Permaculture Stays on Molokai

By Jill Ross and Harmonee Williams

Permaculture may be a relatively new word, but the idea behind it is ancient. Permaculture comes from studying traditional native systems that were truly sustainable, one of them being the ahupua`a system of Hawaii. It was bringing back this system, as well as tackling some of Molokai’s large-scale problems, such as mauka erosion and the resulting siltation on our reefs, that prompted Sust`aina-ble Molokai to initiate a recent comprehensive series of training.

From October through December, four intensive permaculture courses were held on Molokai, offered through a partnership between the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) USA, Sust`aina-ble Molokai, and the Alu Like, Ho`ala Hou Program. The goal of these trainings was to provide tools to restore Molokai’s threatened watersheds, including the fishponds and reefs, to increase food security (i.e., grow more food on-island), and to create economic opportunities for residents.

Over 20 Molokai residents participated in the courses, as well as more than 20 students from around the world. Regardless of agricultural background and experience, most participants seemed to agree that the five weeks of training were inspirational and eye-opening.

Permaculture is a design system that works towards harmonious integration of landscape and people to provide food, shelter, energy, and other needs in a sustainable way. After participating in the courses, some residents described it as “being Hawaiian,” “sustainable agriculture,” and “just good common sense.” 

These courses taught practical, sustainable agricultural techniques, such as composting, mulching, seed-saving, and water harvesting (Earthworks).

The partnership that hosted this recent series of courses benefited all parties since Sust`aina-ble Molokai was interested in training residents with permaculture concepts, while PRI had been looking for a community-based organization to work with. In addition, a site was needed to conduct the trainings, and the Ho`ala Hou Wellness Center, located in Mahana, was able to provide both a classroom setting, as well as an outdoor site to implement the techniques.

For those who are interested in learning more or becoming involved, please check out the websites and In addition, resident Kimo Melcher has been organizing bi-monthly permaculture meetings, which offer opportunities to talk story about permaculture ideas, as well as join work groups. The meetings are on the first and third Saturdays of each month at 1 p.m. at the old Kolapa House in Kaunakakai.

Thank you again to all who participated in these trainings, and shared their time, efforts, food, and mana`o. The island needs more sustainable agriculture now, and together, we’re bringing it.


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