Farming for the Future


Mahi (nvt. To cultivate, farm; a farm, plantation, patch.)

Photo: Sylvia Hussey

Aloha mai kākou,

My family, like others in Kohala, kept a garden growing fruits and vegetables and tended our ʻohana loʻi. We also raised chickens, pigs and cows for the benefit of our immediate and extended family, and our community as a whole.

My parents weren’t farmers by profession, but they fed us from the bounty of the ʻāina. We had an abundance of avocados, oranges, banana, guava, coconuts and papaya, and shared what we had with our neighbors. At Christmas time I remember making pans of kūlolo from the kalo we grew in our loʻi. We would slice off slabs and then deliver them to our ʻohana and neighbors.

This sharing of food is engrained in my memory; it wasn’t just farming, it was our community taking care of one another.

In high school I joined the Future Farmers of America (FFA), serving as secretary for three years. At Kohala High School, FFA was one of the most popular clubs; a club for the cool kids. Our teacher was David Fuertes. He and his wife lived at the teacher’s cottage and the life lessons he and his family taught us extended far beyond the classroom.

Yes, we learned to plant, raise and harvest food, graft fruit tree slips, and animal husbandry; we also learned and honed skills in parliamentary procedures, public speaking, recordkeeping, business and science.

Mr. Fuertes had us run concession stands for athletic events – we cooked the food, purchased commodities, tracked inventory, collected cash, made change and prepared financial reports. We ran open markets and coordinated the vendors. As part of FFA we competed in a variety of agricultural demonstrations with other high schools, traveling to the “big cities” of Hilo and Honolulu and staying in real hotels like the Pagoda – a very big deal for country kids from Kohala. Our eyes were opened to the world beyond our small, rural community.

Reflecting on those experiences, I am so grateful. Although not all FFA students became farmers, we cultivated tremendous respect for the craft. Farmers are experts in science, business and technology. Like our kūpuna, they understand the rhythms of the earth, the effects of moon cycles on tides and planting, and growing techniques that date back thousands of years. Every one of us relies on farmers for our very survival.

In this month’s issue of Ka Wai Ola, we take a look at agriculture. Conversations about sustainability have escalated in the months since the pandemic began, with food security for Hawaiʻi as a long-term goal.

Learn about the statewide initiative to “map” Hawaiʻi’s food systems in an effort to develop greater sustainability; UH Mānoa’s GoFarm program; and an organization with a mission to get their neighbors on the land. Meet an ʻulu farmer in Kona who sees the potential of breadfruit as a substitute for imported starches; a Kauaʻi mango farmer using innovative high-density farming methods; and a state senator who farms mamaki on Oʻahu.

These are just a few examples of Native Hawaiians who are integrating ʻike kūpuna with innovative techniques to mālama the ʻāina and provide food for our ʻohana in ways that are consistent with our values and moʻomeheu (culture).

Sylvia M. Hussey, Ed.D.
Ka Pouhana/Chief Executive Officer