Mahalo For The Memories

by Allan Berkowitz, Executive Director
for the March 2012 Newsletter

Ma'o Farms  (There is a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow!)

Ma'o Farms  (There is a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow!)


I write this just days after returning from Hawaii. The purpose of the trip was work-related (really!) though after the two days of work, Mindy and I did add on 5 days of vacation. Both parts (work and fun) were fascinating and I’d like to share with you some reflections.

How did EV work take me to Oahu? You may know that the EV is heavily involved in (in fact, we invented) a collaboration model of service delivery that increases science education hours for local classrooms. Because we recognized that there is limited educational impact from a program that delivers 2 or 4 hours of environmental science education, we asked ourselves, “How can we increase science education hours without significantly increasing the resources available to us?” Our answer was to develop a collaboration model with peer organizations — Hidden Villa, Youth Science Institute, Marine Science Institute, Audubon, and more — whereby we all link our existing programs and deliver them to the same classrooms. Because each organization delivers their existing program, no one has to increase resources, yet students receive many more hours of environmental education. Long story short: we proved this model works, schools now clamor for it, and our funders love the increased impact and have increased their support of both the EV and the collaboration model.

One of the primary funders of this collaboration work, a funder who invested in the idea when it was still unproven, is the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation. Their mission is to support innovative education programs and they have adopted our collaboration model for dissemination nationwide. A group of nonprofits in Los Angeles, with support from the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation, launched this initiative in September and now, a second collaboration is forming in Oahu. I joined a delegation from the Foundation for meetings with nonprofits, educators, and prospective funders interested in learning how we built our collaboration and how they can benefit from a similar approach. (Note: with the Foundation’s support, a documentary is being produced on this collaboration model and heavily features the Environmental Volunteers. I will let you know when it is available for online viewing.)

Some highlights from the two days of work meetings:

  • I learned that doing business in Hawaii is always within the context of traditional Hawaiian culture. Our ‘convening’ (as the meeting was titled) began as many gatherings do: a traditional Hawaiian practitioner blew a conch shell and offered a chant for the light of wisdom and understanding to grace our gathering. Each guest from the mainland was presented with a lei. Then, and only then, could our convening get under way.
  • Hawaiian culture is very respectful and polite. The upside: conversation is calm and dialogue ensues. The downside: sometimes tough questions or challenges go unasked lest they be viewed as disrespectful. We learned that if we ‘gave permission’ to address the uncomfortable questions, it breaks the ice and even more meaningful dialogue flows.
  • A highlight of the trip for Mindy and me was the group excursion to a wonderful organic farm, Ma’o Farms, 45 minutes outside of Waikiki on the leeward side. This successful farm provides high quality produce to top Honolulu restaurants and Whole Foods, and has developed an amazing social enterprise model. The farm works with native Hawaiian youth who come from a local community troubled by severe socio-economic challenges. School drop-out rates are high, and significant health issues and violence plague the community. Interns learn all aspects of the farm operation on both the agriculture and business sides. The 48 interns work three days a week on the farm and attend community college full time two days a week. Once they receive their Associate’s degree they transfer to the University of Hawaii to complete their BA. They receive a monthly living stipend, and the program opens a bank account for them — savings are matched dollar for dollar. Upon successful completion of their college degrees, several interns are hired as managers who then work with a team of new interns. Recently interns have traveled to Detroit and Thailand to work with organizations looking to replicate the program, and this summer, the interns will travel to Washington D.C. to work in the First Lady’ s organic White House garden. This experience reminded me why I am so proud to work in the nonprofit sector.

Interns at Ma'o Farms
Interns at Ma'o Farms


Courtyard and Outdoor Kitchen at Ma'o Farms
Courtyard and Outdoor Kitchen at Ma'o Farms


With work concluded, Mindy and I hopped over to the Big Island to visit Volcanoes National Park. What a fascinating place filled with steam vents, calderas, lava tubes, and fine art (there is a gallery inside the park that features local artists). We flew over the cone by helicopter; observed the smoke by day, and returned for a nighttime viewing. At Kilauea Iki (site of a major 1959 eruption) we observed a school group bringing a traditional offering to Pele, asking that he (and the volcano) remain calm. The Village of Volcano, next to the park, is a rain forest with abundant life, beauty, and a charming B&B amidst the trees.

Kilauea Iki (site of the 1959 eruption) graced by a rainbow

Kilauea Iki (site of the 1959 eruption) graced by a rainbow



Some other observations:

  • Some see a landscape that looks like the moon. We found inspiration in the many species of flora popping up (except the crabgrass that was growing – it depressed us that not even a volcanic eruption kills that stuff).
  • We learned that Kilauea is a volcano that doesn’t spurt; lava flows in response to earthquakes that open fissures in the ground. Three weeks ago, a significant earthquake closed the extant lava flow and opened a new one that will reach the ocean in about a month.
  • We also learned that new homes are being built in the area, one earthquake and fissure away from becoming BBQ.

Kilauea's Cone and the flora that doesn't care
Kilauea's Cone and the flora that doesn't care


Along the Devastation Trail
Along the Devastation Trail


If you have never been to Volcanoes National Park, plan a visit. It is wonderful, fascinating, and unique. And if you do go, ask me to recommend a beautiful B&B in the Village of Volcano.