When I was nineteen years old, I dropped out of college, took the subway to the airport, hopped on the first flight to Spain, took a train out to the country and started walking, carrying only a change of clothes and some books I’d been meaning to read.
Two days into my adventure, I found myself at the crest of a hill overlooking a field of olive trees. The earth was a patchwork of red soil and bleached stones. The green olive branches rustled in the wind, and their silver underbellies shone like natures’ tinsel in the white sun. The sky was brilliant blue. The whole, saturated scene took my breath away. There were no people, no cars, no houses, no marks of human civilization for miles, save the olive trees, planted with care in neat, unending, rows. I spent a day walking through that valley. It was one of the most beautiful days of my life.
Everyone asks about the hows and whys of that trip. But I didn’t care then and I can’t drum up much caring now. What I remember is the wind tugging at my heels, the feeling that I could reach up and touch the sun as I walked the plateaus of the Sierra Nevadas, the fields of insistent wildflowers, the buzzing of their besotted companions. In those few months, nature lit a spark in me that had been dead a long time. Everywhere I looked, I saw life. I talked to the trees, to the birds, to the breeze. Every step became a prayer. I was by myself, but I wasn’t alone.
There is a sudden joy that seizes a person in the moment of discovery. This joy is the essence of learning, and it is intimately bound up with love. Where our heart goes, our interest follows close behind. A child might say he has no interest in geometry, but he can draw a perfect five-pointed star around the name of his secret crush. Teachers spend all day fighting the natural instincts of children in order to keep them in the classroom. But, I bet, if you bring them outside, and give them space to breath and move and play, they will fall in love with nature, and then that little spark will blaze up again, and they will give you their attention because they trust you to do something worthwhile with it. And maybe you can show them how to use geometry to plan a garden. Or how apples have perfect five pointed stars inside them.
This has been, as usual, a round about way of getting to the point: school gardens are a brilliant idea, and every school should have one. I was lucky enough to spend three days this month at a conference of local educators who are working in different capacities to integrate gardening and sustainability education into their curriculum. Over sixty teachers, farmers and community organizers from around the state, along with representatives from the Center for Ecoliteracy in California, gathered at Waimea Middle School garden to swap stories, strategies and lesson plans. Some have long established gardens, others are still in the planning stages, but all of them see the need to connect children with the natural world, both for the sake of their mental health, physical health, and the health of our planet.
Hawaiian cultural studies kumu at Waimea Middle School, Pua Case, reminded us that some day we will be old and gray, and these children will be making decisions for us. Each teacher, each parent, each mentor should ask him or herself, “Have I taught this child well enough? Have I shown them what is special about this place, have I told them the stories of these islands? Do they know enough to make the right decision about which land can be built on, which land can be farmed, and which land must be protected?”
Hawaiian culture revolves around the value of “aloha ‘aina” or love of the land. This love is not a passing sentiment, a summer fling, or a fair weather affair. It’s a deep-seated commitment to the wellbeing of the earth, which sustains us like a parent. Love and interest go hand in hand. The more a child is brought outside to learn, the more opportunity is there for the child to fall in love with the beauty of nature, and to take interest in it, and by exploring more deeply, to fall more deeply in love with the special arc of the hills, the sway of the valleys and gulches, the sound of a timid stream building to a river and the rush of that river towards the ocean. We need this knowledge of the earth, this sense of place, to guide us in our decisions. We need to teach children that the earth is living, and is teeming with and supporting millions of other forms of life, of which we are only one. So we should step carefully, and choose wisely, and be generous with the time and attention we give to Mother Earth and all our siblings.
When I was nineteen years old, I dropped out of college, took the subway to the airport, hopped on the first flight to Spain, took a train out to the country and started walking, carrying only a change of clothes and some books I’d been meaning to read.
We are pleased to announce an exciting new series of paid cooking classes that will be taught by local chefs in our beautiful Kapolei Community Kitchen. Each month we will invite a guest chef to share delicious plant-based recipes. This month, we are delighted to welcome chef Fortuna Arai to our Kapolei Community Kitchen on June 30th from 6:30pm-8pm.
