Hey Buddy, Can You Spare a Sustainable Plant?

Sometimes, I really have to wonder about the thinking behind some of these grant programs.  Take, for example, the $444,500 granted in 2009 to the Ali’i Pauahi Hawaiian Civic Club from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  (Yep, federal funds.)  The grant is being given for Ka Mahi’ ai ‘Ihi o Wailea (The Sacred Farm of Wailea).  Again, I have to stress here that this is the actual language from the grant.  I am not making  up the sacredness of the farm in question.  So what is it that the Sacred Farm is going to do with hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds?  Why, the money is for, “Establishing a community and culturally-based sustainable farm to raise sacred and important native plants for domestic use and export.”  Sacred and important Hawaiian plants.  As opposed to non-sacred or unimportant plants.  Not to get too hung up on the plant judgment thing, but I couldn’t resist doing a Google search to try to find out what counts as a sacred Hawaiian plant.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a sacredandimportanthawaiianplants.com.  As far as I can tell, a sacred native plant is a plant with some degree of use in Hawaiian culture + the word “sacred”.  So we’ve got taro, ‘ohelo, and so on.

Ok, I’m getting a little obsessed here.  I just can’t stop envisioning some pencil-pusher in Washington nodding and saying something like, “Of course we do have to protect the sacred native plants.”

What I don’t get is how this is really an effort to help Native Hawaiians.  I’m sure the argument is about creating a viable business for the community, but if that were really the goal, then there wouldn’t be so many limitations on the products of the farm.  Assuming that there is a viable trade in export and sale of Hawaiian plants (which there clearly is), then why not make the focus on creating a sustainable source of income for the community?  Obviously, there are competitors in the native plant business.  And at least some of those aren’t going to be adding cost to their production by requiring the farming to be “culturally-based” and “sustainable.”  Not that these aren’t selling points in themselves–as the organic trend has taught us, there are people willing to pay the upcharge for philosophy-based farming–but who is this really helping?  If you lived in a struggling community, how happy would you be to hear that your newest economic opportunity was in the form of a Sacred Farm?  I just can’t shake the feeling that this is more about helping Sacred Farm then aiding the community at large.

One thought on “Hey Buddy, Can You Spare a Sustainable Plant?”

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