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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sustainability and a Hawaiian Organic Farm: CEP Summer 2013 Interns Blog

This is the first in a series of blogs by Sarah Petro, a student at Villanova University, Pennsylvania. She is spending her summer internship working and living on an organic produce farm in Maui, Hawaii.

By Sarah Petro, reporting for CEP from Hawaii



Aloha! My name is Sarah Petro, I am 20 years old, and an Environmental Science and Geography double major at Villanova University.

This summer, for three months, I am working as an intern on an organic farm in “nani” (beautiful) Hawaii. Kupa’a Farms is 4 acres of land located on the island of Maui, at 1,900 feet elevation on the slopes of Haleakala. The farm grows an impressive diversity of organic fruits, vegetables and herbs, as well as its own organic coffee, all of which are produced in harmony with Hawaii’s essential two growing seasons, summer and winter.

Compost, vermiculture, cover crops, and the use of non-toxic soil fertilizers are just a few of the numerous organic practices which are essential to the productivity of Kupa’a Farms. Such practices are used to promote the overarching goal and theme of organic agriculture - environmental and agricultural sustainability.

Environmental sustainability refers to the endurance and efficiency of earth’s natural ecosystems over time. Agricultural sustainability, similarly, is focused on farming in ways which protect the integrity of those systems which produce food, so that the food resources which we consume are continually regenerated for years to come.

I am volunteering at Kupa’a Farms to learn more about organic farming, because I believe it a necessary practice to conserve the earth’s soil, biodiversity and resources for future generations, as well as to promote the sustained health of human populations.

When it comes to our modern education about the environment, agriculture is often an afterthought and, sometimes, not even touched upon at all. The media is keen to inform us of the declining polar bear populations and the global warming debate, but in my view, communicates less so on issues such as GMOs, Monsanto, and the problems caused by toxic farming practices.

If you have viewed or even heard of the fantastic documentary film Food Inc., you may have some indication of the importance of our knowledge of our food system, the activities involved in the production, transportation, processing, storage, and consumption of our food.

Environmentally unsustainable farming practices will lead to potential food shortages because of drought, soil depletion, and the plunge in wildlife populations. And we, the consumers, will undoubtedly be affected by conventional farming at its current rate, especially in terms of our health. Thus, our knowledge of agriculture is as important as ever.

Farming in Hawaii differs from farming on the mainland for a couple of reasons, which is why I chose to intern at a farm on Maui specifically. First, the distinctive climate – which boasts mild temperatures and sufficient rainfall year-round – allows for the bountiful production of both native and standard crops in both summer and winter (although, the yield and selection of fruits and veggies certainly reflects the growing season, I have been taught). Second, organic farms like Kupa’a Farms are perhaps better able to survive than organic farms on the mainland because of local support.

Organic agriculture is fortified and genuinely encouraged by those who grow food, teachers and students in local schools, and local consumers alike. A sustainable agricultural system has been known to improve the quality of life of the individuals and communities that surround it; indeed, organic agriculture is a local movement.

Kupa’a Farms is unique in its activism to educate – as well as provide organic nourishment for – the public community. Located over 2,000 miles from any other stretch of land, Hawaii imports over 90% of its food; I believe that makes it an excellent place to begin to source and consume (at least, mostly) locally-grown fare, not to mention boost the local economy.

I have been working at Kupa’a Farms for three weeks now. I have participated in daily farm activities, such as seeding, transplanting, weeding, watering, soil bed turning, and working drip irrigation systems, in addition to prep for the CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture, a subscription service available to those who want the freshest possible produce delivered to their door on a weekly basis) and working at the local farmers market. (The farm provides fresh ingredients exclusively to a couple of local farm-to-table restaurants and a catering business. Whatever is left over or in abundance is sold at the weekly market.)

So far, I have found that the work is hard, human labor-intensive due to the elimination of chemicals and soil-damaging machines, but incredibly rewarding and educational. I have learned so much from my hosts, farm owners Gerry Ross and Janet Simpson, already, and yet still I know there is so much more to learn.

By the end of the internship, I hope to know how: A) to grow my own food; B) to live as sustainably as possible; and C) to expand my knowledge of agricultural practices in both Hawaii and on a national scale.

Every single day is a new learning experience. Until next time…