As a family owned subsistence farm in Kapoho Hawaii we are currently experimenting taking responsibility for producing our own food. Ultimately we want to meet these needs on the farm or within our neighborhood.
We have 22 acres situated in a tropical rain forest which has been overgrown with several species of invasive trees and vines. The canopy was once the slow growing Ohia trees, but now it is a species native to the dry area of Africa that has grown out of control with our 80-100 inches of yearly rainfall. We are slowly eliminating these recently introduced trees with a canopy of fruit and nut trees as well as noninvasive species of timber bamboo.
Some of our long term goals include eliminating our dependence on off-island sources for our staples: water, electricity, fuel, food, building materials, (clothing, shampoo, tools, bike parts, pens, information, communication….)
The most exciting project for me has been transitioning from the grocery store to the farm/neighborhood. We live in a unique neighborhood. There are a lot of other subsistence farms with a lot of different ideas and priorities about living sustainably. This is a place where chatting about composting toilets and bartering is easy: we have traded buck service for bamboo, loaning a plumbing torch in exchange for vanilla beans, goat milk for fig trees….
Our first step was to notice what we purchased at the grocery store and how often we shopped. Some stuff was easy, replacing apples with local fruit, eating perennial greens instead of california lettuce. Some was much harder, replacing pasta with taro and breadfruit (breadfruit again?!, experimenting with making vinegar from pineapples, sugar cane and mangoes, (what was that recurring white scum on the top?) And then there were what seemed to be impossibilities: butter, bread, oats.
Our plan: one meal at a time. We started with breakfast- our smoothie and eliminated the non-local ingredients (brown cow yogurt, frozen berries, almonds, oats) and replaced them with local (our own goat yogurt, mac nuts, our eggs, local honey, our bananas, any other local fruit, our neighbor?s vanilla, our cardamom, coconut). That was almost painless, a good start.
Eventually I made a list of our staples and began to search for local replacements. Our goal was not to get obsessive about it: we’ll still buy some specialty stuff until we can’t anymore but we will know our basics are taken care of. For example we stopped buying olive oil and started purchasing coconut oil since we will one day be pressing our own.
Staple number one: starch. Goodbye pasta, goodbye potatoes (except on thanksgiving), goodbye flour (not yet), hello breadfruit, taro and some dabbling in air potato, cassava, sweet potato, malabar chestnut, jakfruit seeds, plantain, dasheen. First we tried to replace all our familiar recipes for pasta and potatoes with breadfruit (breadfruit alfredo, breadfruit parmesan, breadfruit pesto, we never did find a way to have taro besides mashed with butter). Eventually we didn?t need to entertain ourselves with breadfruit dress ups. We started enjoying it steamed and mashed with butter, home fries or as a potato pancake.
Staple number 2: protein. Our strategy: Rooster eating, pig hunting (which involved butchering and brining), eggs, eggs and more eggs, goat milk cheese. Longer term we are putting in a pond for talapia and maybe mullet. Not so painful. There is talk of eating male goats but we are not quite there yet. Maybe if we had a pasture devoted to meat goats far from zone 1 so we never name them or learn their personalities.
Then we went after the stuff you don?t think about and people skip mentioning when they say they grow their food: vinegar, salt, sugar, spices, oil, flour, condiments, beverages, nut butters, jelly… We started with vinegar and eventually got some batches of mango vinegar (but they still don’t compare with balsamic vinegar) so we use lemon juice instead mostly.
Salt we got from ocean water that we boiled down over a pallet fire until we had crystals. Now we just boil it and pretend its clear soy sauce.
Sugar we tried harvesting and crushing sugar cane, then cooking it down. We did this in three batches. The first batch hardened like a salt block, the second stayed like a syrup and the third turned into a solid lump of glass. We decided to focus on honey and not try to preserve sugar cane (use it fresh only).
Spices: we decided to focus on cuisines that use spices we can grow here (thai, indian, hawaiian). We also gathered recipes for spice combinations (curries, garam masala, herb and spice salts etc.).
Oil: we bought a stainless steel wheat grass juicer and are waiting for some of the 500 coconut palms we planted to be mature enough to harvest and process. I tried rendering down a pig hide in a huge pot over a pallet fire for the fat but that was just a mess. I did have success making broth from local beef bones and skimming off the fat and using that for cooking. I would love to be able to butcher some bacon and save the grease from that for cooking, yum. For now we buy coconut oil.
Flour: the jury is still out on this one. We currently still purchase from north america organic wheat berries for our milking goats and our chickens as supplements and we have taken to grinding them up in the vitamix into flour and making hearty baked goods from that. I also purchased 25 lbs of dent corn (dried cork kernels) to experiment with grinding that into flour and it has been successful (polenta, cornbread, grits) so I purchased several varieties of dent corn for crops.
