Plant a Wish
Native tree enthusiasts Joe Imhoff and Sara Tekula are branching out…and they’ve got a lot of ground to cover
by Jacob Shafer
Talk story with Joe Imhoff and Sara Tekula and two things quickly become apparent: they love trees, and they want to share the love. We’re sitting in the kitchen of their studio apartment, past Makawao on a piece of property that’s been converted into a native tree sanctuary. A light Upcountry drizzle falls outside, lending a silver glow to the abundant vegetation. Like the rolling meadow behind it, the studio is green. “Our house is camouflage—how cool is that?” Sara says with a smile.
Sara and Joe smile a lot, especially when discussing their latest venture. Or, more accurately, adventure. Their plan is as simple as it is ambitious: to plant a native tree in all 50 states and shoot an as-yet-untitled documentary along the way. They hope to complete the project, which they’ve dubbed Plant a Wish, by 2012.
“Getting into the land has always been a big part of our relationship,” says Sara. In fact, the couple planted a koa at their wedding and asked guests to write wishes on slips of paper, which were placed in the soil along with the tree—hence Plant a Wish.
Joe also runs the Permaculture Group, which, during the holidays, sells live native trees as an alternative to shipped-in evergreens. A Midwest transplant, he says his interest in native plants began when he started leading zipline tours for Skyline Eco Adventures and witnessed firsthand the impact of invasive species. “Every single day I’d take customers through a eucalyptus forest,” he remembers. “And I would educate them about how big of a problem it is, how it’s part of the reason the rivers are dry.”
Sara and Joe’s other company—can you tell they’re multi-taskers?—is Noni Films & Media, through which they’ll produce the documentary. In addition to combining their shared interests, the goal, Sara says, is to “bring people together around the idea of planting a tree—not for our benefit, but for everyone’s benefit and ultimately for the environment.”
“It’s such a simple act,” adds Joe. “But if lots of people do it, it can be big.”
Of course, there’s nothing simple about a two-year cross-country tree-planting odyssey. First, there’s the expense and logistical headaches associated with traveling thousands of miles and being away from home—and their cat, Gordon—for months at a time. And there’s a desire to make sure the trees aren’t merely planted, but looked after and allowed to flourish. “We don’t just want to stick a tree by the highway and say, ‘there’s one state down’,” says Sara. That means coordinating with like-minded groups and individuals along the way and doing some homework to ensure they plant the right trees in the right places. Then, Sara half-jokes, they can “do the trip again in 20 years and make another movie.”
Despite her enthusiasm, Sara admits she was initially hesitant about the 50-state goal. “When Joe first proposed it, I could have killed him,” she says. “He’s the guy, so there’s got to be a mountaintop.” (Proving her point, Joe has contacted the Guinness Book and is hoping to have their accomplishment enshrined as an official record.) But Sara also credits Joe as the backbone of the project. “He’s got the green thumb,” she says. “My background is in psychology, so I’m more up in the theoretical realm.” The logo for Plant a Wish plays on this dichotomy. It features a tree and two birds—one on the ground, the other high in the branches.
They may have different skills and mindsets, but Sara and Joe’s vision is the same: to spread environmental awareness and restore balance to a world out of whack.
We all know the basic stuff trees do: they produce oxygen, they give shade, they provide housing for birds. But it’s easy to forget how truly essential they are. Sara points to a study conducted by Frances Kuo of the University of Chicago that examined links between urban green space and healthy, functioning communities. The conclusion—that people are generally happier and better off when they live near trees and plants—may seem self-evident. But travel through any concrete-fortified inner city in America and it’s painfully obvious the lesson hasn’t been learned. (Sara says Kuo has agreed to be interviewed for their documentary.)
Why native trees specifically? Trees that have evolved to exist in a specific environment—interacting in a harmonious, symbiotic relationship with the surrounding flora and fauna—are more likely to thrive, say Sara and Joe. Again, it seems obvious, but the proliferation of invasive species—on Maui and nationwide—tells another story.
Though they hope to encounter mostly support and enthusiasm, Sara and Joe acknowledge some people will be skeptical and may pigeonhole them as crazy tree-huggers (which they sort of are, in the best possible sense of the term). But, they emphasize, they’re not looking to preach or deliver an overtly political message. A healthier, greener planet should be a universal goal, they say. They even want to reach out to timber companies and people whose livelihood depends on harvesting trees.
