POSTED: 19 APRIL 2007 - 9:00am HST

TGI #3: The Garden of Eden

"The Garden of Eden" 1865 by American folk artist Erastus Salisbury Field (1805-1900). More here

[Editor's Note: The contents of this article have been used produce a column in Kauai's Garden Island News that is titled "Island Breath", scheduled to appear every other Sunday in The Garden Island newspaper. The final published version may vary from this text as TGI retains the right to correct and edit the material. Moreover, the copyright to the published version is held by TGI owner Kauai Publishing. Some material in TGI columns may have appeared on already]

Island Breath: Eden was a Garden
by Juan Wilson on 22 April 2007 Revision 2.5-070419
special to the Garden Island News 2007 by Kauai Publishing

That quote is from an article in the May 2006 "Permaculture Activist", by Toby Hemenway, titled "Is Sustainable Agriculture an Oxymoron?" His answer to the question is "Yes". The article begins...

"Jared Diamond (author of "Collapse") calls it “the worst mistake in the history of the human race". Bill Mollison (author of "Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual ") says that it can “destroy whole landscapes”. Are they describing nuclear energy? Suburbia? Coal mining? No. They are talking about agriculture."

The point Hemenway makes is that agriculture, as practiced from its birth in the Fertile Crescent ten thousand years ago, has been an unsustainable enterprise requiring plowing down wilderness and destroying its topsoil.
Although agriculture may be the source of civilization as we know it, the loss of the natural environment to mono-culture farming has come at a great price. To support the growth of civilization, agriculture has led to the deforestation and desertification of much of the land it has touched.

Over time techniques were honed, and efficiencies learned, but agricultural productivity came to a plateau a over century ago.

Then came widespread use of petrochemicals.

After World War Two, as a result of research programs by organizations like the Rockefeller and Ford Foundation, petrochemical based fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides were widely incorporated into US agriculture on a monumental scale: specifically in the growth of wheat and corn.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) exported this agribusiness technology throughout the world. In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, the USAID coined the term "Green Revolution" to describe this worldwide intensification of agriculture in even the poorest countries. The USAID was to farming, what the CIA has been to diplomacy.

This Green Revolution has allowed the human population of two billion to triple in just three generations.

The Green Revolution is dependent on the continuation of a US reinforced Global Economy based on cheap oil. US agriculture is now largely the conversion of crude oil into corn byproducts. The Green Revolution is not green in an environmental sense. It is quite the opposite.

We on Kauai are at the center of corn technology research by Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and others. These corporations need a protected and isolated place to develop their mutations. We are that place. Field by field, our Agland is being converted into GMO laboratories.

When the cheap crude oil is gone, the Green Revolution will be over. America won't be exporting corn syrup then... we'll be trying to burn it. Even on Kauai the agricultural multinationals are lining up the subsidies and doing the PR work to replace food crops with fuel crops. Ethanol subsidies are a scam that won't have legs to carry us to fuel self-reliance. We'll starve first.

The tug of war between those wanting cheap fuel, and those wanting something to eat, won't be pretty. And, unfortunately, neither side holds a winning hand. There won't be enough land to grow the fuel for our present life style, and once oil is gone there won't be enough of the fertilizer and other petroleum based products to keep growing the food we will need.

So, besides lowering our population, what is the answer to this dilemma. In a word: Permaculture.

Anthropologist Yehudi Cohen, and other scholars, break human cultures into five categories based on the method they use to get food. Sometimes people combine two or more of these categories into new roles.The role people play getting food is reflected in their economy, political organization, art and even religion. These five categories are:

• FORAGERS - hunter-gatherers



• PASTORALISTS - ranchers, herders

• INDUSTRIALISTS - chemists, manufacturers

Permaculture (Permanent Agriculture) is a term coined in 1971 by Bill Mollison to describe "the maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems." The Permiculturist uses simple methods to nurture useful plants and animals. Permaculture is self reliant and sustainable.

Permaculture blends a bit of Foraging, with little Agriculture and a lot of Horticulture. Permaculturists gather some wild food, like Foragers; and farm some domesticated plants, like Agriculturists; but mostly they garden, like the Horticulturists. How fitting for us, living on "The Garden Island"

Unlike Agriculture, Horticulture can be best done at a small and intimate scale. Typically, the social organization needed is small - at a tribal or village level. Also, unlike modern large scale Agriculture, Horticulture does not require synthetic fertilizer, heavy mechanization, or chemical treatment. It can best be done organically.

