Saturday, November 1, 2014

The raging GMO controversy on Maui

At the airport in Kahului, a young California couple was telling me how impressed they were with Maui’s lack of environmental problems and thought that California could learn something from us. They had been here for a week. So I had to say something.

I started with sugar cane. “Sugar cane is burned nine months out of the year. It’s not good for the environment and I know people who have eventually developed breathing problems or asthma after moving here. It’s cheaper to harvest cane this way and there are economic forces behind it.”

Maui may look beautiful on the surface, but we have plenty of environmental concerns.

“Then there’s Monsanto.” Maui and parts of Hawaii are a hotspot for the testing of GMOs, genetically modified organisms, also known as GE organisms, genetically engineered organisms. In Maui’s lovely climate, three seasons of GMO corn can be grown a year and we’re not sure what the environmental and health consequences are from the chemical drift from the fields or from GMO pollen in the air or other effects from this kind of open field testing. It’s a big, hairy issue that has upset a lot of people. Read this article for more background on the GE controversy in Hawaii.

Various photos of the GMO controversy: from the Maui County Farming Ban Facebook Page, the Shaka Movement site, and a pic of a Stop Monsanto stop sign I took.

I wanted to tell them about other problems: run-off from construction into the coral reefs and how taro farmers are upset about water from streams that is being used for big agriculture, but I stopped. I apologized to them. “We have our problems too, but as you know, there are a lot of wonderful things about Maui. They just don’t want the tourists to know.”

GMOs have been such a hot topic on Maui that thinking about them makes me kind of wince. I know people on both sides of the controversy, people who are vehemently opposed to Monsanto’s presence in Hawaii, and people who directly or indirectly benefit from Monsanto’s money.

For years, some Maui residents have pushed for the labeling of genetically engineered food, so that people can decide for themselves what to eat if they know what’s in the food. Several attempts to pass a GE labeling bill have failed. Opponents say GE labeling would hurt the food industry. The latest GMO battle is happening now, in the final days before the November election. It’s historic. The first ever citizen’s initiative is on Maui’s election ballot. Approximately 20,000 signatures were collected, requiring that the public vote on whether or not to enact a GMO moratorium. This moratorium would affect three islands in Maui County: Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

The stakes are incredibly high. Monsanto pours a lot of money into Hawaii’s coffers. There is a lot of propaganda and rallying, and Facebook activity pro and con on this issue. There are TV commercials and radio ads, youtube videos, and telephone surveys. There are rallies and marches and concerts and fundraisers.

There are three unattractive aspects of this media blitz:

1.       Hatred and fear. This kind of propaganda and anger stirs up a lot of deep feelings and self-righteousness, name calling. Fear is running strong on both sides. Fear of losing, fear of survival, fear of speaking up.
2.      Mistruth. The media spin is calling it a ban against farming in Maui County. It’s a temporary ban on GE testing, which could be recalled by a 2/3 vote by the Maui County Council.
3.      Silence and repercussions. I personally know a lot of small farmers who would be very outspoken against GMOs, but have been told clearly that if they speak out, their organizations will lose County funding.  

Core issues going on at the heart of the GMO debate.

The most predictable thing about controversial environmental issues is that the debate rhetoric is the same: pitting “jobs” vs. “the environment.” As if they are mutually exclusive. How about a world in which jobs and environment can be said in the same breath, and be on the same side? It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but the debate is framed that way, over and over again.

If we could take away fear of survival, how would people vote or act? It’s very hard to vote against one’s self-interest or one’s paycheck. If you’ve ever quit a job to step into the unknown, you know what I mean. It’s also very hard to speak up if one’s funding is on the line. You can’t expect anyone to act rationally or thoughtfully if survival is at stake. You also don’t get any good solutions when people are in this much fear.

If we could take away the hatred, how would people act? Monsanto, whether they know it or not, is actively hated on this island and elsewhere for past and present actions. There may also be hatred towards anyone who is believed to threaten the local economy or jobs. If we could convert hatred to energy, we could power the island. 

