Food sovereignty / For three days in June nearly 100 Oahu high school students gathered in Kahana Valley to become part of growing movement in Hawaii and throughout the world. But instead of protesting the WTO or the war in Iraq, these teens were taking on Hawaii’s dependence on imported produce and fast food chains.
The conference was sponsored by Mao Farms in Waianae and the goal was to educate Hawaii’s youth about food sovereignty. The fourth-annual event drew students from all of Oahu’s regions, and from private, public and charter schools. Similar conferences are set to occur on the neighboring islands.
Food sovereignty is the term used to describe people taking responsibility for and control of their food systems. This year the organizers chose to honor Mailikukahi, the Oahu chief credited with creating the ahupuaa system of land management, which divides land in slices from mauka to makai. Many of Oahu’s regions maintain this ancient system today, especially the agricultural areas of Koolaupoko and Waianae.
The conference occurred as Hawaii is poised to reconsider how its residents get their food. Repeated often over the weekend was the alarming statistic that 85 percent of the food consumed in Hawaii is imported from the mainland. This reliance is despite the fact that the islands boast year-round sunshine and plentiful water for agriculture.
In light of this, the youth delegate was tasked with creating campaigns that would highlight the need for more people to consume local produce. And they were given plenty of inspiration along the way.
For many, the best parts of the conference were the site visits to places practicing sustainable agriculture. There were five sites: Mao Farms, Paepae O Heeia fish pond, Mohala Farm, Hoomakaana Farm and the Reppun Farm in Waiahole.
The future is already here for these exemplars of sustainable agricultural practices. They have been doing what many are just talking about for years. The Reppun Farm has been growing taro and other produce since the 1970s and continues to adapt. When the Bunchy Top virus decimated their banana plants, they needed a crop to replace the bananas and hold the soil on the slopes. And so they planted coffee and cacao trees. Today they are roasting their own coffee and producing chocolate on a small scale.
And when bringing power lines up the Waiahole Valley was going to be far too expensive, the Reppuns placed a hydroelectric generator in the stream running through their farm.
“We weren’t trying to be green,” said Paul Reppun, “we did it out of necessity.”
Therein lays the major challenge for the food movement: convincing non-believers that eating local is a necessity for them when they can head to the Safeway or Foodland and get nearly everything they want. Why should they care whether that food comes from the mainland or not?
That’s where the youth delegation comes in.
Damien Marrero, 17, of the Haikipuu Learning Center, said he would try to plant taro in his neighborhood “if my landlord lets me.” Many said their classmates would be receptive to the idea of eating more local foods, but that cutting back the Jack in the Box and McDonald’s would be challenging.
The culmination of the three-day event was the presentation of the students’ food sovereignty campaigns. Their ideas ranged from the practical (displaying a chart of the “food miles” accumulated to get the food from the farm to the school cafeteria), to the whimsical (making a parody commercial of starving babies, but instead use an overweight baby to highlight the negative impacts of eating packaged, processed products with high fructose corn syrup).
Health is a major reason Hawaii’s residents must change their food sources, especially considering the high rates of obesity and diabetes. At one point in the conference, the audience was asked if anyone in their family had diabetes, and nearly every hand was raised.
Each day of the conference included delicious meals all prepared with food from the Islands and plenty of opportunities to learn how to create food sovereignty in your home.
During the Saturday seminars open to all, attendees learned how to pickle and can, compost and identify limu. There were also many opportunities to mingle and talk story, which seemed to be the real strength of the conference–people from all over Oahu sharing ideas about how to cultivate and grow the food movement.
Participants also learned of the limitations of sustainability from Kelii Kotubetey of Paepae o Heeia fishpond in Kaneohe. He admitted that they still needed to supplement the feed for the fish even though they have restored the vibrancy of the 88-acre pond in Kaneohe.
Pride was apparent among many of the participants, with one moment that was particularly emotional. After spending an entire day cutting mangroves in the fish pond and learning about ancient practices, a dozen or so students gathered and began singing Oli Mahalo. With students like these, it seems the future of the food sovereignty movement is bright.
More information about Paepae O He’eia
From Kamehameha Schools