Blog Archive

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Organic Consumers Association: We want GMO labeling

courtesy of the Organic Consumers Association

Tell Your Natural Food Store or Grocer: We Want GMOs & Factory Farm Products Labeled
Most people wouldn't eat genetically engineered foods if given the choice, but only a quarter of Americans are aware that GMOs are even allowed in the US food supply - and that's just the way the food industry wants it. As a Monsanto executive once admitted to a major newspaper, "If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it."

The Grocery Manufacturers Association is the trade association and lobbying group for America's GM and chemical-intensive food industry, representing the biggest players in genetically engineered seed, farm chemicals, animal feed, factory farms, food processing, grocery retail and fast food. GMA members include Monsanto, Mosaic, Cargill, ConAgra, Smithfield, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, Kraft, Hershey, Bimbo, Kellogg's, Campbell Soup, Kroger, Safeway, and McDonald's. GMA is a vocal advocate for what they call "agricultural biotechnology." The GMA boasts that 80% of all U.S. grocery store foods contain GM ingredients, yet they adamantly oppose mandatory labels for genetically engineered foods. This is outrageous.

The Organic Consumers Association is launching a Truth-in-Labeling campaign to get grocery stores to come clean about what's in our food.

We're starting with a national letter-writing campaign aimed at the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the largest food retailers, demanding mandatory labels on foods that likely contain GMOs, or that come from factory farm CAFOs. We'll be following this up with organizer trainings that will prepare OCA activists to take the cause to local grocery stores, increase community awareness about GMOs, and get state legislatures and city councils to pass GMO and CAFO labeling laws.

Take Action

What Would Be Labeled?

If non-organic produce had to be labeled as "May Contain GMOs" and factory farmed animal products had to be labeled as "CAFO," what would be the likely impact in the marketplace?

Any processed food that contains corn (75 million acres, or 85%, of U.S. corn production is GM); soy (72 million acres or 91% of U.S. soy is GM); cottonseed oil (8.8 million acres or 88% of U.S. cotton is GM); canola (3.2 million acres or 85% of U.S. Canola is GM); or sugar beets (1.2 million acres or 95% of U.S. sugar beets is GM); is overwhelmingly likely to contain Monsanto's engineered DNA, and therefore needs to have a label that says "May Contain GMOs."

Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, grass-fed animal products, and whole grains, while avoiding multi-ingredient packaged foods, fried foods, sodas, juice drinks and factory-farmed animal products, is another good way to avoid GMOs. But most people in the United States find it very hard to do this. This isn't entirely the fault of consumers. According to the National Cancer Institute, the US only produces and imports half of the recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables required for our population.

Only a quarter of the US population is aware that they are being force-fed GMOs, and most say they wouldn't buy GM foods, but nearly everything sold at grocery stores contains GMOs. And none of it is labeled.

Support Truth-in-Labeling. For more information about avoiding GMOs, go to our Millions Against Monsanto page or sign this petition:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On leadership

Effectively leading change requires self-esteem, hopefulness, and trust. An individual’s store of such emotions is only as deep as the degree to which they have worked through their internalized oppression. This work is the core of building “personal sustainability,” and thus the most powerful place that supporters can direct their efforts.

To support leaders in moving through their internalized oppression, we must help them recognize, understand, and develop ways to address it. Internalized oppression often manifests as distrust, low self-esteem, and feelings of powerlessness or defensiveness (Ruth 2006, p. 136-145). We can support leaders in understanding how these emotions connect to their internalized oppression by offering opportunities for discharge and self-reflection. These opportunities can happen informally or formally, such as through leader support groups. Groups also offer structure for a leader to set goals for working on these issues, with the additional support of regular feedback and encouragement (Ruth 2006, p. 45).

As a leader’s self-awareness deepens, her team can support her in moving through identified challenges. For example, we can express confidence and optimism in making change when a leader’s vision may falter because of an internalized sense of powerlessness. Or we can model a collaborative working style when a leader’s self-doubt may be manifesting as defensiveness. While supporting leaders to move past their limitations may feel more complicated than simply praising where they are already succeeding, we are truly supporting their personal sustainability by helping them evolve past their internal challenges in their ability to lead their best.
*           *          *
Since reading Seán Ruth’s chapters on oppression in Leadership and Liberation (2006), I have had my first opportunity to observe the effect of internalized oppression within a leader and offer mindfulness and compassion to support her resilience and personal sustainability. Last night, a friend invited me to partake in a coffee our “talk story” with the current mayor who is also campaigning for another term. At the beginning of the conversation, a number of questions were asked about what she could do to support the economy on Maui through specific legislative reforms. Her response was that she could do nothing; her executive role did not possess legislative capabilities. Her affect in giving these responses was tired, hopeless, defensive, and saddening.

