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At one with nature

The Editor
The Editor • 10 min read
At one with nature
In these times, when the old normal increasingly looks like the cause and effect of our new normal, Options speaks to two individuals who saw the light years ago and chose to return to live close to nature. From a verdant valley in Hawaii to a homestead s
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SINGAPORE (May 22): It had to take a pandemic to rouse mankind from his selfish slumber, to jolt him with the realisation that we have lived at odds with the planet for far too long. Life as we know it is changing before our very eyes and the basic truth — that we are all connected — is hitting home harder than ever. An ever-growing mountain of evidence points to an urgent need to change the way we live and consume. In this light, we focus on two individuals who made the change earlier. Their stories might be set a world apart — one on a farm in Hawaii that pays tribute to its ancestral way of life, the other, a holistic retreat in Australia that champions the sustainable way of life, albeit with a distinct Bhutanese element — but they are also beautifully and intrinsically tied together by the way they choose to honour the earth.

Kahana cultural living

The seed for Kahana Cultural Living, located on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, might have been sown in a time of sadness but for Kyle “Kaue” Nahoi, one of its co-founders, bitterness has since given way to sweetness and peace. “I lost my father in 2015, soon followed by my 21-year-old son in June 2017. I was invited to come farm here after losing another farm in an adjoining valley in Punaluu, where I had opened a taro patch through remediation in 2013 until soon after my son died,” he says frankly. “The landlord wanted rent for the land I had remediated from bush into a working, producing taro patch and so, in anger, I pulled out every taro plant I had planted and potted them at home. It was on my 46th birthday, in October 2018, that Daniel Kaniala Anthony, my partner, saved my life by inviting me to come to Kahana.”

An organic, multicultural and multigenerational cultural living park, which includes the Samleialoha Memorial Farm and Kahana Cultural Living, it is in Nahoi’s own words, “just two dads farming … two fathers farming in reverence. Kahana in Hawaiian means ‘the work’. Daniel and I have known each other since 2005. We became friends through native Hawaiian art and then from poi-pounding together. (Poi is an iconic Hawaiian food staple made from the fermented root of the taro plant, which is baked before being pounded into a paste.)

“We raised our children together and solidified our friendship in 2008, when we were protesting the genetic modification of taro. When Daniel invited me to Kahana, I came, still grieving, and on pure trust and faith. That was when we began opening and clearing what is now Kahana Cultural Living and we have been trying to bring awareness and restoration of farm systems ever since. Our goal is to live in a food secure system, similar to our Hawaiian ancestors.”

Life is lived in a paradise-like valley set amid the vast expanse that is the Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park, and the two fathers schedule their daily chores, fishing and farming according to the Hawaiian Moon calendar. “We live according to the knowledge passed down through the generations that sustained our people without outside influence,” Nahoi says.

On-site activity revolves around weeding, planting, clearing forest, burning logs, making compost, feeding pigs, building fences and other miscellaneous duties that are part and parcel of farming.

Nahoi also vehemently states that respecting Mother Nature is imperative. “We need Aina (a local term that literally translates into ‘that which feeds’ or ‘the land’). It is our mother and provider of all our needs. After all, everything comes from the earth. The source of all things begins with Aina and wai (water). We have been detached as a society from Mother Earth. Processed foods are not good for us. My son suffered from allergies and complications due to agammaglobulinaemia, a one-in-a-million disease that hurts the immune system.”

A firm believer in the benefits of taro, or kalo as it is known in the Hawaiian language, Nahoi shares that the root is hypoallergenic and gluten-free, alongside breadfruit. “As a child, I moved to Maui with my father after my parents divorced when I was seven. There, I was exposed to and immersed in Hawaiian culture and kalo cultivation. Per acre, these two foods are the most valuable crops for world sustenance. In this pandemic-devastated world, where people live in pigeon coops they call apartments, completely detached from any food sources, the messages are clear — if not alarming,” he says. “What good is money when the store is empty? Water does not come from bottles. We have allowed ourselves to be removed from the circle of life. If you are not a contributor, then you are also a virus [a parasite].”

Apart from sharing the peace and fulfilment that come from living off the land with all who visit, Nahoi also started Uplift Others, an Instagram account that focuses on uplifting consciousness to help others recover from loss. “It was a friend who inspired me to share my daily life and healing to help others process their loss. It also serves as a means to prevent death by suicide and to raise awareness of depression. I hope the way we choose to live inspires the world to return to sustainable food systems.

