Seeds Of Sustainability
Historic Gulick Rowell House (Hale Puna) in Waimea might look like the perfect setting for a Stephen King movie — the building is dilapidated, its walls on the verge of caving in. The land surrounding it, however, is quite the opposite.
Thanks to Clint Snyder of West Kauai Farms, the 1-and-a-half acres that were once fallow and teaming with invasive weeds are now thriving with avocado, breadfruit, fennel, squash, rosemary and a whole host of sustainably grown food.
“We saw it as a place to be restored,” says Snyder, recalling how he used to walk around the property with wife Ellie, dreaming about bringing the acreage back to its former glory.
He proposed refurbishing the land to the home’s owners, but was denied. That is, until its new owner, Jim Ballantine, manager of Kokee Lodge, purchased the home with plans to renovate the building. He offered to pay Snyder to restore the grounds and, at the same time, enter into a farm-to-table agreement with his restaurant.
Now, Snyder also uses the land as a classroom for teens and young adults, teaching them how to farm sustainably by offering programs in collaboration with nonprofits, such as Malama Kauai. This summer, for example, a group of interns age 18 and over learned various skills, including how to plant cacao trees and till the soil.
“Working with them has been great,” says Snyder. “They can expand on this knowledge and be able to do projects of their own. Or, no matter what they go into, still have a basic knowledge of agriculture. Even if they become a doctor or a lawyer, it’s good to know.”
Snyder plans to reach as many people on the Westside as possible not only by providing them with fresh, local food, but also teaching them how to grow it on their own.
“The kids, especially — there’s a lot of broken homes on the Westside and a lot of kids who go through school, but no one teaches them a skill and they don’t get a lot of one-on-one time,” he says. “So it’s really to provide an environment where people’s characters can flourish and grow.”
The biggest potential benefit of Snyder’s projects for Westside residents is that they won’t have to drive all the way to Lihue to get their produce anymore.
“I want this to be a place to get food, but also a place where people can propagate more plants — like a mothership where people can get cuttings and seeds,” he says.
The California native, who moved to Kauai 16 years ago, already has plans to expand his nonprofit and create community farms in Waimea and Kekaha. The hope is to be able to provide more food diversity and jobs, as well as help bring vegetation back to the Westside and, consequently, more rain.
“Because the more trees there are on the Westside, the more greenery there is on the Westside, the better off we’re going to be,” he says. “If the ground is bare, the sun hits the ground and it creates a thermo climate that lifts the clouds up and away.”
The concept of West Kauai Farms was something Snyder came up with about four years ago. At the time, he was maintaining a garden at Waimea United Church of Christ that provided produce for its soup kitchen. The idea has since grown to include the many activities he takes on today, including harvesting more than 370 pounds of kabocha squash with eager-to-learn interns.
Snyder grew up in “farm country” and always has had an affinity for the trade. He did, however, walk away from the lifestyle during his teens and 20s, and traveled the world instead, including Africa, where he volunteered to help those in need and perpetuated the idea of sustainable living. He eventually settled in Hawaii, and has been growing and harvesting food on Kauai ever since.
Though he often has to tackle issues such as finding land to grow food and getting enough water for his plants, the rewards outweigh the challenges because having the ability to walk out his door and grab dinner is the ultimate payoff — Snyder lives next door to Hale Puna with his wife and their three children, Tekoa, 4, Aviyah, 2, and Happy (6 months).
Visit westkauaifarms.com for more information.