The conversation then shifted to renewable energy. Somebody asked her to discuss her success in promoting a clean energy economy on Maui, which has been one of the mayor’s platforms during this election cycle. In prompting her to share about how she was able to succeed in this endeavor, her attitude dramatically shifted. She was articulate and concise in explaining that her success in the renewable energy movement lay in mobilizing individual actors and groups within the renewable energy market to promote their own cause. Her administration supported these efforts by reallocating a percentage of the discretionary budget to 1) lobbying at the state and federal level for community funding in the renewable energy sector, and 2) securing state and federal money for renewable energy projects.

The mayor’s dramatic attitude shift showed me that sustaining her capacity as our leader lies in helping her recognize her own agency. In “praising (her) where she was already succeeding,” as team Moxie stated, the conversation helped the mayor to identify a counterexample to her internalized oppression, and thus restored her sense of capability in addressing issues beyond the direct purview of her executive role. Witnessing the power that self-oppression has in crippling the mayor’s capacity to lead was a powerful illustration of the importance in sustaining our leaders.

 Interestingly, this empowerment was two-way. Through this conversation, my peers and I were encouraged and advised about how to approach legislative reform at the county and state level. Several of us in the group resolved to take collective action to address some of the issues that were raised in the course of the discussion.  I would assert that the presence of the mayor was a catalyzing factor in this decision. Having a high-profile community leader listen to our concerns and offer guidance about how to address them was the encouragement that we needed to become empowered to make a change.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sustaining No Ka Oi

Sustaining No Ka Oi: Stimulating wealth creation in Maui Nui

Basic macroeconomic theory dictates that economic wealth is generated when economic entities (nations, states, counties, etc.) export more than they import.  Therefore, in order to grow Hawaii’s economy and increase its wealth, Hawaii must become a net-exporter. 

Given that Hawaii does not possess a manufacturing industry and given that the cost of land in Hawaii makes it unviable to compete in the global agricultural market, a first step to increasing Hawaii’s wealth is reducing its imports.  But, again, without a manufacturing industry, many things must be imported – computers, televisions, vehicles, refrigerators, etc.  In considering what can be manufactured on Maui, it becomes quickly evident that the most efficient and effective way to reduce net imports is by growing our own food.  However, when the cost of importing agricultural goods to Hawaii is subsidized, as it currently is, local farmers are forced to compete in a global market.  Ask Sandy Takishita of Howard’s Nurseries what it has been like for her and her husband competing on the global market.  Against these odds, (subsidized agricultural imports + some of the costliest real estate in the world), turning a profit it is impossible.

Going back to original statement, basic macroeconomic theory dictates that economic wealth is generated when economic entities (nations, states, counties, etc.) export more than they import.  So while increasing protection measures for our local agricultural industry by eliminating subsidies for agricultural imports will reduce net imports and thus bring us closer to a positive net export equation, that’s not enough.  Therefore, in order to grow Hawaii’s economy and increase its wealth, we now turn to Hawaii’s export commodities.

Since Hawaii lacks an industrial economy, our only viable export commodity is tourism (remember again, agriculture on Hawaiian real estate performs poorly on a global market and therefore cannot be exported.  Koa forest industry on the other hand, – may be a different story.  Talk to Art Medeiros about that.) 

Wealth that is created in Hawaii only to be “skimmed off the top” by offshore multinational hotel corporations does not count toward “net exports”.) Currently, wages for a majority of the jobs available for local residents in the visitor industry represent a sliver of the total revenue generated by these large hotel corporations. The rest goes to offshore ownership.  The composition of this industry is primarily comprised of time-shares and hotels owned by multinational corporations that deliver a very predictable yet reliable service.  They are predictable and reliable because they are equivalent and redundant.  And with a differentiator, the “sun and sand” consumer has no incentive to choose Maui over any other “sun and sand” destination. 

The only way for an undifferentiated commodity to earn positive returns on investment in a global market is by continually suppressing labor cost to globally competitive levels (i.e. the cost of housekeeping services in Belize).  So essentially, our housekeepers are now competing with every other housekeeper that works for an unspecialized hotel in every other semi-tropical vacation destination in the world.  This includes third world countries. So not only are housekeeping and other labor jobs in the hotel industry insignificant compared to wealth being “skimmed of the top”, emerging global competitors are only driving these wages lower. 

