The Panaewa Hawaiian Farmers Market on Railroad Avenue, across from Home Depot in Hilo, was started by Milnor Lum in 2011 and is operated by the Keaukaha-Panaewa Farmers Association, giving Hawaiian families easier access to Hawaiian and locally grown foods.
Lum’s vision for the market was to make it a native planters’ learning center, with a certified kitchen, experiential farming plots and workshops for community members to learn how to become agricultural entrepreneurs. The idea was to provide Hawaiian families economic alternatives consistent with Hawaiian lifestyles. Lum turned over operations to Howard Pe‘a two years ago.
With Lum’s vision in mind, Pe‘a researched what it took to create a successful farmers market and devised a plan to attract more people.
It started coming together last year when the Keaukaha-Panaewa Farmers Association invited William Sakai to a meeting and he offered to teach hydroponic classes at 3:30 p.m. Saturday afternoons. Sakai is a professor of horticulture at the University of Hawaii at Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management (CAFNRM).
UH-Hilo receives funding from a USDA-NIFA Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Serving-Institution Educational Grants Program that integrates culture, science and technology with agricultural education. The goal is to develop more Native Hawaiian agricultural leaders.
UH-Hilo has been working with Big Island schools, providing applied learning experiences where UH-Hilo students assist in growing several varieties of kalo and emphasizing the social, spiritual and cultural importance of plants to historical and contemporary communities.
Two years ago, with Debbie Cheever-Follett of Hilo Union School, they used Bernie Kratky’s 3-gallon/three lettuce-plant hydroponic bucket for K-6 students to grow their own lettuce to take home and share with family, friends and the community.
Cheever-Follett developed a mentoring cascade where UH-Hilo students taught sixth-graders. who taught fifth-graders, etc. In the first year, the 500-plus students grew more than 800 pounds of lettuce. This program was expanded to more than 2,500 K-12 students at several Big Island schools; 2,000 more will be added this year.
Pe‘a wanted to ensure Hawaiian families with schoolchildren were participating in this exciting opportunity at the PHFM and began collaborating with Luana Busby-Neff, who is currently working as the Hilo community organizer for the Children’s Healthy Living Program (CHL).
CHL, also funded by the USDA-NIFA, collaborates with community partners throughout the Pacific Region who share the CHL vision of implementing sustainable strategies that prevent childhood obesity and improve community health.
In Hilo, Busby-Neff is helping design Ho‘okupu Kalo (the gift of kalo), a community-based culturally focused program concentrating on the cultivation of taro and supporting other community and educational organizations already engaged in promoting traditional Hawaiian sustainable gardens.
Ho‘okupu Kalo is the vehicle CHL is using to address the obesity issue in the Hawaiian community. CHL is collaborating with organizations already doing the work and providing the services of promoting health and well-being.
Meanwhile, CHL is promoting backyard gardens, targeting those families ready to grow food at their homes and be role models for the community.
CHL families learn about taro, the sustainable Hawaiian staple with deep cultural significance, and an established practice of growing healthy plants similar to growing a healthy family. Hawaiians have a lineal root to taro as an elder sibling and have a responsibility to malama (care for) their elder sibling, who in turn nurtures the ohana.
By cultivating taro, CHL families connect with Hawaiian cultural traditions and engage in practices that sustain a healthy family.
The six CHL goals are to get keiki to drink more water, eat more fruits and vegetables, get enough sleep, play more, reduce screen time and reduce sugary beverages.
If you want to learn more about CHL or have your children grow hydroponic lettuce or Asian greens in their own bucket, come to the Panaewa Hawaiian Farmers Market, call Renee Louis at 371-1518 or email email@example.com.