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Hawaiian Cultural Charter School Demonstrates Food Sustainability

Kua o ka ‘La ——— the syllables roll off the tongue as only the Hawaiian language can, like the white crested waves  rolling up the black sand volcanic beaches. Literally  it means  “back of the sun”. This unique event occurred  within the sound of the surf where the school depends on the sun! This environmental...

Kumu Hula Auli'i Mitchell dedicates ritual planting
Kumu Hula Auli’i Mitchell dedicated the  ritual ulu planting with traditional story and dance

Kua o ka ‘La ——— the syllables roll off the tongue as only the Hawaiian language can, like the white crested waves  rolling up the black sand volcanic beaches. Literally  it means  “back of the sun”. This unique event occurred  within the sound of the surf where the school depends on the sun!

This environmental award winning school was the site of an international gathering; “Ho’oulu Lahui”  as part of a Rotary Peace Trail Project blessing and kick-off. About 40 delegates from around the world, some from far off Sakhalin Siberia gathered at the school on Hawaii’s Big Island.  They had come to Honolulu for a Rotary Global Peace Forum ( where Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi delivered the keynote address. School board member Steve Yoshida  capably headed the Honolulu Forum and  led the group onward  to the school.

Steve Yoshida of Hilo welcomes international group
Steve Yoshida of Hilo welcomes international group

Led by Susie Osborne and Keikialoha Kekipi this 18 year old community supported effort has won national and local awards for its diverse and innovative programs. Keki has a long history of using the site to help troubled youth and those incarcerated by engaging them in the ancient site, its history and preservation.

The international visitors experienced firsthand the unique culturally based educational opportunities which in spite of being off the grid has created only one of two solar dependent computer labs in the nation. It supports 45 student work stations. The sustainable feature of alternative energy stimulates students in the basic sciences of electricity generation and the physics of solar energy. Theirs is a world class example of turning a liability into an asset.

While preserving the old sustainable ways in a cultural setting, students acquire the skill sets necessary to succeed in today’s technological world. An award winning waste recycle system for example features commercial grade composting waterless toilets. Cutting edge technologies are flourishing in a coastal tropical rain forest. Since about 85% of all food consumed in Hawaii comes from overseas on barges, the school sees an opportunity and feels a responsibility to help the people reach for healthy food independence and sustainability. This may be the best place on earth to demonstrate this inspiring model.  Kua o ka ‘La is working hard on just that !

The distinguished visitors in concert with the students, teachers and volunteers helped to ceremonially plant an Ulu (breadfruit) tree as Auli’I chanted an ancient blessing. We were thus blended into an “ohana”, an extended family.  Students built a solid lava rock surround which each person helped to fill with soil. A  special camaraderie sprouted before their very eyes  as water was given to the new tree that carried with it the hopes, blessing and good wishes of all.

Ceremonial planting of ulu-breadfruit  by international dignitaries
Ceremonial planting of ulu-breadfruit by international dignitaries

The ulu itself stole the show and won the hearts and minds of those involved. Breadfruit was a staple food for the Native Hawaiians on the Puna coast of the Big Island for hundreds of years. It is underutilized highly nutritious, easily grown and interestingly one of the first plants brought to the Islands by the first sailing and paddling voyagers. The starchy fruit is a good source of carbohydrates and fiber, rich in iron, calcium, iron and potassium. The flour from seeds is 7.6% protein. It is roasted and baked, broiled and fried, pickled and fermented, frozen and mashed for infants and yields meal or flour.

More than 80% of the world’s hungry live in tropical and sub-tropical areas. With 180 million is Sub-Saharan Africa, 53 million in Latin America and the Caribbean there is a global demand for this sustainable food source. Global dissemination of these plants that have over l20 varieties suited to a great variety of habitats can alleviate hunger while supporting agriculture, agro-forestry and badly needed reforestation in the tropics. The Breadfruit Institute ( seeks partners to help fund this work and distribute the trees to farmers.

The Kua o ka 'La school is a champion of breadfruit as a major food source in warm climates
The Kua o ka ‘La school is a champion of breadfruit as a healthy, nutritious and sustainable  food source  that can be propagated in warm climates around the world

Kua 0 ka ‘La is at the forefront of a resurgence of interest, propagation and use of the healthy, nutritious and delicious breadfruit. The students grow Ulu in great numbers, learning math, chemistry  and science in applied ways as they grow with the plants. The school is located on an ancient village site and is the Islands largest grower and distributor of the trees.

An ulu festival last year drew 1,200 people to an educational “happening” where hands-on demonstrations were given of cultivation and cultural uses of the plant, making kappa fabric from ulu, the diverse use of coconut “nui” milk, weaving, quilting, drum making and more.

The students and teachers, parents and volunteers in the generous spirit of Aloha, say we must look backward while looking forward, “Ho’oulu Lahui”  “build the health of our nation and the world” by learning about honoring and safeguarding our children and our food supplies.

By cultivating culture, community and the best that lies within us,  we can  live sustainably on the  land beside the sea where “ha” as in Ha-waii ,  means the breath of life and in this land of breathing waters  that breath of life is very much alive.


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Meet the Author

Michael McBride
He has more than 40 years experience as a wilderness guide, interpretive naturalist and bush pilot flying the wilds of Alaska. He's a Master Guide, licensed Coast Guard Captain with strong expertise in marine biology. He is an elected member of the Explorer's Club and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and is a Nationally Certified Yoga Teacher. He was the first Alaskan to serve on the Smithsonian National Board, a Trustee for The Nature Conservancy and Wilderness Foundation board member. He was awarded a Legislative Citation for Practical Activism. He was an Advisory Board member and pilot for Lighthawk, "Volunteer Pilots Flying for Conservation in America” and a founding patron of Bateleurs, “Volunteer Pilots Flying for Conservation in Africa” and is an elected member of the Africa Game Rangers Association. His Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge won a score of international awards and is listed in the NY Times Best Seller "1000 Places To See Before You Die" . Web site: His new book The Last Wilderness-Alaska's Wild Coast is available at Fulcrum Publishing, Golden Colorado