Bytes, Nibs & Scars

'70s muu'muu. label:  Kiyomi Hawaii / Liberty House.

’70s muu’muu. label: Kiyomi Hawaii / Liberty House.

It’s been a mere four years since I’ve published a post. This Honolulu baby is back on O’ahu with its distractions, pleasures and obligations. In the age of Snapchat, does anyone give a rat’s okolehao about blogs anymore?   I signed up for a WordPress Workshop with John LeBlanc at ProtoHub in Kaka’ako, first meeting was Wednesday night, and that is motivating me to dig out of my Facebook sandbox and engage again in Slow Post.

Last year I got my first cancer diagnosis, a melanoma.  I kinda had to wake up and admit that I was deeply unhappy with life, and if I didn’t get with the real program, I might as well fly home on the melanoma. But that’s fodder for another paddock. Much of this old blog is paleo era social media, with antiquated layout–I doubt it even works on mobile devices. It’s probably a virtual graveyard of 404 links. But instead of sanitizing, erasing and presenting the  perfect post at some mythical future date, I’m just going to publish this now, scars ‘n all.  Matches my left shoulder. NOT surprisingly, the cancer presented behind my heart.

Groovy things have been happening recently. I’ve reconnected with so many decades old friends this summer, it’s like having a life review in slow motion. More will be added tonight since it’s First Friday and rumor has it several of my Punahou classmates are in town and we are converging on my permaculture/localizing heroes Nat and Dave of Madre Chocolate in their new garden venue downtown, on Pauahi St.  My classmate Dan McLaughlin is playing folk-ish music with some pals.  Music, chocolate, whiskey, high school buddies. That’s how to prevent melanoma recurrence.

I might wear that amazing Liberty House 70’s mu’u I scooped at Saver’s Monday night. I wonder if it shows the scar?

3 lb. bag of ginger sold at Costco

My love/hate relationship with Costco continues.  I am recently guilty of buying two gallons of OJ because it was less than the price of two, 1/2 gallons, at KTA.  Now I’m giving 2 of the four 1/2 gallons away so it doesn’t go bad.  The Little Green Book of Shopping by Diane Millis says something like 30% of food is wasted in the UK and US. That’s a bit excessive.

In a tweet last summer I ranted,  “Costco is selling Mexican(small logo) mangoes distr. in CA (large print) in PLASTIC & cardboard in Hawai’i- PROTEST!!” What I couldn’t include with only 140 characters, was what I said to the unfortunate frazzled Mom  standing next to me who wanted to buy them. “Are you really going to buy mangoes from Mexico during mango season in Hawai’i?”  I asked incredulously.  She didn’t appear to be a wholesaler, judging from the contents of her cart.  She said something about their tree didn’t have any, which is plausible. We only got a couple dozen up in Holualoa, it’s been so dry.  Still, it seems a weak reason to buy produce from 2500 miles away when better quality of the same item is available down the street.  But who has time to go down the street when you are looking for healthy snacks for a Cub Scout meeting, as this innocent consumer was?

The packaging was just so over-the-top, it triggered  my Joan of Locavore ire.  First, the misleading labeling, graphically designed to disguise the foreign origin of the mangoes.  Then, the plastic space bubbles–individual depressions in the plastic for each mango, and surrounding that a cardboard retro-flat crate.  It’s cheap enough with all that packaging expense that they are bought “wholesale” at Costco and resold at the Kona Farmer’s Market on Ali’i Drive to unsuspecting shoppers assuming they are local.  Yes, I fact checked.  This is so wrong on so many levels.

All that is to say I have some negative feelings about Costco.  The positives are obvious; price, return policy, and they do sell locally sourced goods, including local  produce (even organic).  That’s how I found out the good news about the ginger.

A previous blog mentions Ken Love‘s story about ginger.  He wrote an excellent article about the real problems with mislabeled produce: http://blogs.hawaiibusiness.com/2010/10/08/hawaiian-ginger-product-of-china/.  Ginger is one of the scary stories with roots from China, North America, and Hawai’i in the same bin at the grocery store.  I had to put on my glasses to find out the Costco ginger was local.


It looked local, but the display didn’t mention local produce or Hawai’i grown.  The brand, Christoper Ranch from California, is famous for their garlic.

So good things are happening, even if it’s not obvious.  Ginger growers in Hawai’i have found a way to sell their produce to a larger market.  Hawaiian ginger is making a name for itself in the world.

The most useful blog in my world is Hawaii Agriculture. They keep current, and really cover the field (and sometimes stray into the ocean and forest.)  A recent post alerted me to potential perils in the produce section: http://hawaii-agriculture.com/hawaii-agriculture-blog/west-hawaii-today-features-food-sustainability-a-kona-vores-dilemma, right here in Kona.  The issue is produce that isn’t local, being sold as such,  sometimes mixed into the same bin with local produce.  Talk about a hot topic for local farmers!

