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With gas prices reaching a record high of well over $4.00 per gallon, along with other exorbitant living expenses, most kama‘aina (local residents) in Maui County pay a high price for living in paradise. This is an especially difficult burden for many families who live close to or under the poverty level, including a number of Native Hawaiians. To ease this burden, Dr. Bob Howerton, Aquaculture Extension Specialist with the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program (UH Sea Grant), has implemented a novel and innovative solution called Backyard Aquaculture.
In partnership with Lahainaluna High School and the Paia Learning Center, Dr. Howerton recruits Native Hawaiian families and trains them on how to produce fresh fish and vegetables in their backyard. He initially installed four systems for individual Hawaiian families as well as training and demonstration systems at Lahainaluna High School and the Paia Learning Center. Thanks to the success of the initial project, ten families now have working systems and he has secured funding for at least five additional families.
The impetus behind the project is simple. In pre-contact Hawai‘i, Hawaiians maintained a nutritious diet that predominantly consisted of fish, taro, fruits and vegetables. However, with the introduction of modern western dietary items, their diet changed drastically and this segment of the population currently has the highest rate of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease in Hawai‘i. To help Native Hawaiians move toward a more traditional diet while also reducing household expenses, Dr. Howerton is working hand-in-hand with families to set up low cost, small-scale, integrated aquaculture-agriculture systems. By having easier and more affordable access to these foods, families will return to a healthier lifestyle while saving money and resources they would normally expend to acquire less-healthy sustenance.