Maui No Ka Oi

Title translation:   Maui – there’s none better.

If today’s Vogue article, Farm Hopping in Maui  is any indication, Island Farm Tours and Ecological Farming are going mainstream.

I’m proud to live here because deep caring for the land and sea and future generations is embedded in the true politics of Hawai’i.  Because of Aloha, Hawai’i voted overwhelmingly for Bernie Sanders in the primaries. And here on Maui, we are now witnessing the historic unity fo farmers and regular citizens (eaters) to oppose local GMO research production fields, to create county-wide goals for food sustainability targets, and to establish structures such as co-ops to support land based learning and local food production and distribution systems.

It’s worth celebrating the new unified vision that is formulating at the county level to protect the Aina and make new opportunities for growing food and affordable living.  Like a rising wave, the movement is achieving critical mass, led by the SHAKA Movement, HFUU, Maui Tomorrow Foundation, Go Green, among others.

Unlike my early days in California, when I was working in the Central Valley fields to cultivate critical benchmarks for insect ecology research and everything always seemed to get co-opted by the rich chemical companies; there is now a more nuanced understanding of the science of soil and IPM (Integrated Pest Management).  Farmers and consumers are collectively pushing back against the ‘chemical treadmill’.  Sufficient numbers of farmers – young and old- with knowledge of AgroecologyPermaculture, IPM and otherwise regenerative practices are finally gaining political traction.  One hopes to see the tide of history turning, and sustainable practices becoming the norm, at least here in the Aloha State.

Despite efforts to destroy them, the independent insectaries that support true IPM still exist.  They support commercial level applications as well as home gardeners.  Rincon-Vitova is one of the great historic insectaries which continues to move the field of biological pest control forward.

This segue on IPM aside, I just have to applaud how Maui County leaders are recognizing the ecological challenges and acknowledging citizen calls to envision and achieve food self sufficiency for Maui, Lana’i and Moloka’i.  Yeah!

I intend to continue supporting and reporting on Maui’s regenerative agriculture movement, and making it more worthwhile to visit this blog. 




Sprouting Sweet Peas

I, and pretty much everyone I know avoids those bleached coffee filters that are used in the old fashioned drip coffee makers.  There are better ways to make coffee nowadays.

But old school bleached coffee filters do seem to have a higher purpose – for  sprouting seeds! In the past I’ve used bleached paper towels, and in this instance using some leftover white coffee filters I wondered, given years of non-attentive experience doing this, maybe there’s a reason to do this.  Could bleach residues in these products have a positive effect in staving off potential disease infection?  Even when the soaking/sprouting period has lasted weeks or months, it’s a method that has always worked well.  Even for long long time germinating tree seeds like carob or Bakul, I’ve rarely if ever lost seeds to damping off or other diseases.


In image these are sweet peas soaked overnight, then imbibing for another day or so under the moist papers, til I can get a place ready for them outside.  It’s the perfect time to plant Sweet Peas in the Sierra.   (too late for the valley)

Growing from seed is always a fun journey.  You never know what new things you’ll learn.  Please share, if you have experience or opinions on this!




Growing through grief and praising the urban food movement


(photo credit: Kenneth Byes)

<Orchard Sigh>   This photo was taken in a beloved orchard of around 20 citrus varieties, some specimens over 50 years old.  This place of production and respite has long since disappeared for high tech greenhouses.  Change rocks your world and you look back to happier times, missing old orchards.

A habit of planting trees wherever I go can be explained by my lifelong awareness of our mortal condition.  Even with that knowledge, I feel crushed by the loss of a parent – someone who made a difference – and it’s making me think back to what I have done of significance –  if anything.  To me it seems, most significantly, I grow plants.  Perhaps my propagating habits will rescue me from regret in the end.  ‘Live Long and Propagate.’

<Portable Plants and Tolerant Crops>   Like a goldfish in a tiny bowl, trees that are constricted in a pot will be limited in growth and production. And so my potted plant collection continues to exist, awaiting a permanent home for unrestricted growth.

It is a testimony to their greatness that plants will withstand such confinement.  And, as with domesticated animals, the great industrial vegetable crops (tomatoes, corn, beans to name a few) withstand immense stressors and pressures to provide high volumes of uniform product.  It’s truly amazing.

Despite the violent successes of industrial agriculture, I am more encouraged by the energy and persistence of food democracy advocates and the ever growing Organic food movement which promotes better alternatives for a well fed and peaceful world.

