It’s been over 2 years since I have “officially” run any Let’s Grow Hilo events. Sure we have a monthly scheduled Beautification Day on the last Sunday of the month, but lately it’s been more myth than reality.
Yet, every time I venture into Hilo, I always care take the plantings in some way, whether it’s spraying IMO or cutting the lemon grass for chop and drop mulch to build rich soils in place. I thought this mode of action would catch on with more people. Really, I take my hat off to Chiko, an elderly hero, often unrecognized, that has virtually alone taken the responsibility of the plant maintenance upon himself. The Downtown Hilo Improvement Association used to compensate Chiko for his service, but as of late the funding has dried up, and now the plants are left to fend for their own. Meaning they really need our help!
Alas, I love Hilo. Being born and raised in this town, it is my true home, and I take pride in our unique oasis. I remember back in the day when Liliuokalani Gardens used to look like a dirty diaper, and as a student of St. Joseph Elementary, we took one day out of the whole year for the entire student body to be of service to recondition the gardens. Within three years, the park was completely transformed and is now a shining gem of Hilo with thousands of people enjoying it’s beauty still to this day. Really, just one day for three years, children pulling mattresses and tires out of the ponds, scrubbing the statues with toothbrushes, and now it’s a world class attraction.
It’s that memory that sticks with me. A small group and not much time, and a whole area can be transformed. I applied that same ethic to our streets, and you know what, for a couple years, Hilo too was the “talk of the town”. Hundreds of people came down to volunteer their time and energy to transform our streets into a beautiful and edible landscape.
I learned a valuable lesson: Plants take a lot more upkeep than statues and ponds. I thought people would perpetuate the plantings, multiplying the kalo (taro), ‘uala (sweet potatoes) and papayas far and wide, but it turns out a project like this needs guidance, leadership, and our people need education on how to keep a good thing growing.
As I moved out of Hilo to near Papaikou in 2011, and lacking a motor vehicle, it was much harder for me to fulfill the regular leadership needed to keep the project growing. I also maintain my own gardens, as well as caretake and educate the agriculture program at Kalaniana’ole Elementary. I like to live near my work, as most farmers do.
Sam Robinson rose up to the challenge and merged her efforts, that began near the EHCC way before I was invited to plant ‘the triangle‘, to encompass all of Kamehameha Avenue along with the raised beds she pioneered with the Girl Scouts prior to my arrival. We worked together as best as we could, and celebrated several Harvest Festivals with the community, serving food to over 400 people grown right on the streets of Hilo. And not to forget Mikey’s leadership and the many other Americorps members that labored for a more picturesque townscape.
Unfortunately, the streets of downtown Hilo have slowly reverted back to the disparaging condition of round-uped, unsightly death as we have both been pulled in other directions.
The fame that I was able to accrue during the days of Occupy and the authority granted by Director of the Downtown Improvement Association to go ahead and beautify Hilo with edibles has ultimately left me with the kuleana of downtown’s empty spaces squarely on my shoulders. People often ask me “How’s Let’s Grow Hilo?” and express interest in getting involved, so the time is now for me to take slightly tighter grip on the reigns and guide the project toward something newsworthy once again.
To do this, I am putting in some safeguards for myself so I don’t get burnt out, and can make this a sustainable effort for everyone involved. Instead of having a regularly scheduled event (although I think as things get going again and more leaders emerge, this may be once again a possibility), I have instead created an online volunteer sign up form and will be running ‘on-demand’ beautifications. So for instance, if I notice the median in front of the Kress building really needs some help, I will go to the list and contact volunteers until I have enough people able to make a specific date and time to spring into action.
For my sake, I am also envisioning being a little less orthodox in our timing and approach, such as night events with live music or practical hands-on workshops to showcase our skilled local farmers and cultivators. The streets are lit up at night, music makes work go by in no time, and we are awash in some of the most progressive Earth care professionals in the entire world. Let’s take advantage of our assets and let our streets reflect our prowess.
I have already begun to re-inoculate the Kamehameha Avenue median with Indigenous Micro Organisms (IMO) as well as planting a few brave kalo and sweet potatoes near the Haili Street intersection. In it’s state of neglect, the county workers have poisoned majority of the areas, but IMO is adept at neutralizing toxins and can reverse the damage done to a nutritious advantage. We always have the upper hand by respecting nature and employing ancient life forms.
I invite you once again to join me, sign up here, and to make a positive, edible, nutritious, fun, and responsible difference to the town we all hold so dear to our hearts.
Let’s Grow Hilo!!!!