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Army of Permaculturists – Ready for Battle

These are the people of Molokai, a 300 square mile island in the center of the main chain of the Hawaiian Islands. It is rural, beautiful, slow-paced and the only place you’ll find almost as many people wearing camouflage as the armed forces.

If you can show respect for the aina (land) and local-style culture, the people of Molokai are hands-down the most friendly in Hawaii. And, they will treat you like one of their own ohana (family). But, don’t be fooled. Underneath their easy-going nature and humorous story telling are a group of warriors, ready to defend their island and way of life at a moment’s notice. From large-scale commercial development and GMOs to toxic dumping and water rights, they have fought and won many times.

However, in recent years, the Army of Molokai has added a new strategy to their battle plan. While they are still defending their island as needed, they are also taking a step in the offensive direction. This newest approach is not one that is based on stopping or destroying something. It’s an action plan to carry out the goals of the Island’s Sustainability Plan that the community created a few years ago. It’s a battle to repair and heal the aina and set a positive course for the Island’s future. And, in order to arm themselves, the Army of Molokai has added a new set of skills to add to their bag of tricks – permaculture.

After a recent 4-course series provided through the Permaculture Research Institute USA, in partnership with Sust’Aina-Ble Molokai and the Ho’ala Hou Program, approximately 15 Molokai residents are now armed and dangerous (with mad permaculture skills). Through successful completion of the 72-hour Permaculture Design Certificate Course, a Practicum on Incorporating Traditional Hawaiian Plants into a Permaculture Design, Teacher Training and Water Harvesting Earthworks, these new permaculturists are well-trained in both the theory and practice of permaculture.

Early stage establishment of Andrew Jones’ garden with mini-swales

With international permaculture teachers Andrew Jones and Geoff Lawton leading the troops, students not only received an intensive Permaculture training, but also got to get down and dirty transforming the Ho’ala Hou site where the courses were held. They set up multiple composting systems, a sizeable kitchen garden integrated with a mini-swale system, an elaborate herb spiral and a larger Geoff Lawton-style swale that will be the start of a food forest.

A swale sets the main-frame for a new food forest design

After the 5-week training was finished, even though students should’ve been exhausted, they continued putting their new skills into practice. Everybody was eager to get moving on all kinds of projects around the island. Students set up a community permaculture work group that meets every 2 weeks, integrated a permaculture training segment into the Ho’ala Hou youth program and held two introductory youth workshops, set up a planning team to work on re-vegetating slopes upland to a 10-mile expanse of heavily-silted coral reef, created an action plan to design a complete Ahupua’a (traditional Hawaiian mountain to sea land management model — also known as the “Ohana System” in permaculture) and are working with the high school to integrate permaculture training into the school curriculum, as well as into the middle and elementary schools. In addition, to speed up these projects, the Molokai army is also planning additional courses for the community and off-island visitors starting in the next couple of months. Courses should be listed on the PRI website soon.

I’d say this is pretty impressive progress considering that the last PRI USA course only ended less than a month ago. When I took my PDC a few years ago with Bill Mollison, I remember him saying the thing he liked best about permaculture students (in comparison to university students) was that after they learned about permaculture design, they didn’t just sit on the information. They ran with it. I’d say this newest group of permaculturists are definitely proving Bill’s theory.


  1. I just saw an interview on TV where the interviewed (sorry I don’t remember his name) said the situation we are up into now is so complex to turn around that there is no hope in governments, the only hope is a massive grass root change from the bottom.

  2. Aloha,

    my name I luka, I live on Oahu and have a fallow organic farm on the North shore in an area called pupukea.

    I and my family have been warriors fighting for our kuleana lands and have begun getting lands back. Now I am looking for farmers/permaculturalist to help us restore and rebuild the lands.

    I know this will be a team effort and will require lots of hands. our own people have been beaten up so long, they are hesitant to stick their neck out and do anything.

    I love what you folks are doing and what was accomplished.

    I’ve decided rather than leasing our house to vacation renters this year, we will lease our place to permaculturalist who would like to compete for a piece of land to lease. As you know allodial title lands cannot be sold, so leases are all we have to offer.

    My goal is to work with 8 people to convert our 1 acre organic farm to an 85% off the grid sustainable homestead. This way we all will be of the same mindset and will have the same resources to draw from in order to make a viable permaculture hui. This will be a 1 year commitment. During which time we will not only build an edible landscape, but a farm that can be profitable so that there is a source of income to pay for items that cannot be produced or bartered for like utilities, cell phone service, insurance, etc.

    My Kupuna are willing to help guide us on the lands as far as history and resources go, and how it was traditionally used. While it is my preference to lease to kanaka maoli, I will first rent to those who I feel will be successful. my goal is to build and restore 3 properties; a 1 acre homestead, a small farm about 3 to 5 acres no more then 10 acres and an ahupuaa so that we inspire others to want to do the same.

    The project I will start with is our 1 acre farm in Pupukea. I will put people up in the shared rooms. it will cost each participant $800 per mo/person plus 3 days work per week and 1 day per mo for class and planning. the price includes living quarters, utilities and shared meals. we have room for 8 people. I am asking for a 1 year commitment, after which competent permaculture farmers that I feel can be successful on their own will be offered a piece of land to lease. Others that I want to work with but don’t seem capable or ready to take on an independent project, I will offer them to stay on to help build the next sustainable model or to maintain the one we just built. I understand that not all people are meant to be entrepreneurs, some are better at supporting the entrepreneurs who must be not only innovative in the soil, but also in business.

    Next year I will do the same thing but we will be building out the medium size farms.

    I am having people come and work on volunteer days on our farm to see if they would be good canidates for our program. Please pass on our email; ruth (at) for those who are interested. my goal is to give the people of Hawaiinei true independence and freedom, I believe this starts with us first being at least 90% food independent with 100% high quality, high nutritive organic foods. This not only gives us food security, it will give us our health back so we can all thrive once again!!!!!! malama pono!!!

    1. Luka,
      Are you still working toward this vision? I would love to hear more, as my family and I are working on a plan to move to Oahu in the next two years. Could you email me with more details and information [email protected]. We are very much looking to find like minded permaculterist to connect with before our move so we can start anew in a sustainable way.

      1. I’m reading this in a cold bed in London!
        I’m a Permaculturist who teaches gardening to young families
        We’re called Father Nature
        Having recently had a full recovery from bladder cancer I am appreciating your view of healthy food and environment and having agency!
        My heart is leaping with joy at the possibility of jumping into your vision
        I would need time to hand the reins over ie 2024/25.

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