<Growing Local Food Systems>   It’s all about education and celebration of our powers as individuals who can make change locally.  We are moving to a more decentralized and locally integrated model of food production and consumption.  I’m excited that today’s urban food movement is waking up new generations of citizens about taking responsibility for growing and securing local food systems.

Local community gardens, School Gardens and activist organizations like  Judith Yisrael’s family farm in Oak Park are enriching and popularizing the urban food movement.  Besides producing great veggies, it creates opportunities to strengthen ties and build community.  In an age of big data and kids lost in digital space, I can think of no better way than gardening – to help them ground their energies in the real stuff of life that makes all things possible.



What’s so great about gardens?

(photo credit: David Kupfer)     In a word, gardens are magical. They are rich in purpose and possibility. They represent a temporary human imprint upon nature that celebrates, form, food, fiber, beauty, shade, community, and so much more.10590979_10152135496527132_1831008462_o
Gardens range in scale from single gardener sanctuaries to gargantuan mega horticulture phenomena. Gardens, at best, are a portal to peace. May they serve a perpetual reminder to slow down, take stock, give back.

Edible Landscaping’s hidden inspiration

Ken's 4 Winds Visit Pics 2012 024_2We’ve been talking about Edible Landscaping and Ornamental Edibles (OE) for at least a decade now, and many nurseries have hopped on the bandwagon to grow and sell them to searching customers who want in-ground plantings or miniature potted forests they can cart to the next rental home.

OE owes a debt to the Queen of Edible Landscaping, Rosalind Creasy.  Her website provides great recommendations for nice looking selections that work in the Pacific Northwest.  Many online nurseries, including the one I work for, offer a variety of deciduous and evergreen OE, including pomegranate, olive, fig, persimmon, blueberries, citrus and more.

Thanks to the rise of edible landscaping philosophy, people are expanding their thinking about best use of available sunny yard space.  Espaliered fruit trees are the new norm in an era of yard space maximization and attention to quality.

A recent L.A. Times story points out that the proliferation of gardeners committed to eating from their own backyards has rekindled an interest in growing ‘clean crops’ that are as pesticide-free as possible.  Why not be inspired to grow produce with the best flavor possible? My own taste tests comparing Organic Meyer lemon fruits (which I grow myself) with those collected from conventionally grown trees leave me with no doubt: Organically grown Meyer lemons taste much better; flesh is sweeter, rinds are milder.  Try it for yourself and see.

One need only look at this alarming image of a citrus tree suffering from RoundUp (Glyphosate) poisoning, to realize that even the world’s most popular herbicide poses risks. Especially when used incorrectly, pesticides pose real threats to the garden and gardener alike.

The trend for growing your own doesn’t stop with edibles.  Were it not for legal ramifications and perhaps some (arguable) aesthetic ones one can imagine productive fiber gardens of mulberry, hemp, flax, milkweed, nettles and sunflower.  As aesthetic tastes broaden and homeowners associations develop more expansive policies for allowable plantings, I hope we can continue to look forward to ever greater productivity from average yardscapes.



Winters Community Garden


Invasive Plants

I had never thought of the magnificent Casuarinas that loom over the southern exposure of my house as invasive.  Massive, yes.  Incredibly hard wood, yes that’s why it’s called ironwood. And bright red roots aggressively seek moisture and nutrients.  When I was first getting the hang of worm composting a few years ago, I made the mistake of placing the worm bin directly on the ground.  It was summer. The bin was about 20 feet away from one of the biggest trees.   It was well watered and shaded from the harsh heat, but what I found out too late is that the roots had invaded the worm bin.  By the time I noticed the roots had reached throughout every part of the worm bin and most of the worms had migrated out.  This surprising event made me recognize my need to be more vigilant if I wanted success with vermi-culture.  The trees near my house are over 50 feet tall, having been allowed to grow tall and thick over twenty years or so, but this tree can also be managed as a low hedge through coppicing.  The needle-like vegetation is nutritious to sheep and cattle.   This tree’s versatility and value as a forage make it a winner, just one to watch out for.

Another introduced plant that I have been sparring with is the rootstock of a Passiflora that sends endless runners to suck moisture then launches new shoots over established plants. I take comfort in the fact that it is hard to eradicate by remembering that it produces a lot of succulent green matter for the compost.   With great effort it could perhaps be trained on an attractive topiary structure, but it’s flowers are not the showiest and the fruit are not edible.  Best for the compost I think.