I have four brainstorming ideas:
1. Environmentalists are often accused of not thinking of the short term: the immediate effect on jobs or the economy. The changes in policy can seem drastic. If there is a solid, believable plan for immediate job relief or economic assistance, a safety net, during a proposed policy change, people will have less fear. Much easier said than done.
2. Put workers and managers from Monsanto, environmentalists, farmers, and county officials in Outward Bound programs together. They will not be allowed to talk about politics or religion but have to overcome obstacles and physical challenges together. There was a program that put Israeli and Palestinian children in summer camp. At the beginning of the camp, the kids hated each other, but over time, they started to get along, and by the end of the program, they were friends. In the short term, Outward Bound for adults won’t cause a lot of immediate change, but in the long run, people will be able to talk to each other better, because they will have experienced being on the same side.
3. Monsanto could change its reputation. Monsanto has a besmirched reputation which you can google. It could do something beneficial for the environment and provide jobs, like restoring damaged cropland or cleaning up superfund sites. Monsanto has a lot of brainpower and technology, which could be channeled to large scale agricultural remediation and regeneration, i.e., agriculture that improves the soil and environment.
4. Environmentalists, in a concerted and strategic way, could buy stock in Monsanto to influence how this company makes money. Individual investors who dislike Monsanto’s corporate policy would not be recommended to buy stock, unless participating in a venture that pools money from environmental investors to create corporate change.

Is there anything that Monsanto, county officials, and environmental advocates can agree on? I don’t think anyone wants to stop farming or put farmers out of business. I think everyone wants there to be enough food for people. I think everyone wants people to have jobs and a healthy economy. How to get there is where the disagreement is. In a way, I’m glad not to be on Maui right now while the debate is raging. No matter who “wins,” there are going to be consequences and more questions. The resentment around this issue is not going to go away until people really feel like they can talk to each other and the current debate isn’t allowing for that.

I’d like to be able to say to the California couple a few years from now, that Maui has found its own path to economic growth that is aligned with the environment, that it is doing long term, intelligent planning. A Maui with vibrant local farming which provides jobs and has unique agricultural products. The question is, do you have to completely start from fresh, or can you have a gradual shift emerging out of the old world?

“Man’s present technology is not a mistake – it is not possible to make a mistake – rather it is an extremely primitive precursor of the incredible organic technology that it is man’s destiny to construct/create in this universe.” – Paul Williams, Das Energi

Upcoming Events:
Made in Maui County Festival, this Saturday, November 8th. First ever event to promote products made on Maui (and Molokai and Lanai).

Dine Out for Hospice Maui, November 11th

Hui No'eau Wailea Food & Wine Festival, November 14th


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Six reasons to go to the Maui Seed and Plant Exchange

Six reasons to go to the Maui Seed and Plant Exchange

Organic Farmer Gerry Ross of KupaĆ” Farms with the Mana Ulu taro variety.

For a gardener, visiting a well-run local seed swap is like winning a jackpot. If you have a green thumb or have ever harbored the slightest hope of turning your brown thumb green, the upcoming Maui Seed and Plant Exchange is worth your time. And it’s free! It will be held on Sunday, October 26th from 1 – 4 pm at the Hawaiian Canoe Club hale, Hoaloha Park on Kaahumanu Avenue, across from the Maui Mall in Kahului.

The seed swap in June was amazing. Organized by Maui Seed Savers founders Evan and Elan, the seed swap tables were piled with seed packets, bags of seeds, leaves, roots and stems. Plants that you’ve never heard of were there. Plants that are harder to get were there. Plants that other people have successfully grown on Maui were there.

Note: I am traveling and am very jet lagged, using a computer that I don't normally use with a very strange screen, so these pictures are not edited, and may be incredibly blurry, and are not organized. A future project will be to go back to this post and clean it up - one day. Thanks for understanding!

By the way, if you don’t have any seeds or plants to share, you are still highly encouraged to come to the event. If you have seeds or plants to share, please bring them, but if you don’t, it’s better for you to attend if you’re interested instead of staying at home because you feel you are not contributing.  You can always share in the future when you are able.

That’s part of the point of having a seed swap and plant exchange. It’s not just to trade seeds and get free seeds. It’s to find out what grows on Maui.
So six reasons to attend the Maui Seed and Plant Exchange.

