My new life in 2019. How we (me and my three partners) use prayer to help us launch a much needed movement on Maui.
The new vision was birthed a couple of years ago, and it has turned into a full-time gig for me with a whole new commitment. I am going to share it with you because this is what I do.
As those of you who have read my story in “Eating As A Spiritual Practice” you know that I am what some call a “professional activist”. When I moved to Maui 13 years ago I began teaching raw food prep and cooking. Optimum health was my motive and my commitment - not just for me but for the all life as I knew it. Following my work with EarthSave International and my own organization, Spirit In Action, my consciousness had been brainwashed with critical knowledge about the food, agriculture practices and policies, Earth’s living systems, and the connection all this meant to our own bodies. Understanding that our food choices and systems were tied to most of the breakdown we are witnessing in our culture, from our personal health to climate change, I became a dedicated crusader for a better way. I am not boasting, nor am I saying my way is the right way. It is simply my way and there is no turning back.
So, here is a bit of the back story. A couple of years ago I would stay up late with my friend, Charlotte, who was an expert with climate change as we discussed how we might use the Central Valley of Maui to grow food for Maui and the other islands. You see, Hawaii imports 90% of their food and we are slightly vulnerable to the global climatic weather changes we are all witnessing. Three days without food delivery and we are dust - so to speak. I understood Charlotte’s passionate desire to capture the prime agricultural land on Maui, previously used for plantation style sugar cane farming. The Central Valley of Maui is known as the “bread basket of Hawaii”. It is about 35,000 contiguous acres of prime land perfect to solve the issue of our dependency on the Mainland and food sovereignty goals.
Sugarcane growing had come to a halt, the plantation days were over, and Alexander & Baldwin (A&B) (the land owners) were losing money. This beautiful land that had been tortured with Roundup and other pesticides now lay fallow.
One evening, at my last Birthday party, two more friends, Sandra and Kutira, joined us as we plotted to write Oprah a letter. Could she help? She is a large landowner on Maui, and she does have lots of bucks and power. We began meeting and discussing what we might ask her to do.
After just a few meetings we declared, “Who needs Oprah? Let’s pull the community together and see what we can accomplish.” No offense to Oprah, but we did not want it to become Oprah land, we wanted the land for grow local cultural foods to create Food Security for the local people. We knew this was the land to fulfill that need, and we knew this was the land to do it on.
And we wanted it.
We knew we could come up with a plan to revitalize the soil, increase the fertility and begin growing food for the Islands - a daunting task to say the least. But how? Where do we start?
Realizing that we needed expert help, and knowing we certainly could not establish trust with them on our own, we hired Steve Apfelbaum of Applied Ecological Services to come out and assess the land, create a preliminary design, and assist us to begin our negotiations with A&B.
Steve Apfelbaum is one of the leading ecologists in the world, and is probably one of the most likable people you will ever meet. With patience Steve addressed a lot of the local people. He told stories of places where the land and people witnessed similar destruction and then rehabilitation with new designs that met the people’s needs. They trusted him and began to trust us. This was and is a huge hurdle that is not over yet as we still get resistance. Many times we have put our names on the line and were faced with opposition because of our gender and culture difference of native Hawaiians. We can’t hide our passion and dedication and turn the other cheek because of where we were born. We are all stewards of the land and it is our collective kuleana (responsibility) to do what is pono (the right thing) and make a difference. If there is something we can do within our means, then we must. I grew up in Southern California where I witnessed destruction as well - what was once a valley laced with fruit orchards is now track housing, large big box stores and freeways.
Did we give up? Never did we even think of it. Never did we ask ourselves, “Should we do this?”
Here is a montage series of events that brought us to present day. An investor stepped up to support our efforts. We formed Aina First (www.AinaFirst.com), hired an attorney, a CFO, a CEO, a controller and Charlotte. Together with our co-founders (Kutira and Sandra) we formed our start-up company. Charlotte and her team of internationally known consultants and advisors began forming the farm and business plan. I was down with Shingles, but attended BOD meetings until I was well enough to go to work, which was in October.
We named our company “Aina First” because Aina means the land. The love of the land is at the core of the Hawaiian Culture and moving forward while valuing Her first is the foundation of our work. When we honor the land that feeds us then we honor all life, and we all win.
Together the four of us along with our management team stumbled through the dynamics of four women working together. We hit some big snags, political backlash, mis-understandings, and more. We would fall into the gutter of our lower selves but bounced back up once we found ourselves there. Prayer was our method for recovery. We started every meeting with a prayer of unity asking for divine guidance as we navigated through stormy and calm waters. When our ego and emotions brought about confusion, we would stop, circle up and drop into our hearts and ask for harmony, guidance and divine solutions. Unifying prayer is what kept us together, kept us on track, kept our egos in check, and provided the trust and leadership we needed.
Our biggest hurdle, and probably the reason we did not get to purchase the land, is that we did not get the kind of financing in place fast enough for this multi million dollar purchase. We were almost there and then the news came just around Christmas in 2018. The land was sold to Trinitas, an almond growing company in California. No!!!!!!!!!!!! We were devastated.
Of course, the press on Maui and around the Island went wild with news of the sale along with investigating journalism trying to identify this company. “Who are these guys?” The parent company, Trinitas or Pomona Farming, formed a new company called Mahi Pono, and began meeting with members of the community. This is something they would have to do if they wanted to be accepted on this beautiful island.
It is time to meet with Mahi Pono and continue our community outreach. We are not giving up by any means. We set out to create local food production with regenerative farming. We have been told that Mahi Pono wants to grow coffee and citrus for export.
What? Use this amazing land for export, when we need food security desperately?
Our first outreach goal is to bring our hero, Steve Apfelbaum, the founder of AES back to Maui to provide an educational series for Mahi Pono, the County Council and the public. We have an opportunity here with the value of work Aina First and other community organizations have done thus far. Our team is tight. We are meeting constantly and pooling our resources. We are praying constantly for guidance. And we are showing up each day the best we can. Are we having fun? I think, Yes, in a weird sort of way, but we often wonder……..perhaps we should have called Oprah.
More to come on my journey on Maui.