For the past few months, the Light of My Life and I have been showing up at the early Saturday-morning Upcountry Farmer’s Market fairly frequently.
It has been some years since either of us visited the market.
For us, the market is a delightful surprise and has become a treasured part of our weekend routine.
Every time we go there are old friends who we haven’t seen for a long time. We touch base with other friends. We make new ones as well.
The market has also been a personally poignant reminder that a “movement” is really just people building community and connection and developing ways to share the resources that surround us.
WE SERVE COMMUNITY TO BUILD COMMUNITY
That’s the motto of this home-grown market that is one of the longest running gathering places for farmers, hunter-gatherers, food artisans and creative business folks on Maui — an island where dedicated foodies spend a lot of their time seeking out more variety, better quality, and lovely new taste sensations.
The concept that the people living in the islands need to grow more of our own food, out of which the market and others like it has grown, is a recurring theme for those of us who live here.
“Food security” – the assurance that a person will be able to get food to sustain the people he or she cares about from the place where they live — is a very real concern when the various estimates by all kinds of experts say that 85 to 90 percent of all of the food we consume here is shipped or flown in from other places.
The whole system that is now in place is a wonder to behold.
Consider this: The islands of Hawaii are physically located way-the-hell-and-gone in a very big ocean.
The closest landmass to the Hawaii is a point on the southernmost tip of an unnamed peninsula in Alaska overlooking Ikatan Bay…a whopping 2,259.28 miles from Tunnels Beach on Kauai.
(The second-closest is near Flumeville, California, also more than two thousand miles away from Hakalau on the Big Island.)
And, yet, if you wander through any food store on any island – even the smallest ones – you will find a truly incredible array of food from every part of the planet.
The whole thing is also a precariously balanced system.
It is not hard to imagine worst-case scenarios where a series of disastrous natural events might stop the flow of ships and aircraft hauling in all that food.
People do like to point out that folks got along quite well in the old days without all that fancy stuff.
The native peoples grew and harvested enough food to get by and live their lives well before the coming of all those tall ships and the new thoughts that flowed in.
Of course, the native systems of land management and ownership were very different than our current ones.
The foods that were available might have been plentiful, but they were limited to a few staple crops and rounded out by some animals that were imported to the islands by early Polynesian settlers as well as the abundance of fish and bird-life back then.
Our ancestors developed an impressive array of survival skills that most modern-day folks replaced with other skills that are better adapted to all of the modern-day systems of “conveniences” we now enjoy.
IT TAKES A TRIBE TO GROW A CHILD AND KEEP ON FEEDING IT
It occurred to me that the survivalist tactics of the self-reliance extremists with apocalyptic visions who live on continents may not be particularly pertinent to people who are stuck on an island.
Yes, you can learn many of the skills you need to optimize the resources available to you, but one person or even one family or smallish group has a limited amount of knowledge and energy to make a life of abundance all by themselves.
Then, of course, there’s the problem of having to deal with the hungry neighbors. Yipes!
One of the most important considerations the ones who are all “me-for-myself-and-mine” is the fact that without planes or ships when you pack up and leave, you won’t get very far on a relatively small island.
(Maybe that’s why Oceanic ancestors did a lot of sailing around.)
Setting up a survivalist camp that’s off the grid in the bushes is not a real option for many of the people on an island.
(For one thing, it does cost a lot of money and requires all kinds of technological knowledge and skills to set up something that is actually sustainable in the long run.)
Bumbling along and working as a community of people of good will to help each other survive on a day-to-day basis seems a more viable option to more moderate sorts.
With this in mind, many people on all of the islands have banded together to work on trying to produce more of our own food and on developing networks that will be able to sustain us if things go very bad.
This video, “Farmer’s Perspective” was published in 2016 by GoFarm Hawaii, a University of Hawaii program. It contains a number of different viewpoints from several farmers who’ve been involved with the program and is an interesting look at the agricultural efforts and mindsets of small, diversified farmers in the islands.
It’s been happening for a long time now.
LOCAVORES “BUY LOCAL”
The “Buy Local,It Matters” campaign, a joint project of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation, encourages residents of Hawaii to purchase local produce.
(Click on the campaign name for more information about it. It is the latest in a long line of government efforts to address the problem.)
The button below takes you to an open data portal put up by the State of Hawaii Ag guys that presents some solid measurements and facts about food production in Hawaii and more information about the effort to keep on expanding our capacity to grow our own food.
The goal of all of this measuring effort that started in 1997 is to double local food production.
As consumers, our choice to “buy local” even when the imported stuff in the very next bin or shelf at a supermarket is quite a bit less expensive (in terms of money) is definitely a way to help our neighbors and our own selves work towards a more sustainable life, it seems to me.
BACK TO THE MARKET
Mat and I remember when the Upcountry Farmers Market was held at Makawao’s St. Joseph’s Church. (Has it really been more than 40 years ago?)
Some young “back-to-the-land” advocates and tree-huggers (many of them friends of ours) started the thing.
It grew as backyard gardeners, small local farmers, hunter-gatherers and fishing folks as well as crafters and artisans joined in, sharing the food they grew and the products they created from island offerings with their neighbors in trade for other things they needed or for some extra side-money.
The Upcountry Farmers Market migrated to the Eddie Tam Community Center in Makawao after it got too big for the church space.