“There’s a lot of talk about, say, stopping deforestation in the Amazon,” says Sara. “But then you go to the Amazon and you realize there are entire communities that wouldn’t be able to survive if this industry wasn’t there. If we just turn that off, they’ll perish. We’re in a strange place now where there are people who are surviving on an industry that isn’t very healthy for the planet. So it’s a question of, who do we save?”
That’s a big question, and Joe and Sara aren’t necessarily set on answering it—or injecting any kind of editorial voice. They’ll of course be featured prominently in the documentary, but they don’t want to make themselves the stars. “We want to find the trees that have the most compelling stories,” says Joe. “The trees themselves are the characters.”
Sara estimates that about 500 native trees have been planted on Maui because of their efforts (we added one to the list on my visit, when a young ohia went into the ground). That tally will certainly grow in the next two years. But ultimately, Joe says, they want to pass the kuleana, and the aloha, along. “With a lot of the trees I’ve planted, I’m the caretaker,” he says. “So when it’s dry during the middle of summer, I’m out there with five-gallon buckets. We could plant thousands of trees. But what if we got thousands of people—or even a million people—to plant just one tree?”
Driving away from Joe and Sara’s camouflage house, the outlines of native trees disappearing in the gathering darkness, I try to think of the last time I planted a tree. It’s been a while. Fortunately, before I left Joe loaded me up with two papaya saplings that should fit perfectly in the corner of my yard.
No doubt about it—Joe and Sara love trees. And I think they just shared the love.
To follow Joe and Sara’s adventures and to learn more about Plant a Wish and how you can help, visit www.plantawish.org
Plant a Wish is just one of many local efforts to plant native trees and restore forests. Here are some other groups doing similar work:
Tree planting and restoration projects:
Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership (Auwahi Preserve), www.auwahi.org
Nature Conservancy, 572-7849
Maui Coastal Land Trust, www.mauicoastallandtrust.org
Maui Cultural Lands, www.mauiculturallands.org
D.T. Fleming Arboretum, www.flemingarboretum.org
Places to buy native trees for planting:
Hoolawa Farms, 575-5099
Native Nursery, 878-8276
Maui Naui Botanical Garden, 249-2798
Hale Aukua Garden Farm and Garden-to-go Boxes
Producing your own fruits and veggies may seem like hard work, but the payoff is ample
by Deborah Taj Anapol
Lori Grace is passionate about contributing to a greener planet. When the County began enforcing agricultural zoning restrictions in January 2008, she decided to convert her eight-acre estate on Maui’s North Shore into a productive farm. The 59-year-old environmental activist, educator and philanthropist didn’t realize at first how demanding this makeover would be. Hale Akua always grew a variety of fruit trees, taro and flowers, but it’s now undergone an amazing transformation, reversing the usual trend of converting ag land into luxury subdivisions by dramatically increasing the amount of land under cultivation. While pre-contact Hawaiians had thriving communities throughout Huelo, this windswept coastal land was mostly cow pasture before being subdivided into large estates.
It hasn’t been an easy task restoring fertility to the compacted clay soil, but farm employees Mary Wooldridge, Lisa Hotchkiss and Chris Buehler enjoy a challenge. Mary planted her first seed at the age of two. She has happy memories of her grandparents’ farm in Indiana where she was inspired by her grandfather’s example of making his own compost and her grandmother’s expertise as a master gardener. Raised in the Mississippi Delta, Mary recalls, “It’s farm country. I was always on farms growing up.” After starting her own landscaping business, she earned degrees in plant science and horticulture from Louisiana Technical University before coming to Maui in 2005. Soon she was helping people all over the island put in home gardens.
When the folks at Hale Akua Garden Farm heard about Oahu-based Jay Ogden’s Gardens-to-go raised bed setups, they saw it as a perfect way to educate condo dwellers and others with tight living spaces about growing their own fresh organic produce. Hale Akua is in the process of setting up a demonstration Gardens-to-go box so visitors can see one in action. While anyone can create a container garden, these boxes—made from recycled high-density plastic—make it easy and rewarding. They require no tools for assembly and come with automatic watering systems, an aeration system and protective fencing to keep out birds and animals. Organic soil and non-toxic weed-control promise healthy produce, while the waist-high design means no aching backs or knees from bending over.
Ogden and his wife, Paulette Fukumoto, say they eat fresh produce from their container garden twice daily. “Forty minutes every three months is all it takes to maintain,” Ogden says. Ogden has five of the 36-square-inch boxes in his backyard and hopes to eventually distribute them throughout the country.