Horticulture is the most efficient method known for obtaining food, measured by return on energy invested. Permaculture is therefore relatively easy and productive. It would seem that in the past the Hawaiians practiced Permaculture using their Ahupua'a system of land management.


Loco Moco is a local Hawaiian taste treat invented in Hilo in 1949. It is a serving of rice covered with a hamburger patty, topped with a fried egg and covered in hot gravy. Most, if not all, the ingredients of your Loco Moco will be imported from the mainland. The sad truth is the Loco Moco isn't local.

We in Hawaii are importing almost 90% of our food a distance of three thousands miles. That means to achieve food independence we will need nearly ten times as much food production capacity as exists here today.

Some Permaculture advocates argue that sustainable living can be achieved when 50% of a family's calories are provided from their homestead. And, sustainability advocates like Alice Waters and Michael Pollan have labored to bring awareness of the "The Hundred Mile Diet" and the need for people to eat locally produced food. They call those that do "Locavores" and say to achieve sustainability you need to eat from within your "foodshed".

To that end, the agricultural land on Kauai needs to be available for food production. Some of the best of that land is the target of real estate schemes. Developers and speculators want to subdivide large agricultural holdings and cash-in on suburbia in paradise.

It is not a bad idea to subdivide large agricultural holdings into smaller food producing properties. In fact it is a good idea, and could keep the land from being used for more destructive agricultural uses like sugarcane and ethanol production.

It is a bad idea to convert Agland into quarter acre suburban tract homes or even larger McMansions on five acre putting greens. Soon we will have to use our Agland for food production. We will need small scale farms for the diversity and attention needed to achieve Permaculture. If large Agland properties are to be subdivided we cannot let them slip into speculative sprawl.

Developers have argued that we can trust them to properly oversee future Agland use. One case in point is the developer of the two thousand acre Kealanani Subdivision mauka of Kealia Beach. They have requested that the State Land Use Commission (LUC) not have oversight of this proposed subdivision.

Another case is A&B, the owner of the former McBryde Sugar Plantation, now operating as Kauai Coffee. A&B claimed, in a recent annual report to its shareholders, that it has over 3,000 acres potential "urban" property on the south side of Kauai. Is A&B planning suburban sprawl where they are now growing coffee? Has the LUC approved? Can we trust A&B?

We need a LUC with vision and courage. We also need an enlightened County Planning Department. Together they all can oversee and regulate the use of Agland so that we do not destroy Kauai and can thrive in the future.

Here are some suggestions for developers of Agland subdivisions, like the Kealanani Project.

• In addition to private property sales, implement a mix of affordable leased lot arrangements on subdivisions to make sites available for those other than the astronomically rich.

• Require continuation of some food production on all properties in the subdivision or face real consequences, including the possibility of eminent domain proceedings or loss of lease.

• Do not permit activities on individual sites that preclude organic Permaculture on adjacent sites. This would mean no pesticides, petroleum fertilizers or chlorinated pools, where runoff or airborne contamination, to an adjacent site, is a factor.

• Provide mauka and makai public access through the subdivision that provides pedestrian access to mountain, valley and ocean.

• Provide lateral access across the subdivision for non-motorized travel modes like bicycle and saddle horse for transportation around the island.

And, perhaps most important, Kauai needs to re-establish the Ahupua'a system. It worked for centuries. We could change the County Charter to elect County Council representatives based on Ahupua'a watershed divisions.

We could also develop an "Ahupua'a Permaculture" certification that would be proof of organic, local, sustainable food production and environmental protection. This will have economic branding power for exported cash crops like cacao, hemp, tea, coffee, and kava.

If a mix of ideas like these were implemented, then subdividing large Agland tracts could result in a landscape of beautiful organic gardens offering the bounty of Kauai to all: Truly a Garden of Eden.

The Garden Island News Column Menu Listing of all "Island Breath" articles submitted to TGI

Our life in a Petri Dish on Kauai 4/8/07 Smart Growth - No Growth: are they the same thing?

Big Box Biz has no future here 5/6/07 Sprawling Superstores are at the mercy of gas prices