Common Ground wants to showcase regenerative food systems from the Hawaiian Islands.
“Hawaii’s food system is broken,” says Constanz Niedermaier from Common Ground, a new platform to find regeneratively grown Hawaiian food.
The islands export 80% of their crops and import 90% of their food, despite being a fertile land that has the potential to meet an abundance of domestic needs.
John Parziale has been a farmer on Kauai for over 20 years, growing crops like ginger and turmeric. He has seen firsthand the challenges facing agriculture: the emphasis on monoculture, the high cost of land that discourages young (and new) farmers from entering the profession, and the emphasis on export rather than self-sufficiency.
For this reason, Niedermaier and Parziale have teamed up with a group of like-minded eco-forward investors to create a center for local food entrepreneurs: The Common Ground is a physical space on Kauai that serves as the base for a new food community for regenerative Agriculture on the islands. With an accelerator and an incubator, Common Ground would like to support small and medium-sized food companies that are trying to deviate from the conventional agricultural model.
That includes companies like Maui Nui, which makes a wild jerky bar from wild-caught axis deer, which has become an invasive species in Hawaii, explains Niedermaier, and yet it’s a nutritious meat. There are vintage vinegars that make a raw pineapple vinegar from excess fruit and other wastes at a pineapple processing plant (one of Hawaii’s most popular exports). Or ulu-based products, which are an alternative to traditional grains and wheat-centered pasta; Ulu, or breadfruit, is widely grown in the tropics and plays a central role in agroforestry on the islands, says Parziale.
While the physical space on an 83-acre agricultural campus that once housed the Kilauea Sugar Plantation and Guava Kai Plantation will serve as a meeting place for these entrepreneurs to meet, exchange, share ideas, and collaborate, Common Ground has also launched an online marketplace to reach consumers across the islands. “We want people all over America to discover these stories and products,” he says.
For Parcials who are passionate about healthier food systems and who now run a 5 acre farm that serves as a model and testing ground for those looking to switch to permaculture or regenerative practices, this is an affair of the heart. “Agriculture has become one of the most destructive human activities on earth. Either we change, return to the regenerative practices of our ancestors, or regenerative agriculture will sprout from the ashes of our civilization. “
Agroforestry plays a major role in this transformation for Hawaii. Unlike mainland farms, which can rely on vast open spaces to have rows of crops, tree fruits like breadfruits, nuts, coffee, cocoa and more can help create a more regenerative system in Hawaii, says Parziale. Not only do the trees help keep carbon in the soil, but they also provide shade, help retain water and enable catch crops to be grown.
Over the past two decades, the way we produce and consume food has consolidated massively. “That needs to change. These destructive and extractive agricultural products must be expected. “
Common Ground campus will open in 2022. Until then, however, the online marketplace will be available for US consumers to discover some of these new innovative food companies and get a taste of the islands through a regenerative lens.