The future of our visitor industry is in family-run visitor accommodations that offer a genuine taste of our local culture that also produce their own food. They would improve the long-term sustainability of our food economy and our social fabric.  They would provide livelihoods our local families.  They would reduce our dependency on imported food. As permaculture farms, they would have minimal impact on the environment.

For example, a native Hawaiian family that has a stream running through its property could offer visitors a glimpse of authentic native Hawaiian culture.  With a little stream flow, not only could this B&B produce poi for their visitors, they could also grill up some opai.  A B&B permaculture “lodge” in Ulupalakua where it produces its own wine provides a 5 star dining experience to its visitors.  The lodge could have a stable and offer trail rides to significant cultural sites.  Opportunities for competitive differentiation amongst B&B services would ensure a highly specialized visitor industry market that is not tied to the global cost of wage-labor.

Done right, these families could also charge a lot of money for it.  Furthermore, 100 percent of the revenues across the county would stay in the county.   After expenses, labor, and taxes, what percentage of its contribution to the visitor industry would this family get to keep?  After her labor, what percentage of the Hilton Hawaiian Village does a housekeeper get to take home?  What about a receptionist? 

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Politics of Water

The Politics of Water
Most Mauians are aware of the fact our county faces water restrictions that limit our community's ability to grow.  These restrictions are enforced by the highly contentious "Show Me the Water" bill, which requires prospective developers to produce verifiable documentation of how they plan to provide water for a given project before being allowed to proceed.

Water, water everywhere (and it’s fresh too!)
Fresh water on Maui is by and large supplied by two sources: the East Maui Watershed and West Maui’s Na Wai Eha streams and aquifers. The East Maui Watershed produces 60 billion gallons of water a year.  The Iao and Waihe’e Aquifers supply 75 percent of water pumped for municipal use on Maui. These Aquifers are regenerated by Waihee River and the Iao, Waiehu, and Waikapu streams, collectively referred to as Na Wai ‘Eha or the “Four Great Waters”.

First and foremost, let me make one thing clear: Water is not a scarce resource on Maui. US Geological Survey water resource records indicate that the island of Maui has an available fresh water supply amounting to exactly one-half of the entire state’s fresh water resources.  Out of 312.82 million gallons per day (mgd) available on Maui, the county’s municipal water supply (including all residents and commercial businesses that do not have a private water source) amounts to roughly 36.93 mgd, only 11.80 percent of the island’s total water usage. 

So if it’s not going to our county’s residents and businesses, the question remains: where does Maui’s water go? It may come as a surprise that the answer to this question is not so much related to “showing the water”, so to speak, but in exposing the the political forces that control this water.

A resource held in trust, or a resource held hostage?

In 1973, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that all freshwater resources are held in trust by the State for the common good of its citizens.  This ruling was confirmed by the constitutional amendments of 1978 and State Water Code of 1987 that water in Hawai'i is a public trust resource, protected under the State constitution and Water Code, Hawai'i Revised Statutes chapter 174C.  These rulings, collectively referred to as the “public trust doctrine”, govern the use of all water in the State of Hawaii. The public trust doctrine appointed the state as the trustee of this resource and endowed the CWRM with the responsibility of ensuring that it is only used for purposes that are ‘reasonable and beneficial’ to the public wellbeing.

But a century before, water transmission infrastructure had been developed by Maui’s sugarcane plantations and in return, these companies were granted water rights that amounted to the permitted diversion and control of nearly all of Maui’s fresh water (and thereby, nearly all of the State of Hawaii’s fresh water).  Today, a handful of historic plantation agriculture entities retain control of this resource, despite these water rights being established prior to statehood or the public trust doctrine. 

The Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM) has produced multiple reports detailing Maui’s fresh water supply and uses.  CWRM summary findings report that 88 percent of all of Maui’s fresh groundwater supply and 97 percent of the entire island’s surface water supply is diverted and controlled by a handful of agricultural companies – namely, A&B, HC&S, and their subsidiaries.  Due to their grandfathered water rights and despite their lack of need, these entities still control the majority of Maui’s water, even while the island experiences increasingly frequent droughts and residents are faced with tightening water restrictions.

East Maui Watershed
For merely $5 per million gallons, East Maui Irrigation (EMI) Company, a subsidiary of A&B, diverts roughly 200 million gallons per day (mgd) for irrigation of its crops. Hawaii Commercial and Sugar (HC&S) takes roughly 6 mgd, Maui Land and Pineapple Company (MLP) takes about 2 mgd, and the left over 6 mgd goes to the County of Maui to supply all of the upcountry areas with potable water. Very little water (insufficient quantities) remains for local taro production.

