For a period of my son’s childhood, his daily attire consisted of a superhero costume and cape, flying about the house, working to save us and our dogs from a catastrophic meteor. As his trusty sidekick, I assisted our superhero in saving the world by making sure he had a sturdy cape, healthy meals, and the strength to fight the good battle — sidekick duties I enjoyed just as much as I enjoy assisting with our community superheroes in my work at First Nations Development Institute (First Nations).
At First Nations, we work with community superheros on a daily basis through assistance and support as they strive to revive local foods systems, combat predatory lenders, and protect the sovereignty of Native people. In restoring local food systems, our superheros work incognito as volunteers, board members, executive directors, staff members and tribal council members. Their work in protecting native seeds, reviving agriculture and rebuilding regional trade routes contributes to the defeat of obesity and diabetes, the increased access to fresh food and restoration of self-sufficiency in our Native communities.
One such organization is Sust ‘āina ble Molokai, located on the island of Molokai, Hawaii, in Kaunakakai. Situated approximately 55 miles southeast of Honolulu and seven miles from the island of Maui, the island has lush, beautiful scenery as well as bountiful land prime for farming. Since 2010 Sust ‘āina ble Molokai has been taking a community-wide approach to restoring a thriving, sustainable Molokai. Efforts that have included conducting community agricultural and energy assessments, installing energy efficient refrigerators, replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs and working toward the availability of electric vehicles and charging stations throughout the community.
Under the First Nations Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) project, these superheros are working to revive small agriculture and develop a food hub as a pathway to regaining control of their local food system and generate economic opportunities for the island. With 90 percent of the food arriving by barge, the island is designated a food desert, in which residents do not have ready access to fresh affordable foods. This dependency on the twice-weekly barge arrivals is what drives the staff and board members of Sust ‘āina ble Molokai. As one of the founders, Malia Akutagawa notes, “We were called the abundant land and envied by all for the wealth and bounty of our island. We gave from our infinite store because we always perceived that there was more than enough. There was never a lack, only in the perception and limitations imposed by our own minds.”
Today the land has degraded as a result of overgrazing and fish ponds have become catchment basins for topsoil washed away by heavy rains. But, through efforts by Sust ‘āina ble Molokai, gardens are reviving, kids are learning about where their food comes from, and healthy foods are once again becoming a part of the community.
Like many of our food superheros, Sust ‘āina ble Molokai works tirelessly. They are dedicated to restoring the local food system and with support and assistance from First Nations through funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, they are making it happen. It was an honor to visit with the staff, volunteers, families and board members during a recent site visit that enabled us to witness the construction of their first “food hub” packaging center and outdoor classroom made of bamboo, partake in the fresh produce grown in the school garden used to educate the students on where their food comes from, and assist leadership in fine-tuning the organization’s compass so that they can continue to excel.
It was great to see on-the-ground efforts that bring to life the inspiration and dedication of these superheros. As their trusty sidekick, we appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the mission, to advocate on their behalf and to celebrate in their success. After all, every superhero should have a trusty sidekick for support.
(For more information on Sust ‘āina ble Molokai, please visit http://sustainablemolokai.org/. To see a short video, visit https://www.dropbox.com/s/tm13v5tteccqmtp/Sustainable%20Molokai%20FINAL.mp4?dl=0)
By Jackie Francke, First Nations Director of Programs and Administration