Fortuna will be teaching a "Summer Entertaining" class. She will be joined by a handful of local chefs who will rotate teaching these specialty classes among one another. Each class will be $30 and there is limited seating. Make sure to sign up early. Visit our website or Facebook page for dates and times of upcoming classes. If you have any questions about our Guest Chef series, please feel free to call me directly at 697-5735.
The local chefs classes complement the regular schedule of free cooking classes that the Down to Earth Love Life! Team conducts at our stores on Oahu and Maui …perhaps you have been to one of them? Sharing yummy healthy recipes has always been our passion at Down to Earth, we've been doing this for decades. To find out when classes are held visit the Free Cooking Class page on our website.
Love Life!, Eat Healthy, Be Happy!
Getting directions to visit local farmer Ryan Earehart’s Oko’a Farm in Kula, Maui doesn’t include any street names or address numbers but is instead a list of agricultural references: “Drive until you see a tractor on your right. Keep going until you see a monkeypod tree and take a right, you’ll pass a herd of goats on the left soon. Keep going until you see a pineapple field on the left and you see sugarcane on the right.” If you couldn’t tell by his directions, Ryan is pretty preoccupied with farming and a quick glance around his 4-acre property shows you that his focus is paying off.
Oko’a farm is a beautiful and lush example of polyculture farming. There are small clusters or rows of different plants scattered everywhere you turn and anywhere there’s free space. No square foot is wasted: a few rows of lettuce here, a trellis of tomatoes or berries there. Varieties of peas and beans grow along the driveway fence, vines of large lilikoi climb from a small grove to the back of Ryan’s house on the property. Oko’a Farm grows over 60 different types of vegetables, fruits, herbs, beans, and more. As Ryan walks through and points out different plants, he begins explaining how to eat them and what their nutritional values are. His knowledge is almost encyclopedic. Fueled by his strong desire to grow his own food and to know exactly what he was feeding his family, Ryan started Oko’a Farm about 7 years ago. As the produce manager for Mana Foods for the past 10 years, he was able to interact and learn from lots of local farmers, and encouraged to teach himself. He began experimenting with a couple of crops, learning more and more on his own, growing his farm until he was able to do it fulltime.
Matching his passion for growing his own food, sustainability also plays an important role in Ryan’s farming. Ryan explains that he chose to name his farm Oko’a because in Hawaiian it means “whole, complete, independent”1, which he interprets as a close definition for sustainability. Not wanting to depend on outside resources, he doesn’t like to see anything go to waste. He uses organic matter from his sugarcane and bananas as a natural fertilizer for his crops. He also utilizes pellets from dozens of adorable rabbits that feed on plants grown only a few feet away. He reuses old bathtubs as planters. He rotates plants to keep his soil healthy and grows naturally bug-repelling plants, like marigolds, close by.
Ryan, along with his partner Sal, and his quite frankly picturesque farming family, seems to be doing everything right. Growing food for sustenance and nutrition while being sustainable makes him one of our favorite local farmers. You can buy Oko’a Farm’s amazing produce at our Kahului store. While you’re there, talk to our produce manager, Kevin, who shares Ryan’s enthusiasm for local and fresh produce.
As you plan your Christmas shopping list, consider making a more conscious effort to purchase local presents. You’ll be giving great gifts and supporting your community. Down to Earth works with over 400 local vendors, including more than 100 local farmers, to bring you as many locally grown foods and products as are available. We believe supporting local businesses helps promote a healthy and sustainable lifestyle in Hawaii. Also, locally made products are just plain amazing because they're made with genuine love and care.
Getting a business off the ground and making it successful is incredibly difficult. We applaud our local creators, thinkers, and dreamers who dare to make a go at it. There’s something special about supporting people who live in your neighborhood, whose kids play with yours on the same soccer team, or maybe they’re your very own relatives and friends. When you decide on gifts, think about your neighbor or co-worker hard at work on their days off perfecting their own special blend of pineapple hot sauce. Or blending together homemade facial scrubs using the honey from their family’s beehive. Buying local products lets your community members know that their efforts and spirit are something to celebrate. This Christmas, give two ways: Give a loved one a local present, and give the gift of support to a local business by buying their product. Look for our "Local Favorites" signs in Down to Earth stores to easily find these fantastic local products.
