Photos by Daniel Lane
Waipa’s rich agricultural – and cultural – past is being reborn thanks to Stacy Sproat-Beck (in purple), whose roots there run deep
Three hundred years ago, the lifestyle of people living in the Halelea moku rose and fell with the cycles of life. Their impact on the land was gentle, like a deep breath in and a long, slow exhale. From Kilauea to Kee, the community bent to Mother Nature’s whim, lived off her bounty and never took more than she could give.
“He alii ka aina he kauwa ke kanaka,” says Stacy Sproat-Beck, whose ancestors migrated from Tahiti to Kaua’i a thousand years ago. “It means the land is chief and we are its servants. Land and its resources are superior to us, and it is not for us to destroy.”
Waipa is one of nine ahupuaa in the moku of Halelea. From mauka (toward mountains) to makai (toward ocean) and from Waioli Stream to Waipa Stream, the ancestors of Waipa lived within the 1,600-acres that stretch along the southwest corner of Hanalei Bay and narrow to a point at the 2,585-foot Mamalahoa peak.
In mountain areas known as the uka zone, they harvested timber for canoes. Bark from the paper mulberry tree was pounded into cloth. Vegetables such as taro and sweet potatoes filled gardens in the kula zone, and chickens and pigs were kept in pens near living areas. An auwai diverted water from a mountain stream to feed the taro patch, which was planted near the coast. The hand-dug canal still supplies water to the wetland taro, which grow in pond-fields.
Along the coast, in the kai zone, the ancient culture harvested limu (seaweed), hee (octopus), crabs, shrimp,and fish, which provided the bulk of their protein. Hawaiians were the first culture to farm fish, and anae (mullet) was harvested from a seven-acre inland fishpond.
For a millennium, Sproat-Beck’s family lived on Kaua`i’s north shore. From 1982 to 1986, they helped a hui of native Hawaiian families within the community fight to protect the land from resort development, and won.
In 1994, Sproat-Beck, fresh from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Science degree specializing in entrepreneurship, emerged as the leader to spearhead restoration and preservation of the Waipa ahupuaa.
For seven years Sproat-Beck dedicated her time “to grow the organization to the point where it was fundable.” In 2001, the Waipa Foundation partnered with landowner Kamehameha Schools. Sproat-Beck, now the executive director, is charged with maintaining the nonprofit as a living learning center that perpetuates Hawaiian culture through experiential learning.
When not in school, kids work to prevent erosion by restoring native plant communities that were lost to the sandalwood trade and cattle ranching. In the taro patch, they remove snail eggs the color of pink bubblegum from long, graceful stalks, and in the garden, they plant vegetables such as sweet potatoes, string beans, lettuce, beets, cabbage and broccoli.
“When we make poi, we feed the waste to the pigs and chickens,” says Sproat-Beck. “Kids learn about the cycle of life by recycling their food waste and feeding it to animals that we will eat later.”
Each year, hundreds of keiki from the North Shore and around the world learn about Hawaiian culture and sustainability through after-school programs, field trips and extra-curricular activities. Cultural groups learn when they volunteer and high school graduates get an education through paid internships. This summer, Waipa hosted a group from Kamehameha Schools.
“A big part of their curriculum was working in the garden, making food and eating it,” says Sproat-Beck, who along with Waipa staff Kapule Torio and Kaipo Like taught the kids how to be self-sufficient. “We made a kale salad for our lunch and they wrote down the recipe. One of the families sent a picture of their child who went home and made kale salad for his mom. That’s full circle!”
Frequently, Waipa partners with community leaders to maintain a healthy ecosystem. Agricultural specialist Joseph Dunsmoor collects fish waste from the North Shore and turns it into fertilizer. Dr. Carl Berg was awarded a grant that enables him to put floating islands in the restored fishpond, which provides shelter for baby native fish. Hydrologist Matt Rosener leads the Waipa Stream Restoration Project, which is removing invasive hau, opening up water flow and providing a thriving environment for native fish.
“Water travels through the auwai from the upper part of the valley to the taro fields, into the drainage ditch, down the river and finally into the ocean. Then we eat the fish,” explains Sproat-Beck. “The lesson of the ahupuaa, and its systems within the watershed, leads us to consider what we do on the land and how it impacts the ocean.”
Twelve years ago, he was the only staff member, but today there are 15 people working to keep Waipa and its programs running. Grants, donations and community events generated $1.5 million of the $1.7 million needed to fund an initiative for community based economic development.
A commercial kitchen will enable Waipa to create value-added products using produce from the gardens and serve as an incubator kitchen for residents. A poi mill is also being built, which will allow Waipa to provide poi to local families and give North Shore farmers a place to process their taro. An imu hale will serve as a gathering space, and staff at Waipa envisions regular events where residents can bring food to cook in the underground oven.
Another way Waipa is generating funds is the Mango & Music Festival at the Halulu Fishpond. On Saturday, Aug. 10, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Kaua’i-based musicians will play throughout the day, there will be crafts, games and a contest for the largest mango.
Food booths will serve dishes such as Mango Glazed Roasted Pork Shoulder with Mango Tequila Black Beans, Chilled Mango and Shrimp Ceviche, Blackened Ono with Thai Coconut Mango Cream Sauce, mango salsa, vegan mango-coconut ice cream, and Island-Style Mango Tango Cheesecake.
Cooks, professional or not, are encouraged to compete in the mango recipe contest, which has three categories: entree, dessert and pickled. For more information about the festival, or for a contest application, visit WaipaFoundation.org.