Thursday, September 9, 2010

Where does my food come from? Community Gardening Kaua`i Style.

“The best fertilizer for the farm is the farmer’s footprint on the land”
German farmer quoted by Nancy Redfeather on KKCR’s garden show (

Sylvia Partridge moved to Kaua`i eight years ago, and is best known for her musical talents with two CDs out–Heaven is Waiting and Walking Home. She joined the Kilauea Community Garden to learn the answer to her question, “Where does my food come from?” Sylvia, like many of us, has easily navigated through the food pyramid, creating 100s of meals, while maintaining a distance from the origins of the food on her plate. Today, she has set about changing that. By immersing herself in the soil of Kauai’s north shore she is learning to distinguish between the weeds and the small papaya plants that she hopes will soon be lining her breakfast table with their fruit. One of Sylvia’s greatest pleasures is spending time with the other gardeners. “They are inspirational. They come here with a deep seated passion for the garden, the plants, and the land.”

'Grow Your Food, Grow Your Future
Kilauea Community Garden, based on the principle ‘Grow Your Food, Grow Your Future’ is a four acre parcel on Wai Koa Plantation leased to Malama Kaua`i for the purposes of establishing a community garden (malamakauaiNews).
Gardening community-style is not a typical feature of Kaua`i’s contemporary agricultural landscape. While in years past, plantation camps offered a bit of land for gardening or individual plots for families, the notion of formalized community gardens is really blossoming just in the past few years.  A major impetus for Kaua`i is in recent years we have become more influenced by economic issues, more concerned about the quality of our food and cognizant of our isolation from our food sources. Lets face it–3,000 miles is a long way to go for groceries. But generally that’s at least the distance 80 to 90% of our food travels to get to the island’s shores and stores. Building our capacity to feed ourselves has been a great motivating factor for many of our small farmers and gardeners for years on Kaua`i and today, the idea is growing.

Jerri Di Pietro of GMO free
Kauai see
for more on efforts in
Hawaii to keep taro GMO free.

 One practice that sets this community garden apart is the commitment to preserving genetic diversity.  In the Regenerations plot (see, eight varieties of taro, known in Hawai`i as kalo, intertwine, completely filling the 18 x 20 foot space and reaching for the sky. Some of these kalo are seldom seen today.

Here in Hawai`i, the growing and cultivation of the kalo plant is a tradition that stretches back for centuries.  The Hawaiians loved, honored, and cared for kalo and were in turn, as the creation story implies, fed and supported by it for generations and generations.  By tending carefully the kalo, the Hawaiians eventually cultivated more than 300 varieties by selecting the plants for certain conditions, climates, and soils and by hand-pollinating over years and years. (Excerpt from interview with Walter Ritte and Jerry Konanui for more see

Kalo, cultivated as part of the
Kauai Community Seed Bank Project
of regenerations Botanical Garden.

Other treasured taro varieties have been brought into Hawai’i by different cultures. For example the Fa`a Fausi, one of the kalo flourishing in the Kilauea garden, originated in Tonga. This taro boasts beautiful variegated stems, patterned leaves and reportedly a fantastic tasting orange corm. Growing these varieties in the Kilauea Community Garden produces a wealth of planting material destined for distribution to gardeners island-wide. Taro is vulnerable, like many plants, to a range of pests and is considered quite delectable to the wild pigs. The largest collections of taro on Kaua`i are maintained at UH CTAHR’s Research station in Wailua and at Limahuli Garden in Ha`ena. Sadly other collections have been wiped out by the foraging of feral animals looking for a tasty treat. To volunteer on the Kaua`i Community Seed Bank Project, contact

A successful community garden needs to be tended
by a dedicated gardener like Paul Massey, who
takes the lead at Kilauea.

 If you want to learn some basic gardening skills and discover hidden tips and insights from experts, then a community garden could offer you just the right setting. Here at the Kilauea Community Garden, while ground breaking only happened last November, in less than one year it is filled to the brim with plants and people. The site is 4 acres total with the initial 48 plots filled but more in the planning. Malama Kaua`i has exciting plans for the next phases of the community garden. To learn more about how you can get involved contact Malama Kaua'i at

The Kilauea Community Garden is a site of exceptional peace and beauty. People come to learn about food, to grow food for others and to share in the bounty and joy that comes from growing your own. Some might come just for the sanctuary it offers.
Laurel Francis helps with the harvest of Spanish
Pumpkin, Cucurbita maxima. Photo contributed by Paul Massey.

NatureTalks is dedicated to connecting people with nature. Currently we are exploring the local garden scene to see what’s blooming. We specialize in environmental education and urban forestry programs.  If your environmental project needs a hand, see for more details or contact naturetalks to talk about your specific project.

1 comment:

Maralyn45 said...

This is a nice style of gardening..keep the good work....up...i liked your post..