1.   Free stuff
Woo hoo! Getting free stuff appeals to one’s inner freeloader. It’s always nice to get free things and to give things, not only because it saves money but it creates community and connections. You can pay to buy seeds, but it’s not the same as getting free seeds from someone who you have met and has a connection to that plant.

2.   Save time and effort
You can buy packets of zucchini seeds but they may not grow that well on Maui, or not that well in your particular micro climate on Maui. You might be at the wrong elevation, or have the wrong soil, or have too much wind, or too much dampness to have success with that particular zucchini variety. You could perhaps buy 10 zucchini varieties and maybe one of them will actually grow and produce zucchini, but it’s trial and error. Going to a seed swap gives you a chance to obtain seeds of plants that have grown successfully on Maui. At the June swap, there was a huge bag of corn seeds of a variety developed by UH Manoa, specifically for Hawaii soils and conditions. I have had a terrible experience with growing corn here. My plants got about a foot high and then keeled, due to the mosaic virus in the soil. Some people have had success growing mainland corn varieties from some random seed packet bought at Walmart or Home Depot, but most of us have torn out our hair.

3.   Variety
The variety of plants at the seed exchange is amazing. Herbs you’ve never heard of, or that may require research to obtain, like the moringa tree or epazote, an herb used to make beans more digestible, and save your friends and family from your sneaky gas attacks. Or heirloom varieties of sugar cane or different varieties of taro, the treasured local Hawaiian starchy vegetable.  You won’t find some of these varieties at the local nursery or hardware store. Also, you are contributing to genetic variety by saving seeds and planting different varieties, not just the few that are commonly available.

Why is genetic variety important?  Long story short, having a lot of genetic variety for one plant species or crop provides greater resilience and adaptability to changes in the environment, bugs, diseases, and human needs. Protecting genetic variety is crucial to supporting local agriculture that can feed an island.

4.   Education
Going to the plant and seed swap is educational. You’ll learn how to grow different plants and tips on what not to do. The volunteers in June were all farmers or gardeners so you could ask them random gardening questions too, even if they weren’t related to the seeds or plants on the table.

5.   Preserve local culture and heritage.
By cultivating plants that are valued by the native Hawaiians or other ethnic cultures on Maui, you help preserve local history and heritage. Taro, sweet potatoes, bananas, chayote squash, moringa, mamaki, breadfruit, and sugar cane have cultural significance in Hawaii. There are more varieties than the ones that are commonly available, and each variety may have different culinary features or uses.

6.   Food Security
In one of those zombie apocalypse scenarios where there are no boats to Hawaii bringing supplies of toilet paper, coal, and food (with TP being the most important item, just kidding), being able to grow local food crops that can withstand Maui’s unique growing conditions is going to be part of human survival. Maybe it will never happen, but what if? Even if life is still normal, you get to part of promoting local food security by growing your own food and saving seeds and plants that grow well locally.

Lastly, you should go because I am traveling off-island and cannot attend the next seed swap. Let me know how it is!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Rise and Shine! Visiting the Upcountry Farmers Market

Visiting the Upcountry Farmers Market is a way to experience the sheer joy of having a garden or farm without all the work!  It’s like drinking a jolt of green wake up juice that gives you a gentle but firm energy boost. All this green growing energy runs through your veins and arteries and you feel wonderfully alive, like a young plant shooting up to greet the morning sun.

Yup, it’s early, so if you like to sleep in late, this is probably not your farmers market. But if you can get there by 7 am, you bright-eyed, bushy-tailed early bird you, then you’re in for a treat. Warning: If you get there past 8 am, there’s the risk that some of the goodies are sold out. For the best selection, get there at 7 or even before. You can grin at all the late comers with the satisfaction that you got to see the market in its full glory. If you get there later, don’t despair. The market has become so good and popular that many booths are still open at 9 am or so.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Preparing for the Zombie Hurricane Apocalypse - Iselle and Julio

Amazingly, the sun is shining at this very moment and the rain has paused. But the last few days have been a bit crazy on Maui (and the rest of Hawaii) as local residents and visitors prepare for a double whammy hurricane. Is it the zombie hurricane apocalypse, or is it just a lot of rain coming our way? (Make sure to click on the blue rectangle "Read Next Page" at the bottom to see cartoons by parody account @tropstormiselle.)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Crazy school bus accident, and the dangers of the road by Mama's Fish House

Maui is so relaxed and rural, it seems that nothing really bad could happen here. And while we complain regularly about traffic, it’s nothing compared to anywhere else. Excluding the Road to Hana, which has scores of one-lane bridges and more curves than the Swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated.