“The minute we detach ourselves from the growing of our own food is the moment we go wrong,” says Ogden. “This doesn’t mean we have to grow everything we eat—that’s just not practical in today’s world. But we can all eat something that we’ve grown ourselves every day if we want to.”
“I like being in my garden, being around things that are growing, because it feels good,” continues Ogden. “It makes me happy. And our plants do better when we’re around them. They miss us when we go away for a couple weeks. But with this system, we can go away, because it’s self-watering.”
Growing your own food makes sense everywhere, but especially in Hawaii where we enjoy a year-round growing season. For those who prefer to buy their produce, or want to supplement what they grow, Hale Akua Garden Farm offers greens, herbs, eggplant and root crops at Mana Foods, Hanzawa’s, Rodeo General Store in Makawao, Pukalani Superette and a variety of other stores and restaurants islandwide.
Lisa Hotchkiss, who also works as an inspector for Hawaii Organic Farmers Association, supervises the use of bokashi and vermiculture to increase fertility at the farm. Lisa says any home gardener can do the same. Bokashi is made by fermenting wheatbran, molasses and effective microorganisms, and then layering it with compost. This helps decrease bacteria and viruses, which can cause disease, and replaces them with nitrogen-rich microorganisms. It’s the same idea as eating yogurt to restore the ecology of your digestive tract. Raising worms that feed on mature compost and excrete high-nitrogen vermicast is another fast and efficient way to produce fertilizer. Hale Akua offers classes to help people implement these and other sustainable practices.
Joseph Dunsmoor, a sustainable farming consultant who’s been in Hawaii for more than a decade, wants to create large-scale systems for recovering protein waste and converting it to nitrogen fertilizer instead of sending it to the landfill. Since the 1970s, Dunsmoor has owned and operated organic farms in Belize, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Maryland. “Hawaii soils are volcanic in origin and because of non-sustainable practices introduced by Mainland agribusiness, they tend to be poor in nutrients,” he says. “Fertilizers are very expensive in Maui. In old Hawaii, waste recovery and intact forest ecosystems kept the soil fertile. Creating nutrient-rich soil will make farming in Hawaii more sustainable for the future.”
Maui is full of inspiring people and organizations that are thinking outside the box (and in some cases, inside the raised bed) to make the most of our fertile surroundings. Hale Akua—and the individuals who have contributed to its transformation—is one blossoming example.
To more information about Hale Akua Garden Farm or to arrange a tour, call 573-6229; for information about Garden-to-go boxes, visit www.yourgardenstogo.com
Simple things you can do to get greener…and save green, too
by Anu Yagi
Save energy while preserving the integrity of your clothes by washing in cold water. Fabric fibers expand when subjected to hot water, releasing dark dyes (thus, fading faster), and subsequent contraction is the cause of notorious shrinkage. Protein-based stains (like bodily fluids and dairy products), will set permanently, and delicates (like lace, knits and most synthetics) break down faster under the duress of heat. The same hot logic applies to dryers (not to mention the thread wear of tumbling), so line-drying is a no-brainer, especially with Maui’s abundant sunshine.
Freon puts the frigid in your refrigerator, cooled as it runs through the unit’s rear condenser coils (similar to how a radiator functions). Allowing for airflow is essential to efficiency. This can only be accomplished by maintaining sufficient clearance from surrounding walls, as recommended by manufacturers, and checking to ensure the coil area (underneath too) is free of dust and debris like rogue paper towels. Make sure door seals are in proper condition—in place and intact, with no cracks or tears—because any warm air inside will cause the fridge to cycle more frequently, using more electricity. Also, too much crap atop your icebox can trap rising heat, like wearing a cap in the cold.
Keeping up with routine servicing is paramount to extending the life of your vehicle(s) and improving fuel efficiency. Engines run on an air and fuel mixture, so poor airflow burns more gas. Changing your car’s air filter is not only inexpensive, but for the under-hood savvy it’s a DIY activity that takes less time than flossing your teeth. It’s more complicated, but the strength of the ignition makes a big difference, so change your spark plugs and, of course, your oil.
From a Palauea Native
Giving voice to the voiceless
By Kaniela Kanahele & Lucienne de Naie
Note: “Palau‘ea” is the name of an ancient land division in South Maui. Palau‘ea begins at the sea and includes the popular and culturally significant Polo and Palau‘ea beach parks, the neglected cultural and native plant preserve at One Palau‘ea Bay, the Wailea Emerald golf course, around 200 acres (southern portion) of the proposed 670-acre Wailea 670/Honua‘ula golf course and luxury home development and undeveloped ranch lands ascending to the Ulupalakua area and mauka. “Mo‘i” is the Hawaiian word for king, monarch or ruler.
