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Fighting for Food and Seed Sovereignty in Hawai'i

“Start with one row,” says Nancy Redfeather, a farmer, teacher, writer, program director and activist. In addition to decades teaching at Waldorf schools and advocating against GMOs in her home state of Hawai‘i, she recently retired from a decade working with the Kohala Center as the director for the Hawai‘i Island School Garden Network to put organic gardens in schools across the big island. Her advice to would-be seed advocates: “Get some success with a few rows of vegetables, then add some pole beans, then make sure you’re composting effectively. Once you get going, you have something to share with friends.” 

To Redfeather, staying grounded in the work informs the direction and motivation for organizing people. Her life’s arc of prolific educating, organizing and advocacy can be traced back to a desire to see land flourish and food sources multiply for the community to enjoy. “You’ll have more of an appreciation for the whole system if you participate in it yourself.”

While it’s well known that tourists flock to the Aloha State, few are aware that the biotech companies have fought for decades with locals to carry out their field trials with the benefit of Hawai‘i’s isolated land and year-round 75 degree climate. “Hawai‘i didn’t really give them a welcome mat,” Redfeather says. “That’s because they use too much pesticides, communities were getting sprayed — especially Kauai.” Some, like Grist’s Nathaniel Johnson, argue that newcomers to the islands eschew GMOs to protect their own vision of paradise. Others point out that small farms are Hawai‘i’s legacy, and monoculture threatens to erase it.