La’akea Community is an intentional permaculture community near Pahoa, on the Big Island of Hawai’i. On our recent trip to the Big Island, we had a chance to visit La’akea and spend a night there learning about some of the farming techniques used in the community, as well how the community structures itself.
The Community sits on approximately 23 acres of land at about 1,300′ elevation on the edge of the Puna Forest Reserve. The climate is subtropical and there is ample rainfall to grow just about anything (about 150 inches per year).
We were amazed at how many different types of food-bearing plants could be grown there, many of which we recognized from farms in other tropical and subtropical climates, such as in the Philippines. With so much sun and rainfall available, the possibilities for experimenting with farming techniques are virtually limitless.
We spent the morning picking oranges in the orchard of a few dozen trees. There were mostly orange and lemon trees, guavas, and a few Suriname Cherry trees.
Back to Basics
One of the interesting permaculture concepts that we saw was that the sheep grazed in the orchard. The sheep kept the grass around the trees short to give the trees plenty of air circulation and less competition with the weeds. By pooping and peeing in the orchard, the sheep also fertilized the trees!
Many of the basic concepts in permaculture are circular or cyclical rather than linear, and this is just one example. This approach lets the sheep do the work that they are good at rather than using a lawnmower and buying fertilizer. Their bodies even turn the grass they eat into milk.
La’akea also grows plenty of vegetables, raises chickens and rabbits, and uses a system of composting toilets. All of these “systems” are integrated in with the rest of the farm. For example, rabbits and chickens can eat leftover food scraps from your meals. The chickens can produce eggs and manure, and the rabbits produce meat and manure, all very quickly. The animals provide both an excellent source of protein for the people, and an excellent source of nitrogen and phosphorous for the other plants.
La’akea even goes as far as to use composting toilets to use “humanure” for fertilizer. The compost bins, when full, are allowed to sit long enough for the poop to break down and for all pathogens to be killed. The “humanure” can then be used to fertilize non-food plants on the farm. This illustrates again the cyclical nature of permaculture, looking at things that we would normally just throw out or flush away as a valuable resource. Urine is collected separately because it is sterile and an excellent source of nitrogen and can be used to fertilize bananas!
Communitarian Approach to Sustaining Communities
While all of the farming techniques in permaculture are all essential and very interesting, the most important aspect of creating a lasting human community is the “culture”. La’akea takes a “communitarian” approach to structuring their lives together in which all the individuals are celebrated for the skills that they bring to the group. This approach might be contrasted with a “collectivist” model in which all the individuals conform to achieve a single common goal. The communitarian approach allows for indiviuals to more fully express and realize their individual needs. The community is now at 10 members plus their children and uses consensus process to make important, long-term decisions that affect the group.
We were able to help prepare a communal meal with many of the La’akea members and got to know more about how they live together. Many of the members have their own houses that they have built on the land, so they do have a chance for some privacy and time with their families, but one communal meal at the end of the day is an important ritual that helps build lasting relationships between members. That feeling of community becomes even stronger when you know that you have grown the food that you are eating together.
Five Lessons from La’akea Community
- Acceptance and respect for each other is key to building lasting community.
- There is no substitute for real, human, face-to-face interaction. You can’t go it alone.
- Sharing what you have builds mutual love, trust, and respect.
- You should value what you might want to throw away.
- Always be open to learn new things. Always be open and patient enough to accept questions from others.
Permaculture sometimes seems like a word that is very difficult to define. All it really is about is living simply, seeing value in the margins or marginalized, and taking time to foster loving and supportive relationships with other human beings. Permaculture is really a revival of some older, tried and true ideas, that people have been using to survive on this planet for many thousands of years. It’s amazing to see permaculture’s potential to heal a society that often leaves people behind and forgets what really makes people happy.
Directions to La’akea Community:
From Pahoa, Hawai’i head south on Highway 130 for approximately 2 miles, then turn right on Ala’lli Road. Drive about 1 mile on Ala’lli Road until you see the entrance to the farm on the right. La’akea welcomes visitors to their farm. You can contact them by visiting their website: www.permaculture-hawaii.com