Have a Merry (and Local) Christmas!
If you’ve ever checked out Pinterest, you might be familiar with its overwhelming amount of DIY related posts. (If you’re not sure what Pinterest is, check out this great article.) Tons of blogs and articles extol the virtues of making things on your own. A few common reasons why people are interested in DIY projects range from saving money, wanting to know exactly what ingredients are going into your cookies, testing out your grandma’s homemade dry skin cream, or simply doing something fun. Many Down to Earth customers shop with us to get their supplies for things like homemade bread, laundry soap, ice cream and even deodorant. Many of our specialty items are key to making these homespun creations. A lot of our team members also enjoy these DIY projects and have fun chit chatting with customers, perhaps about their preferred ratio of essential oils for toxic-free toilet cleaners.
When I’ve created, or made something myself (usually something I could easily buy), there’s a nice sense of accomplishment and pride. As part of my work here at Down to Earth, I’ve been fortunate enough to teach cooking classes. (Cooking is one popular DIY category, I bet it’s actually the biggest!) Maybe half of my students usually don’t cook that much at home and are looking for help to get started. While I’ve taught lots of different recipes, I would say the recipes I get the most feedback on are homemade versions of popular dishes that are usually ordered out like pizza and sushi. Many students have shared their cooking triumphs and disasters with me. A few will show me a photo of their completely burnt pizza or how their sushi rice melted the seaweed wrapped around their cucumber rolls. We discuss step by step what they did and I give some pointers and they usually attempt the dish again. I’ve also gotten students who’ve told me that their lives have changed after making their first ever lasagna. They’ve sworn that their favorite restaurant makes it the best until they’ve made their own version. Perhaps, objectively theirs is pretty similar to the restaurant’s version but something psychologically happens when you make stuff yourself. It might taste better because it was a lot easier that you thought or maybe your family helped and you had a blast cooking together. There’s just something special about making food from scratch.
Now I’ve inspired you to attempt to make that cool coffee scrub you saw on Instagram! But I just want to warn you that there’s a dark side to the DIY lifestyle. Many of the homemade projects (especially those perfectly frosted cupcakes!) you see online are styled to perfection – sometimes even including items that aren’t in the recipe or supply list, making for great aspirational pictures. I just want to say that I’ve been discouraged many times after creating or cooking something I saw online which resulted in not looking anything close to the picture I saw of it. BUT powering through and realizing that when I make something at home, unless it’s a gift, no one cares how it looks as long as it tastes good or works correctly. I’m always excited when anyone makes anything homemade, it shows that they took time and care to do it themselves and I think that’s the most impressive thing of all. So throw any expectations out the door and just take on a project that you’ve been wanting to try. I promise that if you don’t get it right, the second or fifth attempt will be awesome and you’ll wonder what took you so long.
If you’re really in the mood to try your hand at some cool projects, check out the suggestions in our Mother’s Day article which is focused on gifts for mom but actually great for anyone.
P.S. There’s a popular trend online called “Pinterest Fails” that is hysterical. It shows the results of failed attempts at making these popular projects. Do yourself a favor and Google it, especially when your first batch of homemade yogurt turns blue for some reason. Seriously, I’ve tried to make yogurt twice and it turns blue! I might actually need to give up on that one
Although Earth Day is officially April 22nd, Down to Earth will be celebrating it on Sunday April 27th with a special day of fun and music. Proceeds from tickets sold will go towards supporting an awesome new sustainability charter school in Kaimuki, the School for Examining Essential Questions of Sustainability (SEEQS). Here's a great opportunity to support a worthwhile cause and have fun doing it! Learn more about Down to Earth's Earth Day Celebration
We’re so excited about this partnership event that we want to give away two FREE tickets on our social media to two lucky winners! The contest is simple: Share our post on Facebook and Instagram (@downtoearthhi). . The person to get the most likes on their shared Facebook post wins 2 FREE Tickets. Whoever tags us on Instagram #SEEQSDTE and gets the most likes, will also win 2 FREE tickets!
Although we discuss SEEQS in some detail in this month's feature article, I'd like to elaborate a little bit.
