The Life of Kalo

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Photo: Sela Kauvaka

By Sela Kauvaka, Grade 12, Kanuikapono PCS, Anahola, Kaua‘i

Kalo was not always present throughout the history of the Hawaiian Islands. It is a canoe plant that came with the first Polynesian voyagers.

Here in Hawaiʻi, we still eat kalo every day; in fact, my family still farms it. The reason I enjoy farming kalo is because I learn a lot about how to be self-sustaining. Being self-sustaining is really important because we don’t need to depend on anything or anyone else; we can live on our own. Our kūpuna were self-sustaining, they did everything on their own, from growing food to building their own houses and living off the land.

The most important lessons I have learned about kalo come from the farmer and man that I consider a second father – Adam Asquith. After years of talking with him, the most important thing I have learned is that wherever you go, even if it’s wet or dry, the kalo will grow as long as you give it enough love. He said that our kūpuna even grew kalo in lava fields. This was really special to me to know that I can grow it right in my backyard if I want to.

I spend a lot of time with Uncle Adam, almost as much time as I spend with my own family. Every minute I spend with him I learn more and more, and every time I learn new things about this plant, I fall more and more in love with the kalo.

When I first met Uncle Adam, I could already see his love, his passion, and the humility that he had for farming and for his community. During the many days I spent with him down at Kealia farm, I learned how to plant, harvest, and mostly give love to the kalo. He taught me to always work hard until the job is done.

After losing Kealia farm and moving to Kupanihi farm, we had to start from the very beginning. We dug patches, formed ditches, put in water pipes, and just recently started planting. Being around Uncle Adam and his family has taught me to love the land and how to make do with what we have.

Spending time with kalo and with Uncle Adam has taught me to always be kind and humble. Even when things don’t go the way we want or when things upset us, we always need to stay humble. Growing up working on Kealia and Kupanihi farms makes me realize that this will be our lives forever, and if he were gone tomorrow, I feel that he taught us so much over the years that we would know what to do to carry on his legacy.

This plant has a real value to the community and Hawaiian culture because we aren’t just growing kalo for ourselves, we are also growing it for our families, the community, and for people all over the Hawaiian Islands. Our ancestors used this plant to eat poi for a side meal, made laulau with the leaves, and even used parts of the stem for applying dye to kapa.

Now that I have gained more knowledge about this and have been a part of the family business for almost two years, I want to carry on this business in the future and keep gaining knowledge to pass it on to the next generation so that we can carry on our Hawaiian culture and always give back to the community.