Welcome to Permaculture Island?

No, it’s not the newest reality series or a throwback to the 70s. I’m talking about real life here. And, it’s even part of the United States, kind of. What I’m referring to is the Island of Molokai. It’s a small island (38 x 10 miles with 7500 residents) located between Oahu and Maui in Hawaii. Not only do they have a sustainability plan, but they just held their first sustainability conference this past July. And the best part of the whole thing is that they actually used the word Permaculture in advertising for the conference. Maybe this bold move will help set the stage for the rest of the U.S.

In May 2008, residents realized they didn’t like the unsustainable path towards destruction the island seemed to be on. So, like true Permaculturists, instead of dwelling on their problems, they decided to focus on solutions. (Remember, as Geoff Lawton says, “the problem is the solution”) What they came up with was a sustainable plan for the island’s future. They outlined it in a document called Molokai: Future of a Hawaiian Island (2mb PDF). In it, the people of Molokai call their vision, “Sust- ‘AINA -bility”, a model of abundant island living rooted in traditional knowledge and supported by modern technologies. Hmm, sounds a bit like Permaculture….

The truth is, Molokai was once a place of extremely advanced and highly respected food production. Integrated within it were sustainable practices of traditional agriculture, highly productive fishponds and balanced subsistence (hunting and gathering). They tied it all together using a very intricate system of land management called aha moku.

Right now, the rest of the state is still subsidizing Molokai with its high rates of unemployment and other public benefits. In addition, the island has suffered a prolonged drought in recent years. But, as expressed in Molokai’s vision for the future, with proper planning and education, the people are determined to become self-sufficient and reclaim the reputation the island once had as ‘aina momona (the land of plenty).

Although the people of Molokai are focusing on the future, fragments of sustainability and Permaculture are already present there today. Many residents still provide almost 30% of their food needs through fishing, hunting and gathering. Farmers markets are expanding as more people are placing a priority on growing local with less chemicals and genetic modification. In addition, Permaculture as we know it has been present on the island for almost two decades due to people like Robin and Dano Gorsich. They operate the Wailua PermaFarm, a small-diversified Permaculture farm with a high-output CSA delivery service. Even the granddaddy of Permaculture, Bill Mollison, took a shine to Molokai in the 80s and 90s and was certainly responsible for planting a Permaculture seed or two there himself.

Like many people around the world, the people of Molokai are realizing that the future of Molokai’s food security is not in large scale commercial farming. Rather, it is in peoples’ ability to provide for their own needs and grow their own food, on their land, in their backyards.

PRI USA is helping Molokai make this transition through projects and courses on the island. Our latest course, Planning and Implementing a Permaculture Project, is scheduled for November 15, 2009. During the course, we will be working on two diverse sites to help establish food security.