Aquaponics no ka 'oi. Aquaponics is the best (for me anyway, see below). It is a compact system that attempts to emulate the ecosystem found in nature to abundantly provide food for mankind, and is an integral part of the higher goals of permaculture and sustainability.
Why is an organic farm in the center of Kahului such a big deal? Well, look at it from my perspective. I was raised in an Upper Paia sugar plantation camp called Nashiwa Village, close to Paia School, just below Holy Rosary Catholic Church. We used an outhouse that shared a cesspool with 4 neighbors, open grey water ditches ran between houses, our drinking water system used a Bull Durham tobacco bag for a filter and got muddy during rains. The plantation sprayed DDT in the air frequently to control mosquitoes. My Mother used a large metal tub with a wooden paddle over an open fire to wash my Dad's really dirty clothes. This was fertile land, and most everyone had a garden. Fruit trees grew wild everywhere, and there seemed to be no lack of freely accessible food.
Then in 1960 we were enticed to relocate to the 6th increment of "Dream City" in Kahului. The plantation wanted Upper Paia back to grow sugar cane, and "Dream City" was non-arable land built on sand dunes. The 6th increment was offered to us for 25 cents per square foot. What a deal, or so we thought. The 6th increment was scraped of its top layer along with the kiawe trees right down to the bedrock of pure sandstone. I later found that the pH of the "soil" was 8.4, pure coral sand. I remember helping my Dad try to crush the sandstone with pick and shovel for years to make a plantable top soil. My Dad came from a pineapple sharecrop family so he wanted to make things grow for food. Solid sandstone is pretty hard stuff, it will bend your digging tools. We also hauled truckloads of dirt and manure from Paia and upcountry to try to make the soil more arable. To some extent we succeeded, but the land has a tendency to go back to its native bedrock, sand. Plus in windy Kahului, sand is always blowing over the land, creating sand berms and burying the more organic soil that we built up. It was a losing battle. But I never lost my connection to agriculture. I picked pineapple for five summers before, during, and after high school, and I swung a cane knife as a seed cutter for Puna Sugar on the Big Island before they went out of business.
Of course there is a lot more to this story, but just let me say that I have never seen this land thrive with abundant plant life until I installed this aquaponics system. I believe that this is the future of small scale urban agriculture as we lose our arable land and water resources. The more people that do this the better. I see a cooperative where a lot of smaller urban farmers will be able to provide for much of the food needs of Maui and decrease our dependency on imported foods. If it can be done in Kahului, it can be done anywhere.
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