Keeping Paradise, Paradise
Gentle rays of late afternoon sunshine spill softly upon the upturned earth of the Kilauea Community Garden where 42 well-tended plots display the varied gifts of Kaua‘i’s fertile soil. The garden is just one of many projects made possible by Mālama Kaua‘i, a grassroots, non-profit organization dedicated to nourishing and supporting the island of Kaua‘i. In Hawaiian, mālama means, “to take care of,” “tend to,” and “nurture.” As the name suggests, Mālama Kaua‘i was created with that exact concept in mind—to preserve and cultivate the land, the community, and the unique culture, which combine to make Kaua‘i a welcoming home for its residents and a beloved destination for the millions who flock here.
The organization began in 2006 when founders Keone Kealoha and Chris Jaeb pondered one simple question: How can we do our part to support this beautiful place? Today, funded entirely by grants and donations from conscientious individuals and foundations, Mālama Kaua‘i includes a handful of passionate staff members, volunteers, and many generous supporters that are dedicated to educating the public, preserving the land, and steering Kaua‘i towards economic stability and sustainability.
The Kilauea Community Garden is thriving. While several plots are used to grow fresh produce for the Kaua‘i Food Pantry, majority of the plots are rented out (for a very low cost) to community members who need a place to grow food for their families. Mark Freeman from Heart and Soul Organics is just one of the many supporters of the community garden. He donates truckloads of mulch, compost, vibrant yellow marigolds, and luscious fresh kale to be planted on the various plots beneath the ancient green mountains along Kalihiwai Ridge. On the south side of the island, the Kalaheo Neighborhood Garden is the newest addition to the Kaua‘i family of community gardens.
Keone Kealoha is a loving father of three and seems especially passionate about the School Garden Network, which involves the community in the education of its children. With the help of teachers, staff and volunteers, keiki (children) are receiving interactive, hands-on lessons in growing food and tending to the land.
“Our society’s values have shifted,” notes Keone. “Everyone is asking how they can profit from the environment instead of asking how they can nurture it. We decided to focus on the kids, who are just forming their values. School gardens build a relationship between kids and the land. We’ve become disconnected from where our food comes from. You think about your food differently when you grow it yourself.”
The School Garden Network is sponsored by the generous support of the Ulupono Initiative (a Hawai‘i-focused social investment organization), and the Bill Healy Foundation, among many others. These integral garden programs are instituted in most K-12 schools on Kaua‘i, and some are even practiced by preschools as well. Educating the next generation about food production and aloha ‘aina (love of the land) is a big step in perpetuating an attitude of respect and affection for the island that sustains us.
Amongst the many things Mālama Kaua‘i intends to do, their mission is clear: an ‘aina (land/environment) that is healthy, people that can enjoy a high quality of life, a sense of community that is stable, and culture that is respected and perpetuated. To achieve this, the organization believes in further education, like with the Mālama Kaua‘i Green Business Program that recognizes businesses committed to supporting the community and the environment. Kaua‘i’s Green Businesses are showcased on the Mālama Kaua‘i Radio Show (broadcasted on KKCR every other Friday), in their newsletter, on their Facebook page, and now on the new Green Business Map. The objective is for visitors and kama‘aina (residents) who love the natural untouched beauty of this emerald paradise—and those who want keep it that way—to choose and patronize businesses dedicated to preserving and protecting Kaua‘i.
Mālama Kaua‘i’s Program Coordinator and talented chef Katie Trussell is working tirelessly on an exciting new project. She plans to unveil a cookbook this year that will feature all fresh Kaua‘i-grown foods. Her enthusiasm is contagious as she encourages members of the community to share recipes that spotlight the diverse flavors of Kaua‘i’s harvest. “It will be a way for people to learn how to prepare our island’s delicacies and an opportunity for community members to share their inspiration and creativity, while supporting sustainability on Kaua‘i.”
There is a revolution happening on the island. The tides are shifting and people are actively looking for ways to create a symbiotic relationship with the land. There is a pull to return to a simpler time, when people got their food from their backyard garden instead of the grocery store. Kaua‘i’s farmers markets are booming. Chefs, island-wide, are increasingly turning to local food sources. The Garden at Common Ground in Kīlauea are employing the farm-to-table concept, serving the freshest local produce pulled straight from the ground. With tireless dedication, Mālama Kaua‘i is leading the change. Their extensive website (malamakauai.org) chronicles their various projects and programs, learning tools, and provides a variety of ways to help and support this worthy cause. We can all gain inspiration from the organization’s example of how a few dedicated individuals can make an enormous difference.
As stewards of the land, it is our responsibility to keep Kaua‘i flourishing for generations to come. No one can do it alone. Mālama Kaua‘i encourages both Kaua‘i community members and visitors to join together and nurture this unique and beloved paradise. With humility and grace, we can support and perpetuate the natural beauty of the island while it is still as vibrant as ever.