Photo by Corinne Bourgoin on MauiWatch.

DH and I are driving down Hana Highway towards Paia this morning, around 10:30 am, and suddenly come across a road block, just past Hookipa Beach Park. WTF??? Both lanes are closed and there’s a detour up Holomua Road, that goes into the sugar cane fields and leads to the old Maui High School.

Both lanes of Hana Highway are blocked!
This is the view coming back down Holomua Road to Hana Highway, on our way back.

Even though we have last century’s TV at home, complete w/ rabbit ears and fuzzy snow, I am armed with mobile technology. The Facebook page for MauiWatch, which gives Maui residents the latest accident and traffic news plus other breaking news, says there is a BIG accident with a school bus last night. Someone stole an Akina school bus and crashed it outside the entrance to Mama’s Fish House restaurant, walked away from the crash and tried to hitchhike! WTF?? This accident also explains why the power went out in the middle of the night.

How the heck are we going to get to Paia? It turns out, there are roads that wind through the cane fields and hit Baldwin Avenue. I am using my map app on the iphone and see a cross road called Lower Hamakuapoko Road, but there is a big yellow gate across it. We drive a little further, wondering if we have to go all the way to Makawao (7 miles out of the way) and a truck and car shoot past us. Hey, they must know where they are going! Besides, it’s an island, so how lost can we get?

OMG! Where are we?!
Somewhere in the deep boonies of the sugar cane fields above Paia.

We follow the truck and car and take the next right going towards Paia. It’s a windy road, but it’s paved, but there are sneaky vicious attack potholes (VAPs) that are ready to pounce on lazy drivers. DH manages to avoid most of the VAPs and we follow the curves, hoping not to lose sight of the car in front, then we turn right and voila! We are on Baldwin Avenue, heading down the hill to Paia. Good old Baldwin Avenue, I could kiss thee!

Down we go, and WTF!? There is a line up of cars going all the way down to Paia. We wait for 10 minutes in traffic, move about 10 feeet, and then decide that the powers that be do not want us in Paia, so we go home.  

Baldwin Avenue, past the Maui Yoga Shala (the old Paia Train Station,
about a mile up the hill from Paia town) is bumper to bumper with cars coming down through the accident bypass. We are heading back home, to Haiku.

The full story of the crazy school bus snatcher? Beats me. From what I gather on Facebook, he stole the bus last night, passed another car on a double yellow line, was being pulled over by police, and then took off again and flipped the bus over outside Mama’s. Some commenters said the driver tried to hitchhike and then ran off into the cane fields.

Here are a couple of comments from MauiWatch's Facebook page (original punctuation and spelling):

 “apparently dis bus was driving crazy passed my mom on a double and was pulled over by the cops when my mom was giving her statement and before the cop could get to the bus da driver took off and flipped the bus by mamas

 "The driver of the bus stay hitch hiking on baldwin and olomoa street. Brown shirt "hawaiis finest" on the front and black shorts."

But I kinda have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) around the area near Mama’s Fish House. 

8 years ago, I had a bad accident around that bend. I had my little rusty Maui cruiser (what we call a beat up car on Maui, a lemon that runs). After I pass Mama’s this minivan coming towards me, suddenly turns left in front of me towards Mama’s back parking lot. WTF!? I brake, but hit the van in the middle.

My airbag goes off and punches me in the chest. I am in shock that this dude out of nowhere decides to turn left in front of me. What was he thinking? Why would he think he had room to do this? Police come to the scene and say my car is totaled. My husband shows up, and jumps up and down the hood of the car because it is folded in half like an upside down V, like the crease on an origami paper bird. He manages to jump on the hood enough to make it flat, but it’s like an aluminum ball that you try to straighten out but it’s still crumpled and crappy looking. We exchange insurance cards with the other driver, who is from somewhere in Micronesia and works at Mama’s Fish House.

