|A vast plantation of pineapple? Nope, just my Auntie P's backyard garden! - photo by Wasabi Prime|
It's nearly impossible to lose sight of the fact that Hawaii is a string of islands, and given that isolated geography, that inspires a need for sustainability. Goods and resources tend to be more costly because much of it is barged or flown in. During the turn of the century, agriculture made the islands a valuable commodity, but the fields of pineapple and sugar cane disappeared over the years as commercial air travel became more viable, and the industry of tourism eclipsed the plantation days. A waning economy has been a reminder to everyone that a renewed focus on local resources and increased self-reliance is a valuable investment to take part of.
|Baby eggplants, chili peppers, Suriname cherries in a yard, and a breadfruit at a park - photos by Wasabi Prime|
Staying a few days at my aunt and uncle's home in Kaneohe, a city on Oahu outside of Honolulu, we were given access to a produce department in a home backyard. My Auntie P clearly picked up the Green Thumb talent in the family and has always used her backyard garden to its full extent. She grows tomatoes, pineapples, chili peppers, salad greens, eggplant, and various herbs. She also has a huge Suriname cherry tree which produces beautiful, sour little fruits, what she used to call "pumpkin cherries," because their exteriors look a bit like a round bumpy squash. A fortified punch of vitamin C, the large-pitted cherries are too tart to just eat on their own, but she uses them for preserves and I'm sure would probably make for a marvelous relish come Thanksgiving Day.
Auntie P was last seen carefully nursing a small bell pepper plant that she had sprouted from seeds. Given that Hawaii's warm and rainy climate turns annuals into perennials, this lone pepper plant could easily produce several years' worth of bell peppers, so it's worth the extra care. Every time I visit, I'm envious of her tomato plants, which are more like a tomato bush, as they don't die back and just continue to fruit throughout the year.
Along with the bounty from home gardens, we saw breadfruit trees growing in parks. About the size of a large melon, the bumpy-skinned breadfruit were concentrated carbohydrate sources for the Native Hawaiians. Because it's so starchy, it's a bit like a potato once cooked and can be used in similar tuber-like applications. Much like the potato, the breadfruit's myth describes the Hawaiian people's deliverance from famine: the god of war Kū, after living in secret among mortals, sacrificed himself so that his family and others could be saved from starvation, and a breadfruit tree miraculously grew from a place where he once stood. For a lot of the traditional foods in Hawaii, there are legends like these to remind people of the value of what the land can provide. Aside from providing a lush, tropical landscape, the plants and trees are a resource worth nurturing.
There remains a strong connection to the land that the locals have, and I believe this connection grows stronger and new connections are being made as people are realize how this works toward environmental sustainability. Having so many people in Hawaii descended from the plantation era and generations of accomplished farmers (my own family included), it isn't unusual to just walk outside and pull together ingredients from the yard for a meal; this mentality is truly in the hearts and minds of the people. Granted, Hawaii is a more hospitable place for year-round growing, but it's an inspiring reminder for everyone to be aware of what is readily available, versus what needs to be brought in from afar.
|It ain't easy being green... unless you're in Hawaii. Then it's super-easy. Photo by Wasabi Prime|
Don't touch that dial...er...keyboard! The second part of this two-part Hawaii adventure is on its way! Having discussed the natural side of Hawaii, one has to reveal the unnatural side of Spam and other unique local foods that created a beloved menu inspired by resourcefulness and multi-culturalism. Next stop: Ono Kine Grindz! Mahalo!