I am ka wiliwili nui, mo‘i of the dryland forest.
I am a true Hawaiian tree.
My ancestors were already rooted here, long before the arrival of man.
I am a native of the lands of Palau‘ea.
I began life nearly a century ago, as a small red seed,
protected by this lava flow.
As I grew, I survived drought.
I survived wildfires.
I survived grazing cattle, goats and deer.
I survived military bombing during WWII.
And now, I am surviving the attack of a foreign insect.
I have survived because I am nourished by this land.
I have survived because the waters of Kane
lie beneath the earth to nourish me.
I have survived because those who dwelt with me on this land
respected me and my kind for our special gifts and mana.
They valued our light and buoyant wood.
They used it to make surfboards for ancient chiefs.
They formed it into fishing floats and outriggers for canoes.
Sadly, although we still exist as an island,
a la‘u ‘ohana on these undisturbed lands,
we, ka wiliwili nui, are mostly taken for granted.
We are ignored or forgotten by those who dwell on the land today.
Thirty years ago, new people came to the land of Palau‘ea.
They saw no need for me to survive.
They cared not about my ancient genealogy.
My ties to the ‘aina and kanaka maoli.
They paid money for reports that described me
and the other native plants of Palau‘ea as a “scrub forest.”
They had other plans for the special lava flow where I lived.
It would become golf course lawns, surrounded by luxurious houses.
They called the land “Makena 700.”
Twenty years ago, government bodies gave the people who came to build in Palau‘ea permission to remove me and my many relatives from the land.
No one came to see the land where we had lived for centuries.
We were unseen, and therefore our disappearance would trouble no one.
The people who came to build made many promises. But shortly after getting permission to bulldoze, they sold the land of Palau‘ea to others.
The new people made more promises. They called the land “Wailea Ranch.” They had permission to destroy my home, but had money problems.
They sold the lands of Palau‘ea ten years ago to avoid bankruptcy.
The newest group of investors with dreams for my homeland
also made big promises. They called the land “Wailea 670.”
The investors paid for a new report.
It said native trees like myself were “marginal.”
Some people did not believe this report.
They came to my Palau‘ea home to see the land for themselves.
They came to walk the land, to listen and understand more
about Palau‘ea and the many plants, animals and spirits who lived there.
They found many trees like me, and other rare native plants,
hidden among the lava lands.
They asked that plans be changed for these lands.
They asked that these lands, my home of Palau‘ea, be set aside to live undisturbed for centuries to come.
At first, their requests were ignored.
Those who planned to bulldoze and build on the lands I call home told the government that we native plants could survive in the gulches.
Those who listened to the land explained that I and other natives
needed to live on the land where we were rooted.
Then the new investors told the government that wiliwili trees like me
were being killed off by the invading wasp.
They spoke of gathering my seeds to plant elsewhere.
They changed the name of their project to “Honua‘ula.”
Those who listened to the land brought pictures of me and other wiiwili,
showing we were alive and fighting off the wasps.
The investors offered to set aside six acres of our home
while destroying the rest.
Those who listened to the land, shared their pictures with others who cared. Hundreds came to speak to the government.
They brought more pictures.
They spoke for the ancient Hawaiian sites that shared my Palau‘ea home.
The investors offered to set aside 18 acres of our home,
but the land I lived on was not among those to be protected.
The people who listened to the land refused to give up.
Their voices were strong and growing.
Some asked that 200 acres be protected in the land of Palau‘ea.
The government made a condition that 130 acres of land could be considered.
The investors were asked to make a plan.
Their plan has only 22 acres set aside for my survival.
The people who listen to the land knew that this would not do.
They returned to the government to speak for the land.
They said that the mo‘i of the dryland forest must be respected
and left in place.
What will happen now?
The 130 acres that could be set aside would include the lava land where I live, but it does not include lands where many of my younger kinfolk
now dwell in shining groves.
All the land of Palau‘ea must be set aside
so that the legacy of the land’s first inhabitants can continue in perpetuity.
We remain rooted here. You are our voice.
Please speak for the lands of Palau‘ea.
I am a wiliwili tree.
I am a native of Palau‘ea.
Hundreds of my younger brothers and sisters are also natives of this land.
We all deserve to continue life in our homeland.
Long live the land of Palau‘ea.
Long live the native plants and people of this land.