Na Wai Eha – the Four Great Waters
Like the East Maui Watershed, much of West Maui's surface water supply is controlled by historic entities that secured these water rights before statehood. Up to 70 million gallons a day (mgd) of Na Wai ‘Eha water is diverted and controlled by Hawaii Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) and Wailuku Water Company (WWC, formerly Wailuku Agribusiness Company) through “grandfathered” water rights. 
Despite the sale of pineapple fields and macadamia nut orchards and the eviction of small farmers from their land, the company continues to divert the same amount of water as at peak production from the region on a daily basis.  According to the US Geological Survey, aquifer water levels are approximately half of what they were since extraction began. Chronic diversion has lowered ground water levels and increased salt water intrusion into wells and has turned the last stretch of each of the four streams into dry riverbeds. The report also states that if extraction of water continues at its current rate, these levels will similarly decline.

All the while, the County of Maui faces increasing water shortage due to an expanding population. To offset the shortage, Maui County purchases up to 3.2 million gallons of WWC diverted water a day and has plans to purchase and additional 9 mgd from WWC with the addition of a second (Waiale) water treatment plant.

No Be Lolo, Restore Stream Flow!
Whether this is a fair distribution of a public trust resource is a weighty issue that the Commission on Water Resource Management has been tasked with resolving. In 2004, Hui o Na Wai Eha and Maui Tomorrow Foundation, Inc., two community-based organizations, with the support of Earth Justice, filed a petition with CWRM to require HC&S and WWC to divert less water from the Na Wai Eha streams in order to restore instream flow standards (IFS) to sustainable levels. (Instream Flow Standards refer to a quantity of water required in a stream system to protect fishery, wildlife, recreational, aesthetic, scenic, and other beneficial instream uses.). Enforcement of IFS would require that HC&S and WWC return 50% of what is currently extracted on a daily basis, which amounts to 34.5 million gallons per day, and 12 mgd of current and projected municipal supply. The Commission is scheduled to announce its decision any day now.

HC&S and WWC oppose stream flow restoration on the grounds that reducing the amount of water that it currently takes from Na Wai Eha by half will drive the sugarcane company into bankruptcy. Indeed, the closure of the last remaining sugarcane grower and producer in Hawaii would represent a symbolic loss and would result in job losses for up to 800 HC&S employees and the loss of some $100 million in annual revenue.  But HC&S and WWC can no longer even use all of the water they are credited.  In fact, Wailuku Water Company no longer functions as an agricultural entity but instead earns its profits by selling water to CoM and other private entities.  And in a 2005 letter to shareholders, Wailuku Water Company announced it had a surplus of 27.5 mgd for sale. If WWC had a surplus of 27.5 mgd available for sale to its shareholders in 2005 and currently sells water to the County of Maui on top of that, the claim that stream flow restoration would categorically result in bankruptcy of the company is hard to believe.

Unlike many of my colleagues in the field of development, I actually support the Show Me the Water bill and enforcement of CWRM strem flow restoration mandates. Depletion of our water resources puts us at risk of becoming the next ‘Easter Island’, wherein our existence is threatened by overuse and destruction of the very watershed resources that sustain us.  While the likelihood that a lack of water will ever spell the demise of life on Maui is virtually impossible, (after all, Maui does boast the second wettest place in the world), the possibility serves to remind us to respect to our water resources.  As a community, it is imperative that we guard our limited water resources with the utmost vigilance, at the risk of depleting our groundwater supply and surface runoff resources.

-TRE Bien

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tsunami Day!

A week and two days ago, there was a tsunami coming. The text messages began to arrive around 4:30AM – Steve came down shortly after to tell me what was up. We turned on the news and there it was: tsunami coming!

In my excitement I raced out the door and up the hill. Which is to say, I raced out the door, into my car, down A’o Hoku street and then was confronted with a line of traffic and came to a dead stop. The traffic was at a complete crawl. Literally every car (and most of us who live on Maui have at least one) was on the road, in a scurried shuffle out of the central valley, heading for high ground.

Travel to Kula must have taken 60 minutes, whereas with no traffic it usually takes about 30. During this luxuriated drive I had the chance to adjust to my surroundings. There was a couple standing on the side of the road in full beach attire, armed with blow-up inner tubes and lathering on sun tan lotion in big globs. For the first time in a while I noticed that the vine on Ace Hardware’s nursery had crept up the building wall. But the vine had nothing on the length of the line at the hardware store’s gas station. The line stretched half a mile down the road! And holy moly! I have never seen my little town so abuzz. Local twenty-somethings stood talking story with sixty year old men at the gas pump, trading stories about their respective Tsunami Day experiences. The store was bustling with activity.