“Our ancestors’ food systems were so intricately attuned with nature and the seasons. People used to co-exist harmoniously with nature. The difference now is that we try to bend nature to fit our will and our needs instead of us being servants to it. There is a Hawaiian saying — Kauwa ke kanaka, he ali’I ka Aina — which refers to the land being the chief and man, its servant.” The truth? We couldn’t agree more.

Little Bhutan

Yea, the town in which Little Bhutan is located, has a most uplifting name and proved to be the ideal site for the holistic wellness venture of Sherin Wong and Tan Ming-Ne. A two-hour drive from Melbourne, the little community’s economy revolves around agriculture at present and, historically, gold mining and timber.

While Little Bhutan has yet to officially open, the idea behind its formation is the culmination of numerous trips to the mystical Himalayan kingdom, after which it takes its name. “We travelled to Bhutan for the first time in 2016. It was never on our list of places to travel to but we believe some journeys in life are predestined, and this was definitely one of them,” says Wong.

“The idea for Little Bhutan was conceived after our third trip there. We had originally meant for this project to be developed here in Malaysia. We visited a few potential land parcels, particularly around Bentong, and although each site offered its own charm and potential, we ended up shifting our focus internationally to Australia, which has been our second home for many years.”

The impetus for the project actually came by way of a situation in which many working people are increasingly and inadvertently finding themselves — a state of burnout. “We were working in film production then and had just completed a major drama series and were exhausted. The toll it took on me was incomprehensible. It was around that time that I was constantly questioning myself: What is the purpose of my life in this world and what do I want next? I did know, though, that the film production life wasn’t my cup of tea,” Wong recalls.

Perhaps it was pure serendipity, but the renewal of both Tan’s and Wong’s permanent residency visas by the Australian government was taken as a lucky omen, resulting in the duo packing their bags and heading south. “What can we say? It was decided then that the first Little Bhutan would be in Australia,” says Wong. Although they encountered many setbacks along the way, planning permits were finally granted and approved at end-2019. “We thought everything would be going smoothly thereafter, but then Covid-19 hit. The whole world came to a standstill, including the development of our building,” she continues.

Never one to be daunted, Wong and Tan immediately shifted their focus to Plan B of their project, which was to develop a farm-to-table garden, introduce mushroom cultivation and set up an apiary. There are permaculture-styled vegetable gardens in place and cultivation patches that produce an abundance of good things such as gorgeous fresh greens, luscious tomatoes and earthy oyster mushrooms.

“Plan B is already on a roll,” says Wong. “A 1.5-acre patch of land was identified and has already been tilled, soiled and mulched up. The rainy season is upon us now, so things are finally working in our favour. Very soon, winter crops will be planted, spring seeds sown and seedlings raised in the greenhouse. We are hoping to harvest our first batch of produce for the local community by year-end.”

Once Australia’s lockdown lifts and work commences on the five-room lodge, guests may look forward to indulging in farm-to-table dining as well as experiencing all the loveliness of a mindful and sustainable lifestyle before calling it a night under jet-black skies studded with stars in a tranquil part of the country. “Our restaurant will be open only to in-house guests and everything they enjoy will be harvested fresh from the farm, according to the season. There will also be yoga classes, meditation, pottery, Heart Sutra writing, archery, darts and more. You are also welcome to spend time with our farm animals,” says Wong.

Guests can expect to be greeted by a positive — and ever-expanding — menagerie that already includes 12 ornamental clucking hens, including a Pekin Bantam, historically beloved by Empress Dowager Cixi of China; two mini horses by the name of Yin and Yang; and a herd each of alpacas and cows, all with Bhutanese names such as Dechen, Sangchen, Yangchen, Sangay and Dawa. “Our ladies of leisure, the chooks, aren’t laying as many eggs as we’d hoped, but there isn’t a better time, really, to be self-sustainable and self-sufficient. We think we are on the right track with our plans,” Wong says.

As to their chosen name for the holistic venture, she explains: “All I know is if I can’t be in Bhutan all the time, then I would need to have my own Little Bhutan. The kingdom is known as the happiest place in the world and, with that in mind, we hope Little Bhutan can bring some happiness to the people who visit or come to stay. It was a tough decision moving here two years ago but, looking back, we are thankful we did.

“The pandemic is having a profound impact on all aspects of society, changing relationships, the way we socialise and communicate … [and how we are] having to cope with the negative psychological outcomes such as loneliness, uncertainty, anxiety and depression. We also feel the pandemic will change the way we reassess our priorities. I believe agriculture is going to be a popular option for many who are pursuing higher education. Being self-sustaining is suddenly on top of everyone’s minds! The important lesson for all of us is that the time for change is now and to learn what we can from these unprecedented times.”

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