Living the life, locally

By Malaika Maphalala

This fall brought a big transition back to Hawaii for me.  My oldest daughter started college this year, freeing me up to return to east Hawaii, my home of twenty years. It’s been interesting to come back to Hawaii after three years of being centered in the city of Portland, Oregon.  I’m struck by the changes – once sleepy little Hilo town seems to be having a Renaissance. There are new shops and restaurants and the downtown area is bright, creative, and colorful.  “Think Local, Buy Local” signs are everywhere and the shops are full of beautiful, quality, island-made creations.

Hale logo200pxI can directly see the impact of the work my friend and colleague, Michael Kramer, has been doing in this island community.  He played a critical role in the founding of a local BALLE chapter, called “HALE” – Hawaii Alliance for a Local Economy.  The organization, led by newly named BALLE Local Economy Fellow, Andrea Dean, spearheaded the “Think Local, Buy Local” campaign to increase awareness about the value of supporting local business.  Their website states that “Independent businesses located in communities that have an active “buy local” campaign operated by a local business organization (such as HALE!) experienced markedly stronger revenue growth compared to those in areas without such an initiative.” The results are clear in Hilo.  Andrea also drove the Kanu Hawaii Eat Local Challenge – a project near and dear to my heart because my youngest daughter and her 4-H club made a fantastic video (see documenting their week-long commitment to eat only locally grown foods that culminated with a feast prepared for their friends and families. 

MM goatsThis is a place where most of my closest friends are farmers, and it’s a treat to see the growth of their farms and businesses over time.  My old friend Lava Stacey and her partner Steve Sayre are the founders of Puna Goat Cheese, a farmstead cheese business based on their own Lava Rocks Farm. I actually designed the labels for their fledgling business years ago, and I get a kick out of seeing their products on store shelves today still boasting the same hand-painted label. Lava and Steve started their farm with six goats producing five pounds of cheese a week; Lava Rocks Farm now has 60 goats and produces 180 pounds a week!  Today their fine goat cheeses are in all the island health food stores, the local chain of grocery stores, and featured at the Four Seasons resorts in both Hawaii and Lanai.  And wonderfully, her four sons, who I watched grow up, are now contributing to the family business and helping it grow.  You’ll find someone from their family every week at one of the many farmers markets in the area, displaying their delicious chevres, spiced feta, and new goat milk soaps.  That’s a great success story to me.  

On a personal level, I feel like I’m getting acquainted with my old community anew.  I’m deeply appreciating coming back to a rural, homesteading lifestyle and I find myself thinking about what building a sustainable life and community really means to me.  I’ve begun with getting rooted in my own home, my work, and garden.  Thanks to Hawaii’s year-round warm weather, I get to spend time outdoors every day, and nothing counteracts a day of working at the computer like some time in the garden.  I’m getting excited about the coming kale, lettuce, and green beans, and just made my first batch of sauerkraut with homegrown cabbage. On Saturdays, we spend the morning at our friends’ farm taking care of milking the animals so they can catch a break and we can get our week’s worth of fresh milk. And on a grander scale, we generally spend our Fridays in Waimea where we’ll be leasing 50 acres of pastureland starting in January.  We’re beginning to install cross fencing and intend to run a sustainably managed, rotational grazing system for cows and possibly a few other types of animals. The land has been deforested and we want to plant trees to reforest portions of the property as wind breaks and to manage soil erosion.  It’s a big project – one that both excites and overwhelms.  I’ll be taking it one step at a time – getting re-rooted in place, reconnecting with old friends, and finding my place in the greater community.  

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Malaika Maphalala

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