But I was just thinking about what to cook for dinner while shopping the next day at my favorite local natural food store, Island Naturals Market & Deli.  I like them so much I kind of felt bad about writing  this post, but hey, as ye show, so shall ye reap.   I found some gorgeous organic courgettes.  No price, no problem, friendly Produce Man is 6 feet away.  He dug around and put up the tag.   The price for not going to the Farmer’s market, $2.99 a lb, but they are deep green, and gorgeous, and . . . they’re from MEXICO???

Trying to stay off my soap-box, I  said to Produce Man as innocently as I could, “the tag says ‘Mainland,’ but the labels say they’re from Mexico (organic at least).”   He stuttered a bit and said something about only having “local” and “mainland” tags, and admitted there was a problem with about four of their products.  I couldn’t help saying, “Hawaii’ is my mainland, by the way, but the point is Mexico is a foreign country with different standards for organic.”

“I’m from Sweden,”  he smiled, ”  I see your point, and I hope by the next time you come in we’ll have that fixed.”  He could have argued that there are more Kona area residents native to Mexico, than are native to any other of the “States” not on the West Coast.  Like I said,  Produce Man is a nice guy. Now that I’ve done some research, it looks like Mexico’s standards are ok.  STILL!   I had to go back the next day as it turns out, and the signs remained the same– but that’s not much of a grace period for corporate policy changes.

A few days later I’m at my favorite conventional supermarket, KTA.  The same cute Mexican courgettes with the yellow label (my phone camera doesn’t have a flash) are in the organic produce section.

the pretty courgettes from Mexico

The nearest origin tags say “product of USA.”   KTA has tracks on the shelf edges to put the tags on, and they don’t specifically reference the item they refer to.   So, I just turned the “product of USA”  label over.

Back to the Hawaii Agriculture blog.  What about local-not-necessarily-organic  vs organic imports? The BBC writes in a great little article, “Local food is usually more “green” than organic food, according to a report published in the journal Food Policy.”


Safeway’s label takes the cake for localwannabe:

product of Kenya

‘Ewa Sugar Plantation (ca 1890-1970) as mentioned in a previous blog,  was my childhood home.  One day a friend and I were heading out to that side.  It is painful to see what that simple, charming community has degenerated into, I don’t go often.

First thing, since we were coming from Kapolei side, I got lost.  A testament to the City and County’s aggressive development of the ‘Ewa plain agriculture lands. We approached from the old Barber’s Point (Kalaeloa) gate along the old Oahu Land & Railway tracks, past the Hawaiian Railway Society. (Extra)

Varona is the first of the ‘Ewa Villages.  Seriously dilapidated, both physically and by scandal, but still inhabited. One of the things Varona was famous for is cockfighting.  Although, the only one I ever saw was in Fernandez Village.

We drove past the mill that isn’t there anymore.  Past the park with magnificent old royal palms, the only way to identify the town from the surrounding area.  Then into the driveway, which used to be lined with royal palms as well. My friend Joe grew up in Waimanalo, but like most people, including locals, had never been to Ewa Plantation, and was shocked at the extent of  deterioration.   The once spectacular landscaping reduced to dead grass and dirt.  A few of the old trees have survived.

We followed the driveway around the house, now occupied by a church and community association.  No one was there.  Outside the courtyard with dry fishpond, was a splendid pile of the old shutters!  They were there a couple of years ago on my last visit.  A combination of nostalgia and my commitment to sustainability kicked in.  Several of the wood louvers were no longer attached to the frames.  Frames. The wood remained miraculously unmolested by bugs.  Probably because of the lead based paint. The forest green slats were attractively time worn, fabulously faded by natural processes.   Picture frames. (!)

My wonderful brother-in-law, Dennis, who lives in Wisconsin, was a picture framer in his early days.  He’s moved on to more exotic projects, like weaving shuttles and looms, but he might be convinced to make some for his wife and her siblings.   Would that be stealing? Is it a crime to steal discarded items for non-commercial reuse?

I remember picking some thimble berries from our neighbor’s hedge once. My Mother insisted I go knock on their door, apologize, and ask for permission.  I did, wracked with shame, sniffling out my repentance.  The guilt induced was far more effective than the alternative of spanking. Fortunately Mrs. Cushnie was gracious, and invited me to take as many as I wished, anytime.  Lingering guilt prevented any future gathering forays.  Strange how 40 years later I my opu still contracts.  There was no one to ask for permission. Would anyone notice?  Ok, that’s hardly an acceptable moral standard.