The market vendors and their aficionados continued to meet there for 31 years, braving weather and fickle or clueless customers and the confusing convolutions of red-tape and other bureaucratic busy-ness to keep on doing what they did.
By the time the rules and regs for the use of the popular and much-used public facility became too cumbersome and restrictive for the market vendors, a new place opened up down the road in Pukalani.
The market moved once again in 2010 to an out-of-the-way part of the parking lot at the still-under-construction Kula Malu town center.
It has grown from a core group of a dozen or so die-hard folks who fervently believe in producing and providing food and other locally made products that are, as they say, “thousands of miles fresher” to an ever-evolving and growing group of more than fifty-plus regular vendors.
They set up their tables and tents at the market every weekend to sell their fresh produce, plants and flowers, their “grinds,” and other wares to hundreds of devoted fans and other folks.
Smiles and hugs are standard greetings there. Talking story is a favored pastime as well.
THE MARKET AS A SLICE OF HISTORY
Checking out what the market offers has been an eye-opener for me.
It got me thinking that, for real, a heck of a lot of the foods we consider “native” or “Hawaiian” or “local” fare were imported to the islands at some point in history.
Almost all of our foodstuffs are pretty much “foreign” species. Many of them might even be considered “invasive.”
Think about it.
When Polynesians first touched ground on the islands, the only indigenous edible plants were some ferns, ‘ohelo berries, and a panoply of seaweed.
Maybe some palm seeds and nuts floated in on the tides and took root, but the chances were pretty slim.
The animal life on the island back then included assorted birds (now mostly extinct) and bugs, the fish and sea life in the ocean surrounding the islands, and some small critters in the streams.
Remember that these islands are located thousands of miles away from anyplace else.
That’s a long way to go when you’re clinging to a piece of driftwood. Few plants and probably no land animals from the continents made it here on their own.
Polynesian voyagers brought kalo (taro), niu (coconut), ʻulu (breadfruit), ʻuala (sweet potato), maiʻa (banana) and ko (sugarcane) on their canoes, as well as chickens, pigs and dogs for meat.
Starting in the 18th century, European explorers dropped off cattle and goats.
Later American missionaries and other plant dudes and entrepreneurs imported macadamia nuts, coffee, and a wide variety of tropical fruits including the pineapple that has come to symbolize the idea of “Hawaii.”
Sheep showed up. So did assorted game birds and beasts suitable for fans of the hunt.
When the sugar and pineapple industries arose in the late 19th century, they precipitated waves of immigrants from China, Japan, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Korea, and the Philippines, as well as various other parts of the Americas, Europe and Asia and the rest of Oceania to work in the fields and to participate in the diverse and constantly evolving island lifestyle.
Every one of them brought foods from home.
They shared their food with their neighbors who learned to like all kinds of ways of cooking and learned to grow a lot of different kinds of plants and animals.
Some things thrived. Others – like apples and other foods that grow well in temperate places — did not.
A lot of that food shows up in many of the farmers’ markets around the state.
The sense of abundance gets mind-boggling as you walk around.
What I’m noticing about being a frequent shopper at the farmers market is that it adds a whole other dimension to the way we cook and the way we think about food.
- I’m noticing that the foodstuffs and value-added products we’ve discovered during our forays into the market can determine what we are going to be cooking and eating for our next few meals.
- Rather than just automatically grabbing this or that vegetable, fruit or meat and preparing the same old stuff we always make, we are reaching for new-to-us things to try.
- We are beginning to combine our finds in different ways than usual. We are learning to substitute new-to-us cousins of foods we already know in old familiar recipes to make a whole other taste sensation.
- Since we’re never sure what is available at the market on any given day, it’s likely that we will become even more ready to remain receptive to the possibilities the market’s offerings present and allow ourselves to be guided by what we choose to get.
- The produce and products we like at the market are all grown or made by the people who are selling them, so we have a chance to ask the sellers about where and how the plants are grown and how a thing is made.
- It’s a chance to find out where the food we are eating comes from and what it takes to produce and process the ingredients we’re planning to use.
- I notice that I am likely to get tips about how to turn the fruits and vegetables that are new to me into meals I can enjoy. (Very often, passersby weigh in with advice as well.)
The whole thing has been a fun-filled, enlivening learning experience.
I expect that as we become more aware of the foods that are commonly available at a certain time of the year, we’ll be able to start planning meals.
Recipes I’ve never tried may become new favorites.
Different styles of cooking that I’ve been meaning to explore may become more do-able and I may even learn some new skills.
Because the mix of vendors changes from week to week, there will always be that element of surprise.
A good thing….
Here’s a poem:
KILLING WINDS GO LEFT
The killing winds turned left.
After a handful of days
Of semi-hysterical predictions
Of impending calamity,
Of urgings to beware, prepare, take care,
After hours and days of making up
Contingency plans that are fading
As the sun comes out from
Behind the clouds,
After watching the wake of
The massive storm devour
The hapless ones who ran out of luck
Stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time,
After watching the valiant ones and the dutiful
Trying so hard to help mitigate
The woes of the disasters
Trailing after the now-gone Chaos-Beast,
The only feeling left in this aftermath
Is a gratitude that seems impossibly inadequate.
We go on, all of us, as we sink back into
The gentleness of everyday
Where breezes and mists are not
Harbingers of awful destruction and death
And petty annoyances are the norm.
by Netta Kanoho
Header Photo credit: “Community of Petals” by Rosa Say via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
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