The worst ‘weeds’ are classified by their invasiveness.   They have the ability to become resistant to herbicide sprays, so farmers are advised to vary and ‘change up’ the sprays with different products to fight the development of herbicide resistant weeds.  Unfortunately I cannot resist mentioning that the one thing weeds will never become resistant to is the hoe.   Follow KrsnaKumari on Twitter

Garden Insights for 2010

My garden is a small, tree-circled zone, about 3/4 acre altogether, but really providing  less than 1000 square feet of sunny planting space. Dominant trees include Casuarina, Sycamore, Oak, Pine, Poplar and Privot.  Surrounding this is quite vast acreage on 3 sides that are alternatively planted to row crops. Over the past 4 years the line-up has consisted primarily of Tomato, Safflower, Wheat, Oats, Sunflower and Corn.

Humbling Revelations

Making or acquiring sufficient compost to overcome the incredibly opportunistic roots of Casuarina trees would have made a big difference, but was beyond my capacity.  Raised beds with root resistant barrier cloth at the bottom is probably the best approach for vegetable production in the small sunny spot available.  Though I did not muster the resources for that envisioned project, I still managed to produce some tomatoes, okra, peppers, peas and plenty of swiss chard, kale and mustard greens.

Summary Thoughts

1.  Ground squirrels, gophers and moles, turkeys, deer and coyotes can seriously and negatively affect plant growth and harvest potential.  Even our own pets weigh in on plant selection; changing and adding pathways, increasing the size of holes, etc.  Work around by increasing the number of plantings and accepting a higher level of ambiguity and uncertainty.  Try out tough, shade tolerant, edible perrenials like currants or gooseberry to create vertical growth that is easier to protect. Fence and discourage predators whenever practical.

2.  Cleavers (Galium ssp).is considered by many to be a ‘weed’, however in my garden this spring and summer, cleavers growing up with the unruly spearmint and Passiflora on the east side of the house served as a welcome helper.  As an alternative to harsh trimming I decided to use the cleavers to ‘clasp’ the spearmint in stepping stone areas where I didn’t want them to grow.  It works like velcro, sticking to itself nicely, and will present some semblance of order if you’re willing to take the time to do a little plant weaving.

3.  Direct seeded wildflower blends are great to try out for difficult areas.  ‘Weeds’ are sometimes actually under-apreciated allies for health.  From a design point of view, they can help you to balance a garden’s low maintenance objectives with productivity and beauty.  Try planting wildflowers to attract wildlife and provide seasonal color, then harvest your own herbal medicinals, such as Saint John’s Wort, Evening Primrose and Burdock.

4.  You can never make too much compost.  Vermicomposting is worth a go.

5.  Always look for opportunities to plant more trees, especially food producing ones.  Don’t forget edible espaliers, hedges and windrows,and wildly productive ‘freelance’ plantings that defy the odds.  Support regional and activist movements to restore forests and orchards and protect water supplies.

6.  Trees can grow into a house:

7.  Trees can grow into furniture. and so much more:

8.  Patenting ‘Life’ creates problems.  Seed saving is a mainstay of  ‘Food Democracy.’  Safety and ethics of GMO derived food, drug and pesticide products is in question.  If you are open to considering alternative paradigms, please check out:

Spin and the Art of Growing Locally

Here’s a short film recommendation.  Long a supporter of organic agriculture, and a graduate of Fresno State’s mainstream agriculture program in the 1980’s, I resonate with the individuals in this film who argue for re-centralizing food production – both practically and in the popular consciousness. It heartened me to see other former Aggies speaking out for a better use of the land, despite what the land grant colleges may espouse.

There’s more support than ever for fledgling food producers. SPIN Farming offers helpful information and support for those who want to produce and sell food locally. It offers a blueprint for small scale yet commercially viable food production in neighborhoods and rural settings.

Five Steps to Food Freedom

Five Steps to Food Freedom

Back in the days of our great grand parents, daily vittles were consumed in a much simpler world of supply and demand.  Nearly everyone had a vegetable garden whether they lived in the country or a suburb, and many kept chickens or other domestic animals for meat.  A child accompanying a parent to the grocery store was aware of where milk comes from, even if the family didn’t own it’s very own cow.