Because I had by happy coincidence filled my tank the night before, I really had no reason to be at Ace Hardware at all. But because I was there (admittedly wanting to take part in the festivities) I decided to query the shopkeeper about their vermicomposters available. Unfortunately, Ace Hardware does not carry the kind of composter that I need – one that will sufficiently keep the vermis in and their castings out. (I don’t believe in making any living creature, earthworms included, live in their own poo).

So yes, if you are wondering, I have decided to support le au natural methods expounded by Hale Akua Farms and embrace the permaculture methodology of using earthworms for composting. After further research, I do believe that the contested red wiggler is welcome in my home (Maui). Under the right conditions, in the right vermicomposter in a sealed shed, these worms are a welcome asset to my organic farming efforts.

I had also hoped to pick up some plywood for my garden boxes, but the only kind they had was quite chemically treated and probably too flimsy to hold a great big amount of soil and water. So I put a call in to Uncle Eddie, who recently brought somebody on board at Sustainable Construction, LLC, who has his LEED AP and only sources FSC wood. He will certainly be able to help me pick out some good, clean, strong wood for my garden boxes…

In the end, the big wave never came. But if nothing else, I hope that last weekend's "tsunami" served as a wake up call for our community. Sometimes I wish that the boats would just stop coming. If they didn't come, we would be forced to look inward and make the necessary changes to become a self-sustaining community. On the most basic level, this means growing our own food.

But the grim reality is that our state and county governments are not structured to support or even allow growth in this direction. Instead, freight cargo for produce shipments is subsidized (and, if the proposed bill passes the legislature, will soon be untaxed as well), which forces our local farmers to compete on a global scale. It's murder! The most confounding thing about it is that these senators and representatives believe that they are doing good by subsidizing cargo shipments because it reduces the cost to the consumer. How do they not realize that they are killing our agricultural economy in the process? I suppose it is as the saying goes, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions".

