Sustainable living the best way to save the land, says Hawaiian actor

Acting and sustainable farming for Jason Scott Lee aren’t as disparate as they may seem. Both, he says, embody the same general concept: “Less is more.”

Lee, a martial arts movie star and sustainable farmer, spoke at Wednesday night’s Community Movie Night at the Mitchell Pauole Center, becoming one of the most prominent opponents of the La`au Point development. While Lee himself, an Oahu native, has only been to La`au Point once, he believes the issues facing Molokai “are the same everywhere.” Excessive development, says Lee, has created too strong a burden on the state’s resources.

But Lee’s solution isn’t to return to the way things were say 50 years ago, or even keep things the way they are right now. Preserving La`au Point as just a fishing and hunting area, says Lee, takes “a very small view” of the land as a whole. “We have to change the way we think,” he says.

In many ways, Lee’s own metamorphosis from actor to martial artist to sustainable farmer embodies the same natural growth model he hopes to implement not just here in Molokai but elsewhere in the state. Lee says he first began exploring minimalist concepts when he began acting some 20 years ago. Actors typically avoid exaggerated facial expressions and gestures, says Lee.

But for Lee minimalism became more than a career path. It became a spiritual one. At the age of 26, says Lee, he began studying the martial arts (which eventually paved the way for a leading role in the 1993 film, “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story”). Martial arts, says Lee, helped him heal his own body and mind. To become a true Kung Fu master, however, Lee needed to look beyond his own physical limitations. “After you heal yourself then you have your surroundings to take care of,” he says.

For Lee, this meant a pilgrimage to Japan where he met and studied under Masanobu Fukuoku, often credited as the father of sustainable agriculture. “You have to do it to learn it,” says Lee, referring to natural farming techniques.

Through his studies, Lee became increasingly appalled by Hawaii’s reliance on foods imported from both mainland American and neighboring countries. Cuba, he says, is an island nation much like Molokai. But unlike Molokai, Cuba is experiencing a food revolution. About 80 percent of that country’s produce, he says, is organic and homegrown.

Now, Lee has himself become a teacher, conducting workshops on Oahu and working with high school students to develop sustainable food models. His endorsement of plans that call for finding alternatives to the development of La`au Point signifies Lee’s latest endeavor as a self-designated ambassador of Hawaii.

Lee also has his own thoughts on how to develop Molokai’s West end – not through tourist resorts and multimillion dollar houses, but farms. Molokai residents, says Lee, could create a three-tier system of vegetation: ground cover such as alfalfa on the first level, short brush such as berries on the second, and fast-growing canopy trees on the third. The system, says Lee, wouldn’t require fertilizers, pesticides, or even maintenance. “You could grow things wild,” he says. The idea, he adds, is just one of many alternatives to commercially developing the area.

Growth, says Lee, is not a new or even a bad concept. Nor, he adds, is introducing new cultures to the islands. But the values, he stresses, must stay consistent from generation to generation. Only then, says Lee, can Hawaiians begin “to understand what it is to be in connection with the aina.”


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.