A native Hawaiian hailing from O‘ahu, Rachel Kapule is the embodiment of the modern waterwoman. From learning to surf with her father to weekend beach barbecues with her entire ‘ohana, Rachel is in tune with the ocean and understands the link between the land, the ocean and its people. As a farm manager at Ho‘okua‘āina, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cultivating character and kalo through traditional farming practices, Rachel is dedicated to helping others through Hawaiian value-based mentorship. She understands the impact of feeding local people locally-grown food, and how that relationship establishes long-lasting connections to the land, the water that falls as rain and passes through her farm on its way to the ocean, and how what happens upstream affects life in nearshore Hawaiian waters. At the center of this circle of life, Rachel finds important lessons she can pass on to others.
What’s your mission at Ho‘okua‘āina?
We like to say that kalo is the byproduct of what we do. We really try to grow people through the growing of kalo. We work with school groups, community groups and mentorship groups with people of all ages - from little kids to older adults. We also have international students. The other part of our organization is that we sell raw kalo, so we’re actually producing food, too. In 2018, our total count was 30,000 pounds of kalo for the year. We make poi as well.
Being an ocean lover at heart, what drew you to the farm?
I wanted to learn more about my culture, and I really like being outdoors. Starting my freshman year of high school, I started taking Hawaiian language. We went on a field trip to a lo‘i - the one at the University of Hawai‘i. After that, I wanted to see what else there was to it. I think the best part about working in the ‘āina is probably the people I get to work with. With the lifestyle that we live today, it’s just so busy; everyone’s always in a rush to do the next thing and we don’t often have the time to really sit and talk to one another. When you’re working in the lo‘i, you’re there five hours every day in the sun, pulling weeds. You just talk to all these people around you and it helps pass the time. You get into these awesome conversations with people who’ve had such amazing experiences and can connect with them.
What lessons do you share with children through working in the lo‘i?
Working in the ‘āina with kids is just a great way to show them that everything they say and everything they do has an impact on something else. Whether you’re growing food or even having conversations with other people, you’re impacting them. For these kids, to be able to see everything they’re doing and to be able to physically see the kalo being cleaned and planted in the ground then watching it grow throughout the year, is a way for them to realize what they’re capable of. They can take pride in that accomplishment and develop respect for themselves and for the people around them in the ‘āina that they’re working in.
Why is sustainable agriculture so important in Hawai‘i?
Almost 90 percent of our food is imported here in Hawai‘i, which is kind of a scary number when you think of how the traditional Hawaiians would grow all of their food and feed all of their people 100 percent self-sufficiently. For Hawaiians, there’s no word for sustainable because there’s nothing other than living sustainably. I think it’s helped a lot to have this resurgence of Hawaiian culture. People are getting more and more interested to work in lo‘i and wanting to be able to grow their own food. As much as this is a Hawaiian thing, growing kalo is not exclusively Hawaiian because anyone can relate to this. Every single person has ancestors that were once farmers. I think that’s why we've been able to reach out to such a global scale of people who are more and more interested in this kind of work, because it’s something that we’ve all come from.
How do you spend your free time?
Now that I’m not in school I have a lot more free time. After work, if it’s nice and sunny I’ll go down to the beach and go surfing. I also try to run every once in a while, just whenever I can if it’s nice out. Usually in the evenings, I’ll just run down to the beach. It’s just a chance to think and be by myself.
Why is the beach a gathering place in Hawai‘i? Why does it bring people together?
In terms of community, the ocean is a place where everyone can relax. It’s a really cleansing experience to be in saltwater and there’s always good energy. The ocean is something that feeds us, too. When I was younger, my dad and I would go down and pick limu and snack on it; that’s what his dad would do for him, too. The ocean also allows an opportunity for teaching. Whenever you’re outside in the ‘āina, in the environment, it’s always a great opportunity for teaching and learning.
How does it feel to be out in the ocean surfing?
I’m just relaxed. I feel really present in the moment when I’m in the ocean. I’m not thinking about schoolwork or something I have to do. I’m never worried about all my other responsibilities. I’m just able to just live in the moment with the people I am surfing with, or the people I just meet out in the water. Usually when you’re waiting for sets, you just talk to all the uncles out there, or whoever’s out there. I’ve met some of my friends out surfing, and they’re some of my best friends now.