Condiments: we just stopped purchasing them. No more ketchup, we won?t replace the mayonnaise when ever it runs out (we did make some from scratch but we used olive oil and cider vinegar when we still had some), I broadcast a bunch of mustard seeds and are hoping that one day they will go to seed so I can harvest them, basically we just stopped relying on condiments since they aren’t around.
For beverages we make our own lemonade, Scott’s tonic water (handful of perennial greens like katuk, handful of herbs like perennial cilantro, basil, some lemon or lemon grass, honey, ginger etc. with water in the vitamix, then strained), kombucha (I started growing tea plants and have been using the remnants from the sugar cane experiment. When those run out I will take a stalk of sugar cane and split it into quarters and crush it with a mallet and just put stalks and all into the jar with the ‘mushroom’), we warm goat’s milk, add honey and cardamom and (shhh, butter) for an evening drink, I have been hand picking, peeling, drying, peeling again and roasting coffee from the land. It is such a laborious I can?t bear to grind up the beans in the vitamix so I hand crush them with mortar and pestle and make a ceremony of it. I also add cacao beans and grind them. We want to make some honey mead, maybe some fruit wines one day. I have been harvesting those mushrooms they call turkey something or other for tea but I feel too scared yet to brew any.
Nut butter we still purchase (almond) but we have also been purchasing mac nuts for snacks and smoothies from a neighbor (until ours are mature) and plan to make some batches of nut butter. The resistance here is how much waste there is in making it in the vitamix when you try to get it all out. Jelly we have replaced with honey and cinnamon. But actually we only use it on toast which we are (one day) going to give up.
I am so excited about legumes. I would say that embracing breadfruit in a serious way (most dinners, ask our friends) and growing beans was the biggest shift from 10% local food to closer to 80%. We have grown long beans, wing beans, lima beans with great success. I just added several other varieties of beans (scarlet runner, florida bean, a more shade tolerant bean, some bush beans and a pulse bean). Of the 30 pigeon peas we planted last year about 20 are still upright (the others are horizontal but still flowering) and we hope to harvest a crop of pulse from them. I want to build a solar dehydrator so I can put up beans, dried fruit, spices. Currently they tend to get moldy before they are dry and I loose a lot of cardamom, lima beans, seeds for seed saving. I dream of mason jars filled with dried beans, spices, herb/spice mixes, coffee, tea, dried fruit, vinegar, chutney, kimchee, preserved lemon, etc. on our shelves. Maybe some smoked jerky or pemmican.
At this point we could probably squeak by if the ships stopped coming in. Once our coconuts and fruit trees are producing more than we can possibly eat the goats and chickens will be weaned from wheat berries. We have (2) three acre pastures for the goats to browse 24/7 and our chickens are totally free range, including hanging our on our door step and keeping the earwig and centipede populations down. They also love tomatillos and every bit of compost we give them.
I didn’t address butter because we are still in denial about having to give up that. We have about 10 more acres slated for pasture but we are hoping that a neighbor will decide to raise jersey cows and we can barter for milk each week to churn in to butter.
Long term I would love to expand our kitchen to operate more like a commercial kitchen. Have equipment for hard cheese making, solar dehydrating, an expeller press for oils, crocks for fermenting and brining, a non-propane cooking source that is easier to regulate than a pallet fire….. We have lots of internet stuff on methane digestors.
We have nubian does and one buck, about 35 hens and 3 roosters, 2 horses which only enter into food production with their contribution of manure, about 170 fruit and nut trees, close to 500 coconut palms, some crops (peanut, ginger, taro, pigeon peas, beans, pineapple, ), a reliable garden- once my daughter reminded me that gardens are mostly annuals and need to be replanted (eggplant, okra, some brassicas, green onions, tomatillos) an experimental garden (beets, carrots, leeks, onions, lettuces, sunflowers, cabbage) a screen house (fruit fly free) which we are currently starting seeds for tomatoes, summer and winter squash, cucumbers, muskmelon, peppers, some dry climate herbs and figs. We have perennial greens (moringa, katuk, edible hibiscus, plus several other local pot greens).
We are expanding our vision for the farm: we want others to be able to experience what it feels like to live 3rd world. We are in the process of creating a second homestead for work trade/ interns. We noticed that many of the people working here in exchange for a cabin relied on a vehicle and a job in town to pay for their food. We wanted to offer the opportunity for people to provide for their own food needs and eliminate the need to be tied into working a job to pay for the car to get to the job so you can make money to pay for the food you can’t grow because you have this job.