who have contributed to its transformation—is one blossoming example. To more information about Hale Akua Garden Farm or to arrange a tour, call 572-9300; for information about Garden-to-go boxes, visit www.yourgardenstogo.com

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