My best friend Francia Yang, a beautiful half Chinese half Colombian world traveler who lives in Honolulu, Hawaii surprised me with a trip to Kauai for my 25th birthday last year. I was completely mesmerized by the seemingly untouched beauty of the Napali Coast with its emerald green pinnacles towering over the Pacific Ocean for miles, cascading waterfalls plunging into the ocean, piercing aquamarine seas teeming with lazy turtles, happy dolphins and Humpback whales taking care of their young. I remember feeling safe as locals told us that Kauai is one of the more uncivilized and less developed islands of Hawaii.
I left Kauai believing it was one of few untouched islands in the world only to be recently shocked and disappointed about my oblivious misconception. I was browsing the web for environmental documentaries when I stumbled upon “ĀINA, That Which Feeds Us” by Sherpa Cinemas. This short film caught my eye because I noticed that it was about Kauai and I thought it would be nice to learn a little more about the beautiful island I had such fond memories of with Francia. ĀINA is a story about how important it is to take care of our Earth, the only planet we have which nourishes us and feeds us everyday. The film clearly paints a vivid picture of the cultivation process on one small island.
Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands and located northwest of O’ahu. On this beautiful island you will find two very extreme versions of agriculture. On one side of the island you can find local Hawaiians continuing their traditional system for growing food, which has allowed Hawaiians to live in abundance with the Earth for thousands of years. On the other side of the island you will sadly find four of the largest agro-chemical companies on the planet making this part of the island into one of most toxic chemical environments in all of American agriculture. The island is used for developing genetically modified crops and for testing ten tons of pesticides every year on these crops, poisoning the environment and local community around them.
The open air method these crops are being tested in is not allowed in other parts of the world such as Europe. These companies are spraying some of those most poisonous chemicals in the world right next to schools and local communities leaving behind toxins in the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the soil where their food is grown causing serious health issues ranging from respiratory problems to cancer.
If you look back into history you can see how Hawaii’s Polynesian descendants found the Hawaiian Islands thousands of miles away from any other land mass. They were only able to successfully find these pristine islands because they were so attuned to nature. The way these people engaged with nature with everything they did, allowed them to live in harmony with their environment.
We have this common belief that people are bad for ecosystems and that humans will never be able to live in balance with our environment therefore, there is nothing we can do about ameliorating the damage being done. I believe this is just a cheap excuse to clean your hands of the problem and to remove yourself from the situation. When the Hawaiian ancestors arrived to Hawaii, they created a relationship with nature that allowed them to live sustainably with their resources for over 1,000 years. As the documentary states, today more than 1.2 million people live in Hawaii and almost 90% of all of the food and energy to sustain that population is shipped in from other parts of the world. It’s hard to imagine that only 250 years ago, with almost the same population, zero food and energy was imported because these people knew how to live off of the land. If you take care of your resources, the resources will take care of you.
On the other side of the island you will find Hawaiians farming their land like their traditional ancestors did, it’s a complete contrast with the agro-chemical side of the Kauai. The Waipa Foundation is one example where the locals live off their land and resources using the 1,600 acre ahupua’a of Waipa, located on the north shore of Kaua’i. Waipa is a place where people can learn how to live from their resources such as kalo (taro) and a variety of other fruits and vegetables creating and continuing a healthy and sustainable environment.
The United Nations Environment Programme came out with a report called Agriculture at a Crossroads about how we’re going to feed our growing population in the future. I thought it was interesting to learn that one of the main suggestions in the report was the same way Hawaiians farmed 1,000 years ago through agroforestry, high biodiversity, and maintaining healthy and productive natural ecosystems.
As the documentary comes to a close it brings us back to the Hawaiian ancestors and how they had to be in tune to their environment to find their way to the islands. This is still true today, we have to be in tune to nature and to our growing populations if we want to be able to find our way and save the planet from environmental destruction.
“We vote every time we buy food. We vote. We vote for either sustainable, healthy food or we vote for biotech industrial ag.”
–Don Heacock, Biologist, from AINA