In the mid-18th century, North Kohala - a region on northern tip of Hawai‘i Island - was home to 40,000 people. They used systems of subsistence they developed to protect and restore both the land and the ocean; the concept of private property ownership didn’t exist. After Capt. James Cook’s arrival on the island in 1778, however, foreign investors’ interest in sugar mounted, eventually upending Hawaiians’ way of life. In the 19th century, Kohala was home to six of the state’s dozens of sugar cane plantations, but by the 1990s, these exploitative businesses had dried up as sugar production moved to other countries.

Today Kohala has roughly 6,500 residents, most of whom work in the ailing tourism industry. The land that is zoned for agriculture has been bought up mostly by the wealthy, many of whom don’t use their property as farmland, making it largely inaccessible to the community to grow crops. This blocks Kohala from being the food basket it once was and could be again.

Fuertes is the executive director of Kahua Pa’a Mua, an education-focused agriculture nonprofit in North Kohala. It’s one of many organizations that have popped up in the past decade in pursuit of food security and resilience in the Aloha State.

“There are four things you should know,” says David Fuertes to the youths he mentors. “You should know your origins, because your ancestors have paved the way. You should know your values and connect in those values, because that’s going to drive you to make decisions. You should know your purpose, because that will show the ‘why’ of what you’re doing. And you should envision the ultimate for yourself and your lāhui [or ‘people’].”

In 2012, legislation hat acknowledged that Hawai‘i had become “dangerously dependent” on imported food. At the time, 92% of Hawai‘i’s food was being imported, which meant that in the event of a natural disaster or global catastrophe, the islands would have only seven days to survive. North Kohala—an area zoned mainly for agriculture—now a plan to reach 50% food self-sufficiency in the near future.

Hawai‘i is “showing the rest of the country how circular and regenerative and local food systems can support the economy, strengthen cultural heritage, and improve the overall health of the community,” according to the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group. Their docuseries, Regenerating Paradise, showcases local farm-to-school programscommunity poi harvestingfarm entrepreneurship training programs, and soil health and composting initiatives.

Read the full article about food systems resilience by Libby Leonard at YES! Magazine.