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.

What happened on February 23rd in Studio City? Borgnine

Four Winds Growers presented a lovely display at a classy party to celebrate the life of Ernest Borgnine.  The first annual ‘Ernie Award’ was presented to Sean Penn who was unable to attend, as he was seeing to duties in Haiti.  The award, a lovely globe of blown glass, was received by actor Ken Howard, who gave a touching speech.  Most of the photos taken here are by the very talented Mr. Ken Byes and were done on a fabulous red Nikon that reminds me of a race car.


Iqbal Theba of TV musical "Glee"with blueberries

Iqbal Theba of TV musical “Glee”with blueberries

Gardening chat with Marilu Henner

Gardening chat with Marilu Henner

Ernie Hudson of "Ghostbusters"

Ernie Hudson of “Ghostbusters”

With the masterful Hector Elizando

With the masterful Hector Elizando

With Nancee and Cris Borgnine

With Nancee and Cris Borgnine

Julie Arenal Bryant

Julie Arenal Bryant

Folks Happy to take home the sole fig tree selection: Black Mission fig

Folks Happy to take home the sole fig tree selection: Black Mission fig

Kevin Sorbo of TV "Hercules" fame with Ken Byes

Kevin Sorbo of TV “Hercules” fame with Ken Byes


Lainie Kazan, jazz singer and the unforgettable Mother in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” prepares to take home this beautiful southern highbush blueberry plant.


Nancee Borgnine prepares to present the First Annual Ernie Award


Cris Borgnine enjoys Yosemite Gold mandarins


Iqbal Theba (Principal Figgins of “Glee”) shows off his Sunshine Blue Blueberry bush to Esai Morales, urging him to get one.


Esai Morales (“La Bamba”) considers the options and settles on a Variegated Pink Lemon tree, complete with fruit.

Table filled with Ornamental Edibles. Avocado, citrus and olive trees, plus blueberry bushes.

table after

Every last plant found a home that night. A shot of the table toward the end.



Winters Community Garden


Citrus and Olive trees for the stars


Nancee Borgnine honors dad Ernest at Emmy’s Party at the Sportsman’s Lodge, Studio City

I was honored to be invited to participate in sharing Four Winds Growers Dwarf Citrus and other fruit trees today at a party given by Nancee Borgnine in Studio City, CA. This pre-Emmy’s event saw a continuous flow of celebrities from television and theatre, who browsed among select vendors and got ‘free stuff’ (shwag). There were sparkly jeans, amazing hats, fragrant herbs and flowers, Vodka drinks, whimsical plush toys made from recycled sweaters, flameless cigarettes, cushy furniture, non-profit Big Brothers, Big Sisters and many others. Our trees seemed to strike many as novel. Because Four Winds’ Dwarf Clementine mandarin tree had been featured in the April 2012 issue of Oprah! Magazine, we were seen by Nancee, and invited to be there. We brought a very nice Improved Meyer lemon tree to give to Nancee in honor of her dad.

Needless to say, it was a day of anticipation and excitement. I met some wonderful actors and their associates, including Joe Mantegna of “Criminal Minds” , also Tony Denison, Michael Paul Chan and Robert Gossett of “The Closer.” It was especially fun meeting Michele Gossett, wife of Robert, as well as other family members of the actors, who enjoy gardening. Cris Borgnine, Nancee’s brother and his family were delightful to talk with. I admired the Aloha shirts that Cris and his little boys were wearing. Cris said that he was wearing one from his dad’s collection that he had worn in “From Here to Eternity”.

The weather was very warm, with some merciful overcast helping cool, but also raising the humidity. To my country bumpkin perceptions, many folks seemed uncomfortably dressed given the weather, (myself especially included).  But stars are stoic, I learned, and they can look ‘cool’ even when it’s not.

All in all I had a ball meeting folks I wouldn’t ordinarily encounter. As for the event itself, I can really appreciate all the coordination that was required, and hat’s off to Nancee and her team for pulling it off with grace and panache!

Nature vs. Alienation

It seems obvious that surrounding oneself with growing leafy things and seeing natural imagery is calming to the mind.  But does exposure to nature affect people’s intrinsic aspirations and generosity?  Recent work from a team of psychologists at the University of Rochester suggests “Nature Makes us more Caring.”

October 1, 2009 Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 35, No. 10, 1315-1329 (2009)

It turns out, natural scenes don’t just help us feel better emotionally.  It’s suggested that compassion and community oriented instincts are heightened as well.   The authors hope environmental planners and interior designers will consider these revelations when approaching new designs for public and private spaces.

Results from the 370 participant, four experiment study suggest that nature makes us more charitable and sensitive to the needs of others.  Why would generosity be amplified? One explanation is that multidimensional and complex aspects of the natural world encourage introspection.  Other studies meanwhile are suggesting that urban dwellers exhibit more estrangement, reservation and indifference than do rural dwellers.

Lead author Netta Weinstein: “We are influenced by our environment in ways that we are not aware of. Because of the hidden benefits of connecting with nature, people should take advantage of opportunities to get away from built environments and, when inside, they should surround themselves with plants, natural objects, and images of the natural world. The more you appreciate nature, the more you can benefit. To the extent that our links with nature are disrupted, we may also lose some connection with each other.”

So psychological responses to the world can swing from alienation to community involvement, due in part to the abundance or absence of living greenery and natural imagery in our lives.  Research subjects surrounded by man-made images were found to place more emphasis and value on wealth and fame than their counterparts who were exposed to the natural images.  According to coauthor Andrew Przybylski, “Nature in a way strips away the artifices of society that alienate us from one another.”

These findings offer further evidence of the importance of nature in the maintenance of mental health, and consequently for the health and efficiency of organizations.