Several weeks ago, I had the awesome opportunity to meet and speak with SEEQS founder, Buffy Cushman-Patz. A recent grad from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Buffy has been a school principal, has taught math and science in public, charter, and independent schools across Hawaii, and has led math and science workshops for teachers in South Africa. She’s an amazing woman with a passion for making a difference in education by encouraging students to take ownership for their own learning and helping them to expand their awareness of the world around them. For Buffy, “Raising a new generation with a deep understanding on how to treat and respect our planet is critical."
As Buffy and I chatted, it didn’t take long for us to realize our vision for helping others to respect the land, or ‘aina, was completely aligned. Earth Day has always been one of Down to Earth’s favorite times of year as it gives us an opportunity to celebrate our passion and appreciation for the ‘aina (earth, land). In addition to our devotion to sustainability through a commitment to organic and natural foods, we also support sustainability efforts in our local community. It was easy to see this would be the perfect partnership.
We hope you’ll join us on Sunday April 27th at Hawaiian Brian’s to help raise funds for SEEQS mission. You can attend the all-day event or any portion of the day, which includes yoga, zumba, keiki fun: face-painting and mini-cooking class, music performances by Mike Love and Ooklah The Moc, and healthy organic food from Life Foods, Inc. It’s going to be a blast!
We are so honored to align ourselves with a community organization that is concerned about our environment and wants to help make a better tomorrow with a lighter footprint.
The title of this post describes me perfectly. There are only so many hours in the day, and when I'm finished working, I want to get errands done as quickly as possible so I can enjoy my free time. I relish and search for any and all time-saving (or really effort saving) devices out there… if there’s anything that can help automate my life to get things done faster and done well, I'm all over it. I've got automatic bill payments, a few sets of meal plans that I use over and over; I've got a couple dozen automated online tasks (thank you IFTTT!), and more. One of the hardest things to automate is grocery shopping. Many Down to Earth shoppers are aware of how their daily diet impacts just about everything. Every meal you eat has real effects on your mood and energy, your health, your time, and your budget… as well as external consequences like impact on the environment and the national/local economy. That's a lot of pressure on the food you choose. You want to shop for clean, sustainable, smart food but you can't or won't spend hours at it. You need to balance your values with your real life.
For me personally, when I go grocery shopping, I usually do it during my lunch break or right after work. This often presents time limitations so I go in with purpose and a process. I always make a checklist. My broccoli casserole needs this, this, this, and this. Repeat for 3 or 4 more recipes. After the basic shopping list is compiled and I’m in the aisle, I filter the possibilities for my ingredients in this order: local goods get priority, then products with Non-GMO Project Verified or USDA Organic labels, and then if everything is pretty equal, I'll go by price.
Here are some other tips that can help make your shopping even easier:
- Shop at Down to Earth. Our standards for the ingredients that are allowed into the store are staggering. The list often seems endless to my eyes. We do not allow any meat, fish, or eggs in any of our products. Basically if it’s a questionable (aka junk) ingredient, we won’t allow it into the store. When I shop at DTE, I can feel 100% confident that the products don’t have any artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, or additives. Don’t forget that just because the ingredients are high quality, it doesn’t mean they aren’t high calorie -- an organic cookie with fair trade sugar still has the same amount of sugar as the conventional choice. Also get to know your favorite DTE location, and know where all your go-to products are so when you get in there, you can hit the main spots without wasting time just looking around.
- Buy products that are locally made – chances are they are fresher and have a smaller carbon footprint.
- Buy products that have the Non-GMO Project Verified Label or the USDA Organic Label. Learn more about GMO Labelling
- Buy in bulk. Eat a lot of granola? How about a ton of brown rice? Sprinkle hemp seeds on all your meals? When you buy pantry items in bulk, you’ll save money on packaging and get the exact amount you want. I personally grab a half-pound of fresh ground peanut butter every week in my own reusable glass jar. This means my pantry is always stocked for cooking at home. (Don’t forget to ask a cashier to weigh your container before filling it so you don’t have to pay for the extra weight.)
- Shop Down to Earth’s monthly Super Saver Deals flyer, which comes out once a month. I’ll often create my meal plan around whatever’s on sale. My favorite local honey is on sale this month? Guess I’ll be making Baked Tofu with Pineapple & Honey BBQ Sauce and maybe Mie Goreng (Fried Noodles).
