Food Sustainability in FIJI

We just returned from an incredible trip to Fiji.
Below is the story, our chance to share this life changing experience with you.

 

 

Why we went -
For years we've dreamt of living amongst a food sustainable culture, alongside natives who have kept their relationship with the earth strong. We've longed to experience the TRUE sustainable way of life.

 

We live a pretty "green" life here on our farm. Planting & eating from the garden, shopping at farmers markets, climbing coconut trees and making most of our meals from scratch. Its a good life, but we knew there is a much deeper level of natural existence.

 

Alot of people talk about sustainabilty, but we wanted to expiernce it.

 

Through a series of random coincidences & conversations, a remote island in Fiji kept being brought to our attention. There we were told our dream thrived, unspoiled from the crazy outside world. A place where people lived in harmony with the land, where coconuts outnumber humans a 1000 to 1. With virtually no planning or packing we headed out, our souls thirsty for something real.


Getting into a Village
Fiji has around 300 islands, but before u can catch a boat or plane to the outer ones, you have to spend a few days on Vita Levu, the main island. We spent our first night at a great lil beach bunglao but left first thing in the morning. We didn't travel 2,000 miles to stay in a cute hostel & be catered to. We had come to learn & live amongst the native people.

A surfer we met that morning recommended going to the local village & introduce ourselfs to "Api" (the chiefs brother). "Just make sure to bring a gift" he advised. I had brought a bag of homegrown hawaiian kava, for just this purpose & through a lil internet reading was somewhat familiar with the basic custom of offering & drinking it.

Walking into an unknown 3rd world village, filled with 6' machete wielding strangers would probably be too intimidating for most. But our desire to reconnect with some people who live in harmony with the land was so compelling we didn't care. We asked the first person I met if Api was home. After a few minutes of searching, Api appeared. The feeling in my heart when this man shook my hand was indescribable. He was in flesh & spirit an exact reincarnation of my favorite uncle, who had passed away from cancer just a few years ago. The smile, the walk, the laugh, he WAS Byron (though a few shades darker). Instantly we felt comfortable and after a few bowls of kava, Api announced… "you will live here, you will be my son".

Village Life
We awoke the next morning on the floor of a grass & bamboo hut with no furniture. Traditional Fijian people sleep, eat, socialize and even prepare meals on the floor, sitting cross legged for hours on end. Living in this humble position is clearly a healthy practice. Every man & woman in the village stood tall, straight  & proud, regardless of age. Despite years of yoga we had to shift our legs constantly to stay comfortable, while men in their sixties & seventies sat peaceful & amused watching me.

In addition to being physically impressive, the Fijian people are, hands down, the most friendly, hospitable people you will ever met. Everyone was inviting us into their homes and offering food. "You can stay here as long as u want, no money" "Eat more" and "We are so glad u are staying in the village" was said at every home.

Fiji is mostly known to outsiders for its high end resorts, fetching up to $10,000 a night. Sadly these disgustingly fancy resorts are all most visitors will experience and that puzzles the locals. They know the real treasure of Fiji is village life.

The people are proud of their close knit community. A typical village consists of 200 or so people in roughly 80  homes. Doors are always open, food, favors & tools are shared. Trust, love, smiles & hospitality are freely exchanged. Most of the people have little or no money, but HUGE genuine smiles on their faces. Hand shakes lasted several minutes and often you'll find yourself holding an elders hands for quite sometime while telling a story. Its beautiful.

"We've come to Fiji to learn about your foods." we explained "In Hawaii we have many of the same plants as you. But people no longer eat coconuts or taro with every meal anymore… they eat from the boats"

This is the sad truth. Despite being able to grow everything imaginable, Hawaii imports 95% of its food. It's said that at any given time Maui has only a 5 day food supply. It's an unnerving fact.

The Fijians understood what i was saying. In their time Fiji had changed very much. Global food corporations have invaded their shores and mainland Fijians are in the middle of a massive health crisis.  At one home I saw the government recommended "food chart" which to my shock included white rice, noodles, clarified butter, heavy cream, gmo soy oil, packaged meats and margarine. Despite having access to the greatest food on earth, the people are consuming more & more cheap junk food from over seas. Obesity rates have reached 60% and life expectancy has been dropping every year (it' s currently 55). I met a Fijian doctor who told me about corrupted government officials taking bribes from big multinational food companies.

In an effort to never offend our hosts, we ate more GMO food those first 4 days then we had in a long, long time. Luckily the flight to the remote island of our dreams left the following day. I would definitely miss Api and the hospitality, but we needed to go deeper.

Paradise
Flying into this island (which will remain un-named) we were the most excited we'd been in years. Millions, yes MILLIONS of coconut trees shot out of the canopy
around the entire island. We felt at home & at peace even before the wheels touched down on the (surprisingly smooth) grass runway.

Only one flight a week reaches this island. This plane carried only us & 2 people. The weekly flight is a big deal on the island, it brings mail and packages from the mainland & we were stoked to see a car at the airport (theres less than ten on the whole island, most people walk or go by horse) and we were able to hitch a ride to the village, which would have been a 6 hour walk.

As we drove along the bumpy beachfront road (the only road) on the island, every villager stopped whatever they were doing to flash beautiful smiles & wave. Kids, women washing clothes in creeks, men fishing all smiled warmly, often shouting BULA! Which we'd now learned meant - Hello, Aloha and "Isn't this the BEST DAY EVER!" Those consistent, genuine smiles on these peoples faces will never leave my heart. When was the last time you went for a dive where every single person smiled warmly at you?

Once at the village we were immediately welcomed and offered multiple places to stay. Within minutes of arrival hot plates of food were being served. Fijian custom is to treat guests with the utmost hospitality. Food and conversation go hand in hand & I wasted no time telling our story and desire to learn about native foods. "Tomorrow we shall go to the farm!"

The "