Contrast that with a complex modern world where many children reach adulthood without ever visiting a farm, and have no idea what it takes to produce the food we all come to expect and take for granted.   If you are reading this, you may be among the awakened; someone who values your right to choose what you eat.  But despite your willingness to discern these choices, largely a result of the organic food movement which has taken hold in the US over the last 25 years, there are awareness gaps which preclude truly knowledgeable choices.  How is this possible?

Industrial agriculture – it’s very much alive and well, despite longstanding organic activism and consumer demands for pure safe food.  In fact, a surprising non sequiteur of recent years is the eruption of large scale organic production systems which eschew biodiversity and are therefore monocultures.  Large scale organic production is increasingly common while small family farms – organic and otherwise- continue to dissolve. Today’s increasingly ubiquitous industrial ag corporations operate internationally and aim for total control of production, from seed to table. Through the introduction of GE (genetically engineered) crops an increasingly complex contracts, mega corporations dictate farmers’ choices with an expert combination of economic and legal pressures. These controlling tactics functionally emasculate farmers and ultimately put consumers and the entire food system at risk. While biotechnology research and development has ushered in a frighteningly fast paced era of industrial agriculture, oversight by Federal agencies such as EPA, FDA and USDA is woefully inadequate.

As opposed to the long-promised vision of GE as a solution to world hunger, biotechnology “products” are actually being developed to force farmers’ increased use of agricultural chemicals, most notably the herbicide Glyphosate (RoundUp).  Farmers like Canadian producer Percy Schmeiser have been forced to defend themselves against legal actions  when their fields were contaminated by pollen from genetically modified crops.  Genetic contamination is the new pollution, and an increasing threat to organic agriculture.

In response to these threats, we turn a new corner in our quest to uphold safe food choices. The issues are complex and in many ways overwhelming.  But there are tools for action.    Glimpsing these threats of industrial agriculture, we see the implications of consumer ignorance and farmer compliance which further the status quo.  We see that we must reignite strong public opinion.  The public must demand safe food, sustainably produced.

“Five Steps to Food Freedom” means a multi pronged approach to facing our food system head on, and demanding alternatives.  To begin on a positive, US nonchalance regarding genetically engineered crops is not a shared attitude in many countries around the world.  Organized food awareness movements in Japan and Europe have insisted on labeling for GMO foods and products, and this trend works in our favor when we bring the issue to the attention of our elected representatives.

  1. Write to your representatives to express concern about the safety of GE foods.  Farmers must receive assurances of protection from seed and crop contamination from GE crops.  Insist that the FDA, EPA and USDA monitor the development and use of GE crops and products and enforce safety protocols.  Check out the work of Cal GE Free (Occidental Arts and Ecology), Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), Organic Consumers Association, Hawaii GE Free and others.  Respond to appeals and make your views known.  Finally, demand that all GE foods and products produced through GMO technology be labeled as such.
  2. Support local farming and organic agriculture by buying through a regional CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or at your local farmer’s market.  Check out the “Slow Food” Movement online at and seek to choose foods which are produced in a manner that is ecologically sound, economically viable and socially just (sustainable).
  3. Grow your own garden.  Even if you only have space in pots, you can get a feel for producing your own ecologically sound food by making the effort to grow your own.  There are many resources to support all aspects of organic gardening, most notably Rodale publications, Mother Earth News, and a wealth of on-line resources.  Make compost and revel in the truly sustainable cycle of life as you garden with nature.
  4. Industrialized meat production is unsavory, unsanitary and dangerous.  If you care to eat meat, choose free range or humanely produced products which should be labeled as such.  Avoid consuming fish which is caught using drift nets or using other industrial means which create huge amount of “by-catch”.  The incredible waste many types of ocean fishing is unsustainable and damaging to ocean biodiversity and health.  Choose “dolphin-safe” tuna.  For more information on this see the Center for Food Safety Web Site.  Also for updated sustainable fish choices (they change throughout the year and by region) visit the website of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
  5. Encourage your friends and relatives to buy organic, and buy locally as much as possible.  We mustn’t simply preach to the choir.  It is imperative that more consumers understand the gravity of their food choices.  We indeed do vote with our dollars, and food choices are just about the most politically instantaneous votes we can cast.

The more we know about our food supply, the better chance we’ll have to ensure it is safe and responsible.  Consumers, farmers and the environment all need protections and assurances which are easily undermined by corporate interests.  These five simple steps are a starting point toward food freedom.   If everyone takes action we can be assured that our efforts will bear fruit.  Let’s demand nothing less than a future where sustainable farming, fair production contracts for farmers, and safe food is the norm.