- For those of you in the Honolulu area, try getting your groceries delivered! Down to Earth has recently partnered with a third-party grocery delivery mobile app in Honolulu, called Avocado Shopping. You can get groceries delivered in as little as two hours. Trained shoppers will select fresh groceries and deliver to your home, office, or anywhere. This is a gamechanger for super busy folks! Visit Avocado's website to download the free app from the App Store or from Google Play.
It might take you a couple shopping trips to get the rhythm down, but once you do, you'll be flying in and out of the store in no time! Happy eating!
A few years ago, when I was a high school teacher in Australia, I assigned my homeroom students a task to each come up with a random act of kindness and write it on a small card. On the other side of the card were the words “You’ve been hit with a random act of kindness. Please feel free to pass it on.” The criteria of the acts of kindness were that they should be done anonymously if possible, and they should be generic enough that anyone could achieve them. We then placed all the cards in a box and each of us drew a card randomly. I gave the class a week to complete the random acts of kindness.
The testimonies that followed were nothing short of heartwarming. I had the privilege of participating in the challenge and watched a woman’s face light up when she found out her gas was paid for (in Australia, you pay after filling up). My students spoke of a stranger beaming when given a hand-picked bouquet of fresh flowers, a homeless man enjoying a home-cooked meal, a neighbor gobbling up a freshly baked cookie, just to mention a few.
As holiday season approaches, I’m choosing to implement more acts of kindness into my lifestyle and I’m inviting you to join me! To get you started, I’ve listed a few different ways you could make someone’s day, in no particular order:
- Bring in your neighbor’s rubbish bins.
- Text a friend and tell them why you’re grateful for them.
- Leave a thank you note in your mailbox for your mailman.
- Put some change in an expired meter for someone.
- Leave your change in a vending machine.
- Pay for someone’s meal in the line behind you.
- Let someone cut ahead of you in rush hour Honolulu traffic and throw a shaka at them.
The great thing about acts of kindness is that they don’t have to be wild or costly. I challenge you to change the world with me, one act of kindness at a time. “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop.
Mark your calendars; Saturday, September 25th through October 2nd is Eat Local Week! Kanu Hawaii is organizing a grassroots effort to educate the community about the benefits of eating locally grown food. Kanu Hawaii was started by a group of forty young people who wanted to make change in their communities. It now has over 12,000 members on the islands who commit "to protect and promote island living - a connection to the 'aina, a culture of aloha, and local economic self reliance."
For this project, they've joined with partner organizations around the Big Island to create opportunities for everyone to get first hand experience growing, preparing, eating and sharing locally grown food.
As a prelude to the week, the film Ingredients will be playing on Thursday, September 23rd, at UH Hilo UCB 100, 7pm. It features interviews with farmers, chefs and educators around the country who are working towards a new food culture that emphasizes quality over convenience. The preview begins with the observation that throughout history no culture has ever spent less on food or more on medical care. One man notes the truth that “we can either pay the doctor or the farmer.” I met the director, Robert Bates, when he was on Oahu not long ago to talk with Ma’o Farms about featuring the work they’re doing in another documentary. It’s great to see local heroes getting the attention they deserve.
Events will really kick off on Saturday, September 25th, when the Kohala Center is organizing an island-wide school garden volunteer day. For those on Oahu, you can contact Ma’o Farms about their Saturday GIVE days or, if you don’t see a school near you on the list, try reaching out to one in your area and see if they could use a hand getting a garden started, or maintaining one they have.
On Sunday, September 26th, the Hawaii Homegrown Food Network is sponsoring a workshop up in Hawi on the Big Island where participants will learn to start an easy and abundant perennial food garden “that can feed a family healthy, fresh food for years to come.” Growing a garden, even a small one, will help you save money on fresh produce, and probably on medical bills too! In addition to the fresh air and exercise you’ll get, vegetables contain the most nutrients when they’re fresh. Growing a garden is also a good opportunity to learn, or teach your children, about the history and culture of Hawai'i through traditional crops like taro and sweet potato.
