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Life of the land – Ola ‘Aina

For 800 years, the ancient Hawaiians were able to live and Ahupua'athrive of off of the island’s land. The state of Hawaii’s motto is “Ua mau ke o ka ‘aina i ka pono” meaning “ the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”. In other words, doing what is right for your life and for the land will ensure health and prosperity from the life of the land. This perspective was evident in how the Hawaiians managed their land. They divided the land according to the ahupua’a system, where divisions followed streams and rivers from the mountains to the shore. Within each section lay all the resources needed for survival. The “kapu” system enforced a system of strict laws to regulate and limit the amount of resources that could be extracted from the land. With every tree that was cut and every plant that was pulled, they asked the land for permission and used every piece that was taken. The Hawaiians were able to sustain the land while being enriched from it.

However, the world today has become so unsustainable that recent studies show that the earth has only 60 years of fertile topsoil left if humans continue to treat the land the way we do. Humans today believe that the Earth was only made to supply them with resources and their greed is destroying our precious little marble in space. Earth is a very delicate planet and we humans are even more fragile. Industrialized farming, the way it is being managed today, is so unsustainable and damaging that since WWII 2.47 billion acres of land have been destroyed and over-grazing and deforestation has damaged 22 million acres of land. By 2050, in order to meet demand for food, 300 million more acres of natural habitats will need to be converted into mono culture farmland. Mono culture is the use of land with only one crop. This type of farming not only damages the topsoil because it depletes the land of nutrients but also is horribly inefficient.

On our expeditions, we met Dash, an agricultural farmer who started HIP Ag, a non-profit in Kohala. As we toured the farm, Dash showed off his plentiful garden filled with a vast diversity of plants. Polyculture allows for the land to recycle the nutrients and if an area of land needs extra nutrients, he plants a nitrogen fixer; a plant that uses bacteria to grow on its roots to enrich the soil with nitrogen.

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Me, eating some fresh sugar cane.

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Touring Dash’s farm.

Our professor, Dave, was ecstatic to bring some of the nodules back to his garden to help his own plants grow. Polycultures allow for mutualistic growing, creating more nutritious and healthy plants and a flourishing land. Dash and his wife explained that they no longer needed to go to the grocery store, but did on occasion, because they could make their own meals right from their own backyard. Their sustainable lifestyle was so inspiring because it really showed me how damaging the humans are to our planet. Only 30 crops account for 90% of the calories consumed globally. Dash had 3 different types of sugar cane, that were all delicious, and 8 different types of bananas alone. His garden was filled with different layers of plants, from in the ground to shrubs to tall trees. The farm that we visited was surrounded by macadamia nut trees that he could just harvest the nuts without damaging more area. Being able to witness that beauty of a thriving garden was amazing,

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Camping on a taro farm in Waipio Valley.

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Muddy friends on the farm.

But the adventure of being able to harvest and plant the taro plant in the wet valley of Waipio was the most astonishing experience I had the entire trip. Although the rough terrain of reaching the field was an adventure in and of itself, meeting Les and Scotty brought a whole new meaning to my life. As I stepped into the muddy muck, I began to plunge around the wet and fertile taro field, grunting through the hard work. Uncle Les’ grinning face greeted the pack as if we were his own family. He immediately began to joke  and toss us around as if we had known him for years. As he explained the work of taro, I could see the passion behind his dark brown eyes and his cheeky grin. He slapped Reese on the back and said, “I got your back and you’ve got mine.” The spirit of “Ho‘olaulima,” getting together to cooperate, could be felt throughout the entire valley. During the gigantic tsunami on May 23, 1960, a huge wave destroyed the entire Waipio Valley. All of the farmers came together with this same spirit of Ho’olaulima to rebuild each field, one by one. Being able to do the work the ancient Hawaiians once did showed me that you must work and that not everything can be handed to you. Today all we have to do is go to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. But the vegetables and plants that we could grow by ourselves could easily make the humans on this planet more sustainable. Although it is hard work, the feeling of accomplishment after the work is done makes it all worth it. Most people today sit behind a desk without ever feeling fulfilled, but just picking a simple plant made me feel whole.

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Cooling off after a hard day’s work.

The unsustainable world has thrived on the destruction of our mother earth, but the solution is simple…sort of. If I could have my way, I would tell the industry to stop monoculture and to start polycultures. Not only will it increase harvests it will also recycle nutrients and energy into the farms. Diversifying species and focusing on interactions between the plants will create a more sustainable agricultural system. Although I cannot change the big bad companies who make big bucks on monoculture, I can change where my own money goes.  Buying locally grown fruits and vegetables from the farmers’ market and encouraging my friends and family can show the agricultural industry that I mean business. Because I live on the north side of a hill, I can’t grow many vegetables, but I can grow an herb garden. The fresh veggies from the farmers market and the delicious herbs will make for a great salad. In order for our world to become a sustainable community we’ve got to learn how to share. Whether it be growing little gardens in our backyard or neighborhood farms, sustainability isn’t far off. We can each do our own little part of restoring our planet to as healthy as it once was.

In order to try to make my home more sustainable, we are going to have to start watching our water consumption, because living in California means that almost all the water is gone. That means taking shorter showers and not drinking from bottled water to reduce what we use. This nalgene bottle is going to be my best friend!

Written by Sophie T, from Redwood City, CA. Sophie is about to begin her senior year in high school and hopes to one day be a scientist.

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