Becoming Haloa: Teens will harvest, cultivate kalo for their meals for 90 days

Becoming Haloa: Teens will harvest, cultivate kalo for their meals for 90 days
Lahela Paresa
Lahela Paresa
Tayler Anne Meali'i Fitzsimmons
Tayler Anne Meali'i Fitzsimmons
La'ahia Kekahuna
La'ahia Kekahuna

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Three Kamehameha High School seniors are getting ready to start a 90-day challenge, in which they will cultivate, harvest and eat kalo as their main staple for every meal – and they plan to capture their entire experience in a feature-long documentary called "I am Haloa".

Hawai'i no longer has enough agriculture production to feed its own people – an estimated 85 - 90% of all food is imported into the state, but the high schoolers are hoping their efforts to raise awareness about food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture will help change that.

"Mostly what I was looking for when I started was having more respect for what you're eating and where it comes from," described 17-year-old Lahele Paresa, who will be taking the "Haloa challenge".

Paresa is the president of Kamehameha Schools' Ku'i club, which has been teaching students the traditional Hawaiian practice of how to ku'i kalo, or pound taro, for the last five years.  What Paresa wasn't expecting when she first started learning was the connection she'd feel to her Native Hawaiian roots or the deeper understanding she'd gain of who is Haloa.

"Haloanakalaukapalili is the first kalo plant and Haloa is the first Hawaiian man.  The story that Hawaiians used it to show was to take care of your older siblings and to take care of your younger siblings, as well as taking care of the food you eat because your food takes care of you," explained Paresa.

What began as Paresa's kickstarter quest to raise $900 dollars to cover the cost of purchasing kalo to feed herself and two fellow seniors has evolved into an attempt to raise enough for a documentary of their journey to re-establish a link to their ancestors' way of life and what it means to be Hawaiian.

"Definitely doing something like this connects me to my cultural roots because I'm doing the same practices that my ancestors did – and if we, many of us –  if we don't continue this, it will be lost," said 17-year-old Tayler Meali'i Fitzsimmons, who is also taking the 90-day "Haloa challenge".

"For them, they're really making a direct connection between being Hawaiian and the food they eat and wondering how these two things come together and questioning actually what it means to be Hawaiian.  I think a lot of Hawaiians do that. I think a lot of Hawaiians look for meaning in being Hawaiian and so these three young women are such an inspiration because they're making the direct link to the original Hawaiian, Haloa," described "I am Haloa" director Keala Kelly.

Along the way the seniors will meet with local farmers on each island and learn about sustainable agriculture.  They will plant, maintain and harvest their own kalo and each week they will manually pound about 40 pounds of pa'i'ai.

"You're making the food you eat so you can feel how much work and mana you put into it – especially when you ku'i your own kalo.  In the beginning I was really junk at it and I'm still not that great, but it feels really good to know that you can make your own 'ai (food) and everything," described 17-year-old La'ahia Kekahuna, who is also taking the 90-day "Haloa challenge".

The seniors' teacher, Daniel Anthony, has committed his life to cultivating and sharing the practice of ku'i 'ai.

"This is really how we live. This is really what's important to us. This is really the next generation who has a statement to make and action with the statement, and so the big picture has already happened – people are changing.  They are looking at Haloa more seriously," said Anthony.

"I think for three young women to set out on this mission is something that can absolutely be done.  To do it on their last 90 days of high school while they're competing in sporting events and all the other social pressures that come with moving on and moving to the next phase of life – it's going to be very challenging, and I think it's going to be really beautiful to watch them navigate this journey," said Torry Viliami Tukuafu, a producer and writer for the documentary.

The young ladies will still be able to eat meat and fish, but kalo will be their only starch and it will be the foundation of each of their meals for 90 days.

"The responsibility that occurs when we eat kalo means it has to be farmed, which means water resources need to be managed, which means lands need to be lands need to be put to the side – there are so many impacts that if you were to take all of that and summarize it – it would be a spoon, a finger to the mouth – it's not that hard.  It's just, do you have the 'ono?" Anthony said.

Anthony is hopeful the girls' journey will help launch a food revolution that will inspire everyone, not just Native Hawaiians, to think about food sovereignty and what it means to be truly sustainable.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how kalo will change my life.  After a certain amount of time, I feel like it's going to become the center of it.  I'm going to cherish it and appreciate it a lot more than I did before I did this challenge," said Kekahuna, who is from Moloka'i and paddles for Kamehameha's outrigger canoe team.

"We hope to inspire other Hawaiians who have been saying that we need something to happen and we are those people that are taking that step and actually doing it," said Fitzsimmons, who is a wrestler and track athlete. "I've definitely shared this with my family and they've gotten into it too.  We even have kalo plants growing in our yard now," Fitzsimmons said with a smile.

"Eating something that I make tastes a lot better than something that other people make.  It just feels a lot better to do that," said Paresa. "I've also had more of an appreciation for the people that make our food and farm our food and I just learned a lot more about giving respect to those people and to the land."

"I hope to spread awareness about what it is that we're doing and share with other Hawaiians and other non-Hawaiians who Haloa is and to respect things in the past and to respect the things in our future.  I think that the only way we can successfully go forward is by looking back to what we have," Paresa said.

The girls are one week from their Kickstarter fundraising deadline and they are halfway to their goal.

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