There’s an abundance of events throughout the rest of the week. One that caught my eye was the Stone Soup Club over in Kona. Members gather the produce from their gardens and trees and collaborate on a shared meal, organized around the ingredients each person is able to contribute. What a great idea! I remember when I was in preschool, our parents would load us up with vegetables once a week and our teacher would cook them up into a delicious veggie stew. She even dropped a stone in the pot, and whoever found it in their bowl made a wish. I can’t remember what I wished for then, but I’ll call on the power of the soup stone now: I wish for everyone to have a garden in their backyard, full to bursting with more fresh veggies than they can eat. I know it’s possible, and I hope you’ll join with Kanu Hawaii, The Kohala Center, Hawaii Homegrown Food Network and all of us at Down to Earth to make the wish come true!
When I ask Chuck Boerner of Ono Organic Farms how long he’s been selling produce to Down to Earth, he pauses, bemused, and says, “Geez, I don’t know.” After consulting with his wife, Lilly, he settles on “twenty, maybe thirty years. I was supplying Bobby since he was up in Wailuku. They’re our best customers.”
Ever since Down to Earth was founded in 1977, we’ve supported local farmers unflinchingly because we know how vital they are to the health and well-being of the islands. Each year we purchase produce from over 150 local farmers and growers, and we make it a policy to buy whatever they’re willing to sell us, even if it’s only a crate full.
Since they first founded Ono Organic Farms, Chuck and Lilly have gone from farming five to fifty acres of lush, tropical fruit orchards located on the southern slope of Haleakala on Maui. After spending most of his life practicing, experimenting with and teaching organic farming, Chuck enjoys a well-deserved reputation as an expert in tropical organic agriculture. Avocados, bananas, mountain apples, durian, strawberry papayas, lychees, mangos, breadfruit, jackfruit, soursop, pomegranate, kumquat, and rambutan are only some of the varieties of fruit grown on their farm.
Still, the Boerner’s don’t consider fruit their most important product. Like the staff of Ma’o Organic Farms (which was recently featured on our blog), the Boerner’s say that healthy, soil-smart kids are the most important fruits of their labor.
In Hawaiian culture, the concepts of ‘ohana, family, and ‘aina, land, are intimately linked. Ancient Hawaiians appreciated that the health of the land is interwoven with the health of family and community. They were keen observers of nature, and they took great measures to ensure that their sources of food were maintained in sustainable ways.
Throughout history, communities have bonded around growing, preparing and eating food. Nowadays, food is considered a commodity, and people’s taste buds are regularly exploited for profit. The antidote to this comes not just in a change of methods, but a change in how we see and relate to the land and the food we grow.
The biggest difference between the organic and conventional method of farming is that organic farmers work with the earth, instead of against it, appreciating that they are one small part in a very large and highly organized system of planetary life support. The soil, for instance, contains billions of different microorganisms that are all working in a highly specialized, beautifully coordinated dance that, when encouraged, results in colorful, hearty, nutrient dense plants. Synthetic fertilizers and sewage sludge are poor substitutes for healthy soil. Organic farmers understand that these microorganisms are the hardest working members of their farm family, and they need care and attention like anyone else.
Chuck advises his fellow farmers and organic gardeners to recognize the role these microorganisms play in producing healthy food, and to enlist their help. “Talk to them when you’re out in the field!” Chuck exhorts, “tell them you’re really happy with the job they’re doing, and ask them what they need to keep doing such a good job.”
You might think talking to dirt is crazy, but you can’t argue with success. The roots of our environmental problems lie in the modern belief that the environment is a dead, inert thing. We need to appreciate the life that is flourishing in every corner of the natural world, and see ourselves as part of a larger family made up of all living beings that inhabit this earth together.
Those who consider “sustainable agriculture” and “sustainable energy” no more than passing fads should ponder the words more deeply. “Sustainable” means “can continue to exist.” The modern method of conventional farming is unsustainable because it depletes soil resources and contributes to the loss of genetic diversity in crops. As dominant as this method of farming might seem now, it will end at some point, and sustainable farming will continue, as it always has, with local farmers taking the lead.
Customers will continue to prefer local produce because it is fresher and better for the environment. It consumes less energy in transporting products to our islands. In addition, purchasing from local vendors supports our local communities and we especially appreciate the opportunity to help farmers succeed.