Reef Ambassador Cyrus Sutton aims to shed light on one of the biggest surfing destinations in the world, and inspire change to help its communities. Learn about his film project on organic and traditional farming in Hawaii.

Words and photos by Cyrus Sutton

To myself and many other surfers, Hawaii only means coconut trees, white sandy beaches and powerful waves. A couple years ago I started a film project that explores a different side of Hawaii, the project has opened my eyes to a whole other world.

Hawaii has the highest food prices in the U.S. In many areas of the islands, the only affordable food is preservative-filled, highly processed foods. Native Hawaiians have the lowest life expectancies in the country; much of this is due to diet-related illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. 

In response to this issue, there is a combination of indigenous and non-indigenous Hawaiian farms combining traditional ancient farming practices with outreach programs to teach low income families and individuals the lost art of growing food and providing for their own communities.

Traditional Hawaiian culture divided the land based on watersheds or valleys, which started in the mountains and ended at shore. These systems carefully carried fresh water and nutrients through a complex network of irrigation to feed a variety of root crops and fruit trees. By the time the runoff reached the ocean it was carefully diverted so that it could be used to attract fish for harvest. Very little water or nutrient was wasted.

They also understood that trees are an integral part of food production not only in the fruits they bear but the water they help to manage. Trees were acknowledged as the prime stewards of fresh water, their leaves catching rain and dispersing it gently to the ground, then protecting that moisture against wind so other plants could thrive. 

Drawing heavily from ancient Hawaiians' incredibly advanced food systems, people from all over the world are beginning to participate in these types of operations. Today people are testing tree based agriculture systems across all of the islands and are finding that they can get more food with less work than they ever thought possible. At first glance these farms look like un-kept jungles. There are no rows of crops or neatly kept fields. Instead they are tree dotted meadows filled with edible and medicinal crops that coexist symbiotically. The plants take care of each other, so much less work needs to be done by the farmer. 

These farms are proving incredibly productive at a community level and providing an answer to many of the local needs as well as providing a model for many environmental and human health issues today. 

Hawaii is not the only place that this is happening; all over the USA and the world young people are learning how to grow food in their particular climates so they can share high quality food with their communities. 

If you are looking to head to Hawaii and learn about organic and traditional farming to help out your community, here are places to check out:

HIP agriculture - based in Kohala

Mano Farms- based in Wainae, Oahu

Waipa Foundation- based on Kauai's north shore

O Kua o Ka La Charter school- based in Punadistrict of The Big Island