Kauai is one of my favorite places in the world.
As one of the smaller Hawai’ian islands, Kauai is a jewel in a vast sea—rich in history and Polynesian vibe—the most remote archipelago on the planet.
I’m always curious to see how any place I travel handles sustainability, but especially an island, because resources are not as plentiful.
And of course, islands have very specific requirements when it comes to being self-reliant or close to it. In today’s world, complete self-reliance is generally unheard of—and in Kauai, I experienced frustration over things that we take for granted on the mainland.
Like eggs, for instance—Kauai has a large population of wild chickens and roosters which can be seen at the airport, on the highway or in any backyard or shopping center. They are protected by law and baby chicks abound, but—eggs at the grocery store come from California and the Mid-West. No kidding. I have raised chickens for egg production, so I know that these wild Banties can’t be a reliable source of eggs for everyone in the area. Still, I couldn’t help thinking about the environmental footprint of eggs brought in from 2,500 miles away.
In Kauai, one does not have to go far to find an avocado tree—or bananas and limes. I had some in my little backyard where I rented for a few weeks, and believe me—I was foraging! Still, I saw a lot of fruit go to waste—perhaps we are not a foraging world anymore? That makes me think of my childhood in Europe, where foraging sometimes was the difference between hunger and a meal on the table.
The first thing I asked when I arrived in Kauai was where I could find a farmer’s market. I wanted to eat local, organic—or at least sustainably grown—non-GMO produce.
And guess what? There is a farmer’s market every single day somewhere on the island—and they are very well attended.
Kauai is in the process of becoming GMO Free, with rehabilitation and re-purposing of GMO farms a work in progress. I marveled at the beauty and symmetry of taro fields (taro is a traditional, staple crop in Kauai) and the stunning amount of work that has gone into several botanical gardens on the island.
While so much of what is consumed in Kauai arrives from the mainland, it is indeed heartening to see the “eat local” movement alive and well. I’ve always said that the most profound change that will ever happen in society begins at a grass roots level. And it’s true—it won’t be government who will spur initiatives for massive shifts in society, but it will be individuals and civilians who care enough to give to their communities.
While on the South Shore of Kauai, I was delighted to attend a culinary market, where not only was organic or local produce available, but also delicious food prepared by local chefs and foodie entrepreneurs. Want soup, Thai rice, Hawaiian salt seasoned with activated charcoal or mango, grilled delights or infused vinegars? No worries! All there every Wednesday, plus incredible live music. With the magic of the trade-winds and frequent rainbows in the background, I could not help falling in love with such yummy exuberance.
Each market has its own energy, and I noticed one thing that perhaps is common to all communities, because it happens in my home town as well—markets are not always frequented by those who need it most, young mothers with small children, families without cars and folk who find the grocery/health food store justifiably expensive.
For this reason I’ve always advocated for markets to be close to town center, so anyone who lives in town can walk there—and organized car-pooling, for those who live remotely. Many single moms in my area complain that produce for their child’s diet is expensive and truly “market finds” can be dear, depending on the market—but over all, I think that it is easier to source good nutrition locally than in a wilted, non-sun-ripened fruit or vegetable from thousands of miles away.
Sadly—and this is an observation for my community—cheap, nutritionally-void food is plentiful at box stores. And culturally, we have come away from eating food that is vibrant and whole.
Having said that, Kauai has shown me that where there is a will there is a way. This beautiful island has more markets than I have ever seen anywhere else, and farmland is held precious and growing in use.
Community is built upon the backs of those who understand the importance of sustainability.
Kauai, you have inspired me and fed me well. Mahalo!
Author: Monika Carless
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photos: Author’s own.