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.