Monday, March 1, 2010

on the heartbreaking value of a dollar

In April of 2010, Makena Resort will be put up for auction to pay off the $194 million debt owned to lenders. This price is a significant reduction from the $595 million it was sold for in 2005 and the “bargain basement” appeal of a $200M price tag has caused something of a sensation in the Maui community.
With the auction date swiftly approaching, I have noticed that my mind wanders to the fate of Makena Resort with increasing frequency and preoccupation. I am a Maui local, born and raised, and like a majority of my peers, Maui’s natural environment defines my reality. It bears the legacy of my past and the promise of my future. It is my home, and it is sacred.
Although I did not grow up in Makena, the sacredness of this area is less the exception than it is the rule. Query anybody you meet down at First, Second, or Third entrance, and I bet you will be hard pressed to find a single person who believes that Big Beach is not culturally, ecologically, spiritually, emotionally, or philosophically significant.
But in a little over a month, whichever person or faceless business interest can produce the greatest stack of bills will be named new owner of Makena Resort. This worries me.
Putting the Resort up for auction could play out in a number of disturbing ways. By definition, an auction will determine Makena Resort’s new owner using capital as the singular selection criterion, with zero consideration as to whether said owner is capable of responsible land use and management. What will the new owner do with the Resort? What will the impact to the area be and how will these decisions affect our island community?
One musing leads to another, and I begin to daydream about what I would do with the Resort if it were mine. Of course, my daydreams are purely fantastical – how could I possibly convince some bigwig investor that my vision for Makena Resort is so exceptional that it is worth hundreds of millions of his or her dollars? Despite its impossibility, I concentrate on the realistic details of my dream, and I begin the thought exercise of imagining how I would generate the necessary capital. I’d need partners, and the first person I would approach is Dale Bonar.
Dale Bonar, for those of you who don’t know, is the Executive Director of the Maui Coastal Land Trust (MCLT). As land trusts go and considering that such organizations exist to protect land into perpetuity, MCLT is still in its infancy. But don’t let its youth fool you. In its short ten years of existence, MCLT has realized herculean success in protecting open spaces by purchasing land titles and negotiating conservation easements. MCLT actively engages the community in its conservation efforts through programs and opportunities designed to educate Maui’s residents and youth in cultural and environmental resource conservation.
I cannot imagine a more perfect guardian and steward of Makena Resort than the Maui Coastal Land Trust, which is why the first call I make in this daydream is to Dale. However, as far as I know, MCLT is not qualified, capable, or interested in owning and operating the existing Makena Resort hotel and golf club. And at the risk of exposing myself to the outrage of those who stand staunchly opposed to development, I offer my personal belief that Makena Resort can be pono… it can be something that is right. Therefore, in my conversation with Mr. Bonar, I would propose entering into a 50/50 partnership wherein MCLT assumes stewardship of the Resort property that lies to the South of Pu’u Olai through a conservation easement, and I would assume responsibility of the hotel and acreage north of the area’s landmark cinder cone.
As a community, the residents of Maui have needs that must be met through its economic activity. Historically speaking, this activity has been defined by plantation agriculture; cattle ranching; and since the 1960’s, tourism and real estate development. Sadly, each of these economic forces has proven to be socially inequitable and environmentally unsustainable.
Mono-crop agribusiness has also proven to be economically unsustainable. The emergence of global markets drove a dagger into Hawaii’s agribusiness economy and in recent times, the recession has begun to twist that proverbial knife. I suspect that it won’t be long before HC&S sugarcane operations follows Maui Land & Pine to the grave, and massive portions of this land goes up for sale. I hope that as a community, we will consider the incredible effect this land grab could have on our island and develop a preferred course of action in anticipation of this shift. Because with mindful planning, the demise of the old economic framework bears exciting possibilities, especially with regard to our visitor industry.
I do not support the claim that endless construction is an acceptable means to sustain our economy. Indeed, it is the most direct route to poisoning our visitor industry and destroying our precious environment in the process. But the construction industry is starved for activity and technologies and methods are available for building in a manner that minimally impacts the environment.
To finance the remaining half of the property would require a very unique group of investors. The collapse of the housing market in 2008 crippled real estate development industry, the visitor industry, and indeed, the world as we know it. If Makena Resort were mine, I would be poised to deliver an illuminated solution to the financial powers that be when they finally recognize that their status-quo approach to development is beyond fixing.
Homes would be built according to the Dowling Company design guidelines to be net zero energy facilities and according to the highest green building standard.  A portion of these homes would be developed on three-acre estate lots and marketed and sold as timeshares. The Resort’s ultra-lux "timeshare estates" and vacation rentals would be modeled after Sunriver Resort, so that instead of selling of the property and handing the keys over to an absentee offshore market, we could instead retain control of the resort and draw a continual revenue stream from operating it.
If it were my Resort, I would design, build, and operate eco-lodges that would redefine the standard for sustainable development. "The Camp" as it would be called, would be a dynamic hybrid establishment made up of equal parts permaculture farm, ranch, and exclusive visitor destination that would function to provide its guests with the ultimate experience in sustainable luxury.
The Camp would feature five eco-lodges situated on twenty-acre parcels in the upper section of the property, separated from each other by a buffer of landscaped kiawe tree cover and converted pastureland. These open spaces would be laced together with a network of wood chip trails that are only accessible by foot or horseback and are mindfully situated to display the property’s significant natural and archeological landmarks.
These lodges would feature a salt-water pool and world-class fitness center and spa, (in the interest of maximizing the wonder of this fantasy, please don’t ask how I intend to “Show You the Water”), a horse stable, riding arena, polo field, and maybe even a skeet shooting range. Several acres of organic permaculture gardens and dryland taro lo’i scattered across the site would supply all of the produce used at the resort's lodge and hotel.
Operating time-share and TVR estates would bring in substantially more visitors (and their pocketbooks) to the island and provide hundreds of jobs. Further, it will help to make Makena an active, living, vibrant community. Wouldn’t it be such a shame if after everything has been developed and sold to third and fourth homebuyers, Makena were just ghost town of beautiful, empty houses?
The experience at these eco-lodges would be targeted to a very specific type of clientele. Visitors would be regarded not as tourists but as students of Hawaiian culture and sustainable living. One of the cornerstone philosophies of these ranches would be to develop innovative ways to live sustainably.  We could spend our days operating our permaculture farm(s) and developing methods to eliminate our waste stream and carbon footprint.  We could host retreats and visitors could come to experience our unique and holistic lifestyle.  Sustainability would be so seamlessly integrated into ranch operations that the visitor can choose whether to make sustainability a focus of their stay.  Tours, workshops, assistance and information will be provided to those who seek to learn more about our methods and what makes us unique.  Others are welcome to simply spend their time at the ranch relaxing and rejuvenating.  To supplement this objective, in-house amenities will include massage, acupuncture, meditation and yoga classes.  