As far as I’m concerned, there are no publicly accessible structures of historical charm between Waipahu and Ka’ena Point, you have to go to Wahiawa or Haleiwa.  Some of us appreciate the kuleana of Honouli’uli, but it’s no place for sightseeing.  The years of  labor and resources my parents invested in creating and maintaining this little plantation jewel were utterly destroyed.

Would Messrs. Jacques Pryor and William Messer,  high school European Studies teachers at Punahou, find my sentimental/environmental  arguments valid conclusions of moral discourse?   We put the wood pieces in the trunk and continued through town.

Isamu Murakami, who also grew up on ‘Ewa Plantation, has posted over 600 historical images on his Picasa site: http://picasaweb.google.com/waipahu46/MYHOMETOWNEWA#

Full of Beans

Full of Beans

Now that they’ve got their new roaster up and running, it’s safe to tell the world. Until a few months ago, it was only available by mail subscription, word of mouth marketing. If there wasn’t enough, tough luck, get on the waiting list.  I got a regular monthly subscription, which bumped up my seniority.

It is truly the best coffee I’ve ever had. I have friends in Europe who say it’s the best, and not too delicately suggest it as a holiday gift. A friend from Sydney subscribed.

OK, and why is a raving locavore who lives in Hawai’i’s coffee capital, Holualoa, Kona, gushing about coffee grown on the other side of the island?

In all other respects Hawaiian Cloud Forest Coffee (not the catchiest name, but I certainly prefer it to some of my regional ones like “Haole Boy” and “Donkey Balls”) is the poster child for a sustainable business.

Erik and Hillery Gunther have been farming in Hamakua for decades.  Off grid. Organic. Shade grown.  All power, including the new roasting mill is solar and natural gas.  They recently added 64 PV panels to accommodate the new machinery.  Don’t tell me sustainable ag on a small scale isn’t profitable.  Sure, they aren’t living in luxury, they live in beauty.  They hand built their house, a marvel of comfort and efficiency.  Besides farming, he hand makes wooden objects like koa bookmarks, and she makes beautiful jewelry.  They are really fabulous human beings too.

If I’d never met them, visited their farm, or known anything besides what it tastes like, Hawaiian Cloud would still be my #1 coffee.  I’ve been assuaging my conscience about supporting the local community by trying area estate coffees from time to time. Most are very good, but not that good.

I always get the dark roast now, but for about the first year I got the blend of dark and . . medium? I can’t remember, but it is really good too.  I did see it at Island Naturals recently, so the cherry red bag might be available retail elsewhere.  It’s so much more fun to get the package by mail.  To order: http://www.hawaiiancloudforestcoffee.com/

Erik and Hillery

where’s your mainland?

Just mauka of Pauahi St. on Nu’uanu, was a small gallery,  Nu’uanu Gallery at Mark’s Garage. Prof. Maile Andrade, who is officially titled Graduate Chair, Associate Professor, Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, curated a show called Invasive Species in May 2008, as part of Maoli Arts Month.  I write “officially” because in addition to her academic achievements, Maile is a resolute force for contemporary art from a Hawaiian (indigenous) perspective–and an outrageously talented artist herself.  She has a wicked and very Hawaiian sense of humor– there are layers of meaning.  It was a powerful, thought provoking show of contemporary art, much of it by students addressing the effect of imposed cultures on native ones.

Invasive Species exhibition at Nu'uanu Gallery photo: Maile Andrade

My favorite piece in the show is one of Maile’s titled Hawaiian at Heart–whose genealogy did you steal?.  It’s the second from the top on the left, with the heart shaped windows.  Each one of the windows looks tongue-in-cheek  at justifications non-Hawaiians use to claim Hawaiian-ness.  “I have lots of gold bracelets–they all say Ku’uipo,” “I paddle–and we won states,” ” I look Hawaiian–I am brown.”   The best is:  “We are all Hawaiians–where’s the aloha?”.   The piece is a fertile  lo’i of issues, and in future blogs, more korms will likely surface.

Invasive Species transformed the word ‘mainland’  from benign to malignant. Years ago my brother started saying “America” when referring to the continental US.  I liked it, and frequently used it.  Standing in a room crowded with artwork, beautifully expressing anger and frustration in creative ways, multiplied the impact. Every time since then I’ve  heard, seen, or even worse, said ‘mainland’, I’ve  felt it.  “It ain’t my mainland” gave rise to the corollary, Hawai’i is My Mainland as this blog’s title.

Like an invasive species, the ubiquitous description ‘mainland’  has infested local vocabulary. People who have never left the Hawaiian Islands will call America the ‘mainland’.  Every time I say ‘mainland’, and mean the continental US, it’s a lie.  OHA Trustee Judge Walter Heen uses “the continent.”  It sounds so elegant,  he makes my day.

