Well, it’s been a week after I left Kauai and I’m already planning my next trip back. All together, I would say the experience was more of a personal challenge then an academic one, however, I feel like the few people I interacted with made a lasting impact. Native Hawaiians, and those who call the island home, are very proud and skeptical of outsiders. I found my work extremely challenging, with many unanswered calls, ignored emails and awkward encounters, but hopefully I will be able to provide our community partner with some good insight to further their mission.
The last week was spent hiking and swimming. I can’t say enough for the feeling of freedom and independence. It will be a while until I’m able to experience that type of lifestyle again and I truly miss Kauai.
Weeks two and three have really flown by! We’ve had a lot of free time since this is our independent research time and I’ve kept myself busy by hiking….lots of hiking. I’ve realized the culture here is much different then any other farming communities I’ve been around. Farmers are much less trusting, much less open to divulging information, and MUCH harder to get a hold of. That is definitely one of my biggest challenges while continuing my research, is talking to actual people. Emails are a dead-end, phone calls go unanswered, and texts are rarely returned. It’s the island life, but it’s taken some adjusting and I’ve had to alter my approach and my research methods slightly.
History first. Kauai has a unique history as far as how it was conquered by King Kamehameha. Every island was forcefully taken, but Kauai was peacefully surrendered to the king and still have a fond outlook on his reign. King Kamehameha day brought about a parade in Lihue, along with Hawaiian music and crafts. Below is a photo of a princess during the procession.
Onto hiking…there are some amazing hikes with spanning vistas throughout the island and I’ve been lucky enough to venture out to a few. I’ve hiked Sleeping Giant four times now, about 2 miles up and back with a 1,300 foot incline, along with the Kalalau Trail on the North Shore. Having really adjusted to island time, it’s been a great opportunity to spend an entire afternoon exploring these rugged coasts and mountains while gaining an appreciation for the frailty and power of Kauai.
Coming up on the end of week two, I wanted to recap a couple of positive steps and people I’ve come across in my research. Through the Kauai Community College, I was able to make contact with their Sustainability Director, Benjamin, who splits his time between academia and living off-grid on 4 acres of property. Having built their own tiny house by hand, their property was eye-opening in just how comfortably one can live with minimal effort and minimal impact. Their modest house has a bed and storage, while their living room, kitchen and dining room are all under a wind-swept awning down the pasture. Obviously Florida’s weather wouldn’t be amiable to this set-up, but I loved the way they limited their power usage while maximizing their space. Relying on solar panels, golf cart batteries, and goats to mow the fields, he gave me a lot of information about the current situation for people just like him. They have the equipment, they have the drive, but they are a bit lost on how everything works and how to make their residence/businesses most efficient and effective.
Benjamin’s off-grid tiny house
Most affordable, efficient, sustainable, cutest lawn mower
That same night, I was allowed to speak at the Farmer’s Union meeting and pass around surveys for my research. I was overwhelmed by the sense of community and motivation that these organic farmers share, even though this has to be one of the toughest jobs on the island. The session was led, inoculating the soil using an ancient technique was the topic, and I mustered up the courage to speak to the group without a problem. I had a great response which will hopefully unfold into farm visits and interviews!
My first official meeting was with an Engineering Professor from the Kauai Community College who gave me some interesting information on solar issues and concerns on the island. We met at the carpentry shop where he has a program for local high school/college kids to build small solar-powered sheds from the ground up. They start by building the structure, then they install solar panels and hook up the electric, followed by installing a wind turbine. This all-inclusive approach gives the students important training in several trades and allows them to concentrate on needs present in their hometowns. This particular model that was on campus was a simple, no frills system that could easily power a small home for it’s minimal power needs (minus air conditioning and large power tools).
We briefly discussed Internet options and I’ve come to find out that many people don’t care to change their current situation and receive adequate coverage using their data services on their phones and tablets. This was a new discovery since I was expecting the people to want streaming Internet and access to more communication networks.
Other than meetings and farm-visits, I finally conquered the Nounou Trail (Sleeping Giant) behind our house and am happy to say that I survived….minus a few knee-cuts due to some lazy footing. The views were FANTASTIC.
Thanks to jet-lag, I am officially a morning person in Kauai! The island has a certain vibe to it and the first week supplied a slew of knowledge and realizations.
Touring Malama Kauai, our host organization located in Kilauea, brought a lot of the community’s issues to the surface and gave me some insight into what the needs of the island are, particularly the rural farming communities. I was connected with a few farming organizations, hopefully to garner some answers to questions about the current state of things on the island, along with setting up future interviews.
Youth Garden at Malama Kauai
One of my first observations is the lack of solar photovoltaic panels anywhere on the island. You find them sporadically, but not nearly as prevalent as you’d expect, especially for a place that has had daily sunlight since I’ve been here. This is an underutilized energy source and I still haven’t quite figured out what the challenges are to installing solar, or if people even want to change their ways.
Another quick realization is the hundreds of shipping containers docked at the harbor and at each grocery store. With Kauai importing over 80% of their food products, these are a common sight and an uneasy one. Besides the local markets, it’s difficult to find locally sourced foods. If you do visit a restaurant that sources locally, you definitely pay the price.
One of many shipping containers throughout the island. This one is at Kapa’a’s Safeway grocery store.