Visitors would be also welcomed to partake in ecological and archeological expeditions through Makena’s living laboratory of rare native species and labyrinths of historic cultural sites. These visitors would be educated about the negative impact of feral ungulate populations on the native ecosystem and could be led on guided expeditions to hunt axis deer, wild goat, and boar. At lodge luaus, visitors would enjoy traditionally prepared Kalua pork made from the wild boar they caught and Makena venison would be preserved as jerky for guests to bring home to their friends and families.

If I owned Makena Resort, the Prince Hotel would undergo mindful renovations to reinvigorate its luxurious appeal and accent its antiquated Japanese charm. Renovations would modernize its energy and water use systems and aesthetic upgrades would strictly adhere to the maintenance and preservation of its historical integrity.

My Makena Resort would have a robust Voluntourism program. By partnering with local environmental and cultural nonprofits, I would provide visitors with an opportunity to experience the meaning of malama ka aina. I would develop an ecosystem restoration project in partnership with the neighboring land trust and would work with people like Art Medeiros and apply the techniques used at Auwahi in makai regions of the leeward Haleakala watershed to bring back the native dry land forest. Cultural expert Kimokeo Kapahulehua would be commissioned with the restoration and ongoing management of the ancient fishpond fronting the property's shoreline. “Uncle Bully”, as he is known, would teach our youth and community about traditional Hawaiian fishing methods. We would partner with the Protect Kahoolawe Organization to allow interested tourists and residents to participate in Kahoolawe’s recovery since being retired as a military test site.

Maui’s mild climate and year-round growth cycle make it the perfect incubator for cultivating a sustainability ethic. Its particularly stunning natural resources serve to catalyze and amplify this phenomenon. As awareness about how to live sustainably spreads within our community, a sense of collective pride and purpose will emerge and unite individuals and diverse groups. Visitors will be drawn to our island to witness and experience our intricate and beautiful dance with the natural world.
Helping visitors on Maui authentically connect with the island's environment and cultural identity is an invaluable service that cannot be quantified in a dollar amount. But my Makena Resort would come with the promise and guarantee that our guests' experience will be worth every zero printed on our thoughtfully designed, hand crafted, 100% local and organic, fantastically robust price tag. More importantly, recreating Maui’s visitor accommodations as family and community-based commercial cooperatives would generate long-term and meaningful employment opportunities that would reward stewardship of our natural environment and enable local residents to capture their fair share of the visitor-industry market.
Makena Resort could serve as a template for integrating sustainability into visitor accommodations across Maui.  I would offer educational workshops and by provide consulting services for other local families interesting in growing their own sustainable visitor accommodations.  Transitioning Maui’s economy away from large-scale resorts and corporate tourism to family-owned and operated organic farms, TVR and B&B retreat centers will generate long-term and meaningful employment opportunities for local residents.

The only main design guidelines for our ohana family farm clusters and our kuleana communities would be that 1) they dedicate one portion of the collectively-owned property (i.e. resort/commons) to producing enough food (hopefully by then the laws will require it to be organic) to supply its own community and visitor population and 2) one area of the commons property is set aside for community restoration efforts (native ecosystem rehabilitation).  Schools could work with these communities to incorporate experiential learning in farming, or cooking, or ecological restoration and maintain an engage the entire community in the education of its youth.  The ranches would supply virtually all the produce and meat for on-site or neighborhood eateries and grocery markets. 

This vision of commercial communalism will strengthen Maui’s nuclear and extended ohanas, neutralize human impact on the environment, reward the island’s residents for their stewardship of Maui and effectively capture its market for visitor dollars.  This new type of the visitor accommodation would strengthen the social fabric of our communities, initiate a cultural renaissance, and advance the cultivation of lifestyles that neutralize human impact on the environment.

This is why if I owned Makena Resort, I’d dedicate my life to perfecting this Un-City Next to a Hill. That is to say, let's commercialize, commodify and market the worm castings out of the Maui Commercial Cooperative economic model. 

-TRE Bien.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The anatomy of organic farming

In light of the Whole Foods bashing that OGM doled out last week, I would like to take this opportunity to expand on the subject of organic food. There seems to be a strong and growing perception that organic food is unequivocally better for human health and for the environment. I admit that I am guilty of this assumption. But this weekend I had an opportunity to visit two farms on Maui: one that grows food hydroponically and one that practices organic permaculture. What I learned may surprise you.

Hydroponic agriculture is an innovative technology that has eliminated the need for soil. Instead, water is mixed with a cocktail of nutrients consisting of nitrogen, phosphorous, and trace minerals such as molybdenum and circulated through a network of PVC storm drains, delivering water and nutrients to the plants. This aqueous solution is then returned to a storage tank where the mixture is re-calibrated using sensitive technology to measure its pH before it is re-circulated. Inasmuch, hydroponic gardening not only uses no soil, it uses very little water as well.

