On weekends and summer days, Jade Onaka would often be tasked to pull weeds in the garden or help her dad with the family’s small herd of cattle that grazed up on the mountain. These were not tasks Jade was particularly excited to do as a young girl. But over this past year, Jade– now 16 and a junior in high school–embarked on a journey to learn more about her family’s history and her connection to agriculture and the land she calls home in Kona, Hawai‘i.
On her father’s side, Jade is descended from a long line of paniolo–the name for Hawaiian cowboys famous for their skills wrangling cattle over rough terrain and into the ocean where, riding horses trained to swim, they would drive cows out to ships waiting beyond the waves.
In some parts of the island of Hawai‘i, the name Onaka is practically synonymous with ranching. But as a girl, Jade preferred hula to riding horses and she feels deeply connected to her Native Hawaiian roots. These roots come from her mother’s side of the family and they connect Jade to an incredible history of agriculture going back to the first Hawaiians.
For almost 1,000 years Hawai'i had a sophisticated and highly productive agricultural system that fed a population nearly the size of today’s. But, as a state, Hawaii imports nearly 90% of its food despite having the perfect climate for growing year round.
Through interviews with family and community members, Jade discovers a more sustainable future might be on the horizon. A future built from the knowledge and practices of her ancestors. To reach it, Jade realizes that her kuleana, deep responsibility, is to connect with the land. That means returning to some of those chores she once complained about as a girl.