“I only had two things growing up. It was a stick, and outside,” said Jeno Enocencio, founder of Kalalau Ranch and Victory Gardens.
The Big Island native has been farming all his life and started the ranch in 2004 as a way to rediscover the Ahupua’a life system, an ancient Hawaiian concept and technique that divided the aina into self-sustaining units from mauka to makai. The historic sustainability method of farming, and living, incorporates elements of Hawaiian spirituality and developed a unique land management system.
Along with incorporating native Hawaiian methods, Enocencio, a third-generation plantation worker, uses 100 years of plantation knowledge to help mold the island’s next generation of ranchers and farmers.
“The Japanese, the Filipinos, and everyone brought over here to work the plantations, all those people contributed something. Everyone had their own way of surviving,” he said. “That is what we’re teaching to the young people today. It’s a survival and life skills center.”
According to data from the Hawaii County Food Self-Sufficiency Baseline Study, 62 percent of the state’s farms and ranches are located on Hawaii Island and it appears that Enocencio and others at Kalalau Ranch are working to develop the workforce needed to sustain that industry.
Visitors, students and workers at the ranch, located just outside of Hilo by Dodo Mortuary, are exposed to a wide-range of farming techniques including aqua science, agriculture, Korean Natural Farming, and learn how to raise animals such as horses, sheep, cattle and chickens.
The Kalalau Ranch, which sits on 60 acres of Kamehameha Schools land, also acts as an educational resource for at-risk Big Island students.
On March 11, students from the Lanakila Learning Center, an alternative learning center at Hilo High School, were working on the aquaponic and greenhouse gardens they developed. The students visit once a week as part of the program’s mission to act as an alternative learning center that integrates hands-on educational and cultural projects to address different learning abilities and methods.
Wendy Hamane, project director with LLC, said their experience at the ranch has transformed the students both inside and outside of the classroom.
“I think the important thing for the kids is tying what they’re doing up here to classroom learning,” she said. “We’re trying to tie in biology concepts and biological agriculture concepts, so they’ve studied things like the nitrification cycle to understand how fish waste is transformed by bacteria into a form of nitrogen that can be fed back into the plants. They’ve studied things like crop rotation and how you put nutrients back into the soil because you plant another crop. So it’s really taking things that kids learn in the classroom and trying to apply it here.”
Enocencio and Hamane both said the outdoors education has had a positive impact on the students.
“All these kids who were doing really poor in school and were dropping out and really having a hard time, what they’re doing right now is academics and they have come over here and done the process hands on,” Enocencio said.
Hamane said the alternative learning method keeps kids in school.
“Year after year, our attendance rate surpasses the state standard for attendance,” Hamane said. “These kids are the ones on the verge of dropping out or had dropped out. This is a way of getting them engaged in learning and back in school.”
Hamane said part of the center’s and its students’ success can be contributed to people like Enocencio.
“The strength of the program is these people lending their expertise and their kokua for the kids so they have access to expertise that you wouldn’t even get in a traditional school system,” she said.
When Enocencio started the ranch 10 years ago, he said people thought he was “crazy.” With no money and noone to work the land, it was simply a vision and a mission that made the ranch what it is today.
“The end product is to have safe and healthy food. All this couldn’t happen without help from volunteers,” he said.
For more information about Kalalau Ranch and Victory Gardens call Jeno Enocencio at 808-542-8666.
Most of the funding for the LLC program comes from grants. For more information about the program and what they do, visit lanakilalc.webs.com
Email Megan Moseley at email@example.com