That’s not to say that the hydroponic process is without its flaws. Bisphenol A, commonly abbreviated as BPA, is a potentially hazardous compound found in the plastic piping used for hydroponic farming. When this piping gets heated, BPA is released. A slew of health experts and scientists have recently spoken out about this issue, urging people to not use plastic bottles and to never drink from them if they have been sitting in a hot car. Presumably, plant uptake of BPA could occur and could be passed on to the consumer. Whether plants are capable of BPA uptake is a serious concern that warrants further research.

The permaculture farm I visited is located in a tropical area of northeast Maui. The first issue I took to was the fact that this particular farm was created by clearing virgin rainforest. Big no-no. Further, as any soil expert will tell you, rainforest ecosystems return very little organic matter into the soil, and once it is cleared, it can be very difficult to get anything to grow. For this reason, remediating the soil to grow food crops is an incredibly daunting challenge for these farmers. And while they have made every effort to deliver an eco-conscious, healthful product, their methods raise a number of serious concerns.

Azomite and peat moss, two primary additive constituents of their soil, are non-renewable resources that literally took thousands – even millions – of years to develop. I personally know several people that do not buy hydroponic lettuce because of a perception that the use of synthesized nutrients is unhealthy or bad for the planet. I will admit that I have not done my due diligence on the environmental impact of the synthesizing process of nutrient compounds, but any chemist will tell you an element is an element; identical no matter what its constituent source. This organic farm’s practice of extracting non-renewable resources from the ground to remediate its soil strikes me as much less sustainable than mixing a couple of elements together to produce the exact same thing. Further, azomite and peat moss must be imported from the mainland and could carry any number of alien or invasive species inside of it.

And then there were the worms. Vermicomposting is a commonly utilized practice in organic farming that employs the help of earthworms to decompose organic matter and produce worm castings, which can be used as fertilizer. The farm manager at the permaculture farm stressed the environmentally benign nature of these worms and repeatedly stated that they posed zero threat to Hawaii’s fragile ecosystem. He did so by pointing out that 1) red wiggler worms do not eat living plant matter (only the dead stuff) and 2) the ambient temperature outside of their compost heap is too cold for these worms and they would not be able to survive.

Whoa. Where do I begin? Am I truly expected to believe that a hungry little red wiggler would not mao down on a live plant if it had nothing else to eat?

Consider this: this farm’s red wigglers, a vegetarian earthworm species, have been raised to compost meat. It strikes me as rather preposterous to claim that they cannot adapt to eat live vegetation, such as grass, but meat is just fine and dandy. And even if they eat other things, it can still be harmful. The Minnesota Worm Watch says of the non-native red wiggler:

…These earthworms that are sold and shipped all over the country for home compost piles and vermicomposting operations…. are not known to survive Minnesota winters. However, if they or other species are able to survive winter and escape from compost piles they could further harm native forests. If you have a compost pile in a forested area, do not introduce additional non-native earthworms.

While there are particular differences between Minnesota’s native forests and ours regarding detritus and other decaying organic matter that blanket Minnesota’s forest floor, does anyone really know what would happen if some of these worms got out of their compost and into our delicate native ecosystems? Until there is conclusive evidence documenting their safety, the risk to our ecosystem certainly warrants further examination. Also, while they may not be able to survive the Minnesota cold, I left a Ziploc bagful of these worms outside of my house in Kula, where temperatures get down to the low 50s, for two nights. And when I came back, those worms were very much alive and well.

One more thing. A main component of the red wiggler’s diet is newspaper. Is newsprint organic? I’d have to check with the Maui News, but black ink is usually petroleum based. Also, the fountain solution that is used to wash/condition and prepare the paper for printing is highly chemically treated and is not recommend for garden use. So this organic farm feeds their potentially invasive worm species chemically processed newspaper that is stamped edge to edge with petroleum based ink. Huh. I have a sneaky suspicion that these chemicals are traveling right through those worms, into their castings, and straight into the so-called “organic” food that is grown at this farm.

I do not mean to dismiss the benefit of organic farming – and there are many. Overall, I do believe that organic permaculture is the more holistic approach. The point of what I am saying is that there are benefits and trade-offs to everything, and organic farming is no exception to the rule. As a community, the success or failure of cultivating sustainability on Maui demands meticulous analysis of these benefits and trade-offs, so that we can successfully identify the better option and make the right choices.