Later, it turns out that the other driver had a fake insurance card! Hawaii is a no-fault state for car insurance, meaning one’s insurance covers owns own personal injuries.  I didn’t seem badly injured, just sore, but we didn’t know yet. And the driver at fault is the one whose insurance pays for car damage. But this guy’s insurance was invalid. 

This is actually a pretty common in Hawaii. People get insurance, then cancel it, and keep their insurance card. Called the police officer who was on our case, and he was totally useless and said they won’t pursue it.

By the way, Maui police are a mixed bag. For accidents, they don’t seem to be very helpful at all. Another friend got into a car accident in Haiku 8 years ago and the other driver had no license, no insurance and the police did nothing. On the other hand, we have the infamous officer Taguma who loves to give tickets for speeding and we don’t have tons of cops on the road, so that can sometimes be pleasant. DH claims that Maui’s police force numbers compared to population size is about 10% of the national average. That could be changing with the supersize police station in Kihei.

Ah Maui! The Hana Highway is now open, at least as of 2 pm, and traffic is flowing slowly according to the folks at Mama’s Fish House. But it’s a dangerous section of the highway. One Facebook commenter writes, “I lived on that corner for a little over a year and saw a lot of spaghetti I hope all are well.” Us too, because it’s a lot of excitement for a little island.

For more info, visit the MauiWatch page. Kind of wish I had checked it this morning! Big shout out to MauiWatch!

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Friday, July 11, 2014

The Gorgeous Maui Water Lily Farm

Haiku is always full of surprises: hippies, secret pot farms, kombucha cafes, hidden hobbit houses. There’s a water lily farm off of Hana Highway, about 15 miles from Kahului called the Maui Water Lily Farm. While there is a noticeable sign on the highway, most people in a hurry will miss it.  And it’s worth taking some time to savor. Sometimes they are open, sometimes they are not. The sign at the driveway will let you know.

Address: 83 N. Holokai Road, Haiku, HI 96708
Phone: (808) 572-7878

Ever have someone make a fresh flower bouquet on demand? I felt like a fairy princess as Nico waded knee-deep through the water lilyponds to cut five fresh water lily blossoms. He carefully placed them into a plastic specialty bag and gently tied them. He cautioned me that they would only last for a couple of days, maybe 3 at most, and that they go to bed at night.

One of the water lily ponds at the Maui Water Lily Farm.
Buddha overlooking the water lily pond.
What’s special about water lilies?
  • They are actually fragrant, a soft and not overwhelming scent.
  • They close their petals at night and open up in the morning.
  • The flowers are phototropic: they move towards the light, bending and stretching.
  • Even when the flowers stop blooming, they close up as buds and still look beautiful.

These water lilies kept moving towards the light!

Haiku Water Lily Farm has two main ponds, filled with water lily plants. When I stopped by, in late May, there was another unexpected surprise: the water hyacinths were blooming. There were masses of these beautiful lilac blooms along the sides of the pond. Nico said they bloom for a couple of weeks every spring.

Water hyacinths in bloom.
P.S. Two events happening this weekend:

Mo'okiha O Pi'ilani Launch 2014, July 11th, today at noon, Lahaina – This Maui canoe has been restored to perfection and is being returned to Maui waters.

Summer Bash for Education, July 12th, Saturday, 6-8 pm, Kihei. Donate school supplies, win door prizes, watch live entertainment including the Burn n Love Elvis impersonator.


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Monday, June 2, 2014

Whatever Happened to May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii?

On a bright, startlingly cloudless day in Haiku, I watched the royal court step onto the grassy field at Haiku Elementary School. It was sunny, unlike the May Days of my childhood. I could hear the relief from the parents and spectators next to me. It wasn’t going to rain this year!

Haiku Elementary's May Day King and Queen,
with part of their royal court, 2013.

But something about a rainy May Day instantly transports me back to the past.