GROW O'ahu

Island Style Gardening and Plant-Based Living

Reality Check


The Green Box Garden Girl got a serious dose of farming reality this week.  I’ve been investigating the market and potential for free range organic chicken eggs, raised in a rotational pasture system with organic veggies.  Sounds awesome, right?  I’m not afraid of hard work, and have the awesome support of my nearest and dearest friends and family. I have spent hours pouring over grant and funding requirements, and talking with mentors, farm advocates and friends.  Everyone is on board. I even have an appointment to talk with an agriculture business coach.

So what’s the hold up?

Land.  It’s gets complicated.

In 1848, the “mahele” occurred.  It is a long, complicated story of how land in Hawaii became privatized.  It’s not a nice story.  It involves much collusion, manipulation and in the end, the Hawaiian Ali’i (royalty) agreed to privatize the once communally held lands of all of Hawaii nei.  As you can imagine, corporations (such as those involved in sugarcane and whaling) of the time were heavily involved.  This story, should you want to know the complexities and truly understand Hawaii history, is documented in Native Land and Foreign Desires by Lilikala Kame’eleihiwa.

Oahu land divisions, ahuapuaa, prior to privatization. These sects were managed communally.


From Natural

The Great Mahele of 1848 changed Hawaiian concepts of land ownership, for the first time allowing land to become a commodity that could be bought and sold.

Few Hawaiians carried through with the paperwork and in 1850 land purchases were opened to foreigners. The Westerners jumped at the opportunity and before the native islanders could clearly grasp the concept of private land ownership there was little land left to own.

Many Hawaiians couldn’t read English, in fact written Hawaiian was still new-ish.  And as Kame’eleihiwa points out in her book, “mahele” in translated in English to “divide” as in to break into pieces and separate. But another meaning for the word is to “share” the way you would break a cookie and share with friends. Could this all have happened because meaning was lost in translation? She ponders if the ali’i of the time really meant to sell it off to all the foreigners- probably not.

This is the nutshell of why land is so expensive in Hawaii.  There is a limited amount, owned by very few, and our modern day ag land economy has been greatly influenced by the presence of corporations like Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta, who can afford to pay thousands of dollars per acre to grow GMO seed corn, which then gets exported to the rest of the world.  Small farmers have a very tough time.  Which is why, even though we have a year round growing season, 85% of our food comes from somewhere else.  The Hawaii Independent did a short but good article last year on the challenges of farming here.

Realistically, I can’t afford the land lease to raise egg laying chickens.  It’s just not possible.  That’s not even figuring the feed costs, and at $30 for a 50 pound bag, it is clear that if it were feasible, someone else would have done it already. Other challenges are zoning regulations, and not being able to live where you farm.  Strict separations are set up.

Upon some serious reflection, I don’t know that ever owning land here would sit well with me, knowing what I know about how it all came about- and if we could ever afford it anyway!  There are hundreds of homeless Hawaiians in their own lands.  I’m a foreigner- one that is happy to contribute to my community and be a good neighbor- but still a foreigner.  There’s a certain amount of respect and consciousness I feel I must have about all this.

But all is not lost, friends.  I’m a pretty creative gal and don’t give up easily.  There are other ways to hatch an egg, grow a garden and contribute to local food stability and resilience.  And it might be more fun and rewarding than the first plan.  Stay tuned. I’m cookin’ up a plan.



Author: Carmen

Things I love: justice in all forms; flowers; locally grown food; cloth-diapering; breastfeeding; feminist theory; outdoor play; beaches; wine; Divine interventions; 4-H and coffee. Things I loathe: racism; homophobia; toxic crap; misogyny; litterbugs; the zombie apocalypse and pitbull-haters. My formal education is in sociology, gender studies, and public policy. I'm also a Lactation Educator; 4-H Youth Development coordinator a Certified Master Gardener and a graduate of a Permaculture Design Course. I've been blogging for several years on dozens of topics- everything from women's health to breed-specific legislation. But the thing I like to write about most is my gardening, food adventures and my kids. So there you have it. Please be kind. Thanks.

7 thoughts on “Reality Check

  1. enlightening and inspiring! can’t wait to hear what you come up with but i’m confident it will be great!

  2. That map is impressive for how they clearly made a point of making sure everyone had access to the ocean. The story of the mahele, how awful, but not surprising in the least. I had no idea, though, that GMO corn was grown in Hawaii. I’m glad to know there are people like you doing your part for sustainability and local food production.

    • There’s a large, vibrant community of folks here working very hard on local food issues, sustainability and organizing against the Big Corps. I’m pleased that some of them are my friends. 🙂

    • There’s a large, vibrant community of folks here working very hard on local food issues, sustainability and organizing against the Big Corps. I’m pleased that some of them are my friends. 🙂 Also- many mainstream permaculture theories originate in Hawaii. Water flows down and to the ocean, always. So farming in the path of the water works.

  3. Pingback: The Community Action Gardener « The Green Box Garden

  4. Pingback: When a Gardener Goes Permie « The Green Box Garden


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