Press

Our Town (Page 4)

Self-reliance is only one side of Hilo’s coin: There is also an unspoken rule that you give before you take. Those who ignore the rule are politely tolerated but, for reasons unknown to them, ultimately find that things never really work out.

Things are working out well for Kalewa Correa and his partner, Kaleo Veary-Correa. I’ve known them both for years: Kalewa since the mid-1990s, soon after he returned to Honolulu from university in Colorado; Kaleo from a little later, when she returned to O‘ahu to attend UH after a family move to the Mainland. Back when I first met Kalewa, he talked about moving to the Big Island, building a house, living completely off the grid. I loved the idea but wrote it off as the Green Acres daydream of a kid born and raised on O‘ahu’s windward side. Then I ran into him in Honolulu a few months back. He told me I ought to stop by his farm the next time I’m in Hilo—so I did.

“I came up here once with my dad and just fell in love with the Big Island, felt I had a connection to it,” he says. “Later on, Kaleo and I came over from O‘ahu and camped out in the only small clearing there was here. It was a totally clear night. We saw a comet shooting and all the stars, and we just said, ‘This is where we’re supposed to be.’”

Where Kalewa and Kaleo are is Kaiwiki, across the Wailuku River and five miles uphill from Hilo town. Up above where the cane fields used to be, in what was once known as Portuguese Camp, which borders the old Filipino Camp—that is, in the segregated housing clusters that were once home to the various communities of plantation workers.

Kalewa’s Hawaiian family tree has roots in the Big Island; so too does his Portuguese side, his Azorean ancestors having become naturalized Hawaiian citizens in the 1860s. It was his Portuguese great-great-grandfather who first leased this ten-acre spread from the kingdom, and then later bought it. It has remained in the family’s possession ever since, though Kalewa’s grandparents were forced to abandon the Big Island for O‘ahu during the Great Depression.

When the couple made their camping trip in 2005, the rolling property was drowning in waiawi­—cherry guava—an invasive, fast-growing hardwood that creates nearly impenetrable thickets. Both were then grad students on O‘ahu; over the course of a single spring break, they cleared a space and built a one-room cabin. It took an additional two months of chainsawing and bulldozing to clear the bulk of their land, and now, four years later, they’re about to harvest roughly nine thousand organic, white-flesh pineapples to sell at the farmers market and various health food stores in town. Down on the back of the property, they’re experimenting with fuel crops and hope to eventually produce enough bio-diesel to run all of their farming equipment. There will also be a taro patch and heirloom tomatoes and anything else they feel like growing. A few hundred yards from the main house, there’s a canvas yurt where Cameron Walter, a band-mate of Kalewa’s from his Colorado days, lives. By day, Cam serves as farmhand; by night, they make music in the yurt’s recording studio. They are completely off the electric grid.

How three people could possibly achieve all of this is hard to fathom … until you consider the many other hands involved. “It’s just super-aloha up here,” says Kalewa. “I grew up knowing all my neighbors, but it was different: Because of the pace on O‘ahu, everybody did their own thing—over here there’s a little more time for everybody to offer each other help.”

That help has come in many forms. Puggy, who lives across the road, helped raise their roof and also removed and milled for them an ancient koa tree that had died on their property. Souza, the couple’s 84-year-old neighbor and a lifelong Kaiwiki farmer, taught them everything they know about pineapple farming and supplied them with their starter plants. In exchange, they plan to help him market his crops.

“Our lives depend on our neighbors,” says Kaleo. “The other day, one got his tractor stuck all the way to the floorboards. So Kalewa went over with our tractor and pulled him out—it’s like nothing, like you would do for your family: You don’t expect anything in return.”