Roots of a Locavore

Most people under 60 don’t even remember ‘Ewa Sugar Plantation. It was famous for the twin orange and white banded smokestacks of the mill.  They were the only thing you could see on the entire ‘Ewa side of Pu’uloa (Pearl Harbor) from Honolulu.  Sometime in the last twenty-five years they were torn down.  My Dad was the manager during its last decade of existence as the ‘Ewa Sugar Co.

A pretty nice house came with the job.  It was a gracious old two-story colonial on a couple acres of beautifully landscaped yard.  White, with dark green shutters, guest house, and a cottage.  Other structures included a poultry yard, mother’s orchid and anthurium hothouses, a laundry yard with clothes lines and a big sand box for my sister Mapuana and me.  We had patches of  banana, papaya, sweet potato, cherry tomato, watermelon, and spinach–besides the large herb and vegetable plots.  Even some of the garden flowers were edible, like nasturtiums (eaten only when Mapuana dared me or I lost a bet.)  Finally, but importantly, there was a dilapidated Quonset hut which was my dad’s “ham radio shack.”   Pure Manspace.

Sounds idyllic, and in many ways it was.  Not only my birthplace,  ‘Ewa imprinted the fundamentals of the s word on me:  sustainability. It was just normal life then.

As you can probably guess, my parents were not hippies, and no one had even heard of a locavore.  But we did live in large part off our land, and local goods. My brother, was (and still is) a cowboy.  We would get a side of beef at a time from him. Besides what we procured on our own, our greater community rounded things out.

Mr. Ornellas was our source for pigs.  Mom would take us out to his place, thick with corrugated iron, and choking  hauna (stink) smell.  Never mind, she would talk story forever, and then pick out the lucky bugga for the imu.

The beekeeper kept his hives in a kiawe thicket. His odd costume and smoker for chasing the bees fascinated us.  Along with the bottles of honey, we also got a few combs.  Mapuana and I just tore off chunks, sucked out the honey, and chewed the wax like gum.

The milkman came to the kitchen door and replaced the empty milk bottles twice a week. Mapuana and I were the morning egg gatherers, but when our chickens weren’t laying enough eggs, he left some of them, too.

There were other plants which ended up on our table in some form: Meyer lemons, chili peppers, poha, starfruit, lychee, macadamia nut, coconut, Suriname cherry, limes, figs, guava, and one big Chinese mango; great for chutney and shoyu mango, but not the best eating. Mother spent days making pickles and relish from cucumbers we grew, jams, jellies, and chutney.  We even made our own mango and poha ice creams, unbelievaby delicious. Mapuana and I made shoyu mango with green mangoes.

Mother took us on outings for other specialties. Catching ‘opae in the ditches out toward Ma’ili was a favorite. We brought them home and put them in the outside cast iron bathtub (mostly used for washing dogs and freshly killed chickens.)  Soaking overnight in clean water flushed the mud out of them. Mauka hikes up Palehua meant mountain apples and liliko’i. Makai outings meant fresh ogo salad.

We shared what we had, as did everyone else, and all lived pretty well.

Even when we went to the grocery store we bought local brands.  ‘Ewa Shopping Basket, the general store, was a block from our house.  It carried a little everything. Along with supplemental produce, fresh meats and fish, we could buy dry goods, fishing supplies and Icees. We purchased only C&H sugar, of course. Meadowgold dairy products. Coral (Bumblebee) Tuna. Aloha shoyu. Dole and DelMonte. Love’s bread.  S & S saimin. One Ton Pi and Lays potato chips.  It wasn’t a political statement; we knew where it came from, and it was better. What happened in the last 30 years?  Grass from America, Japan, China, is greener and cleaner than ours?

The Shopping Basket’s fish supply was limited. Grandmother lived on the water, so sometimes fishermen would stop by and share.  Sometimes it came from the hallowed Kalihi hall of Tomashiro Market.  We only went there on special occasions, and if there were other town errands to do since it was a long hour’s drive into town.

Once I remember a boy about my age, shyly (well I was anyway) watching the live prawns (?) wiggle around in their giant glass tanks. The tanks were well within child’s reach. The cute boy with curly dark hair stretched his hand over the tank, giving my freckled face a daring look.  Not to be outdone, I reached to grab a nice big one just behind its pincers. Quickly he pulled my hand away.  I hadn’t seen the even bigger guy below my target with claws spread.  We smiled, and then mother called me to the checkout line.

Thirty-something years later I met a man who lives in Holualoa, who told me the same story, except the prawns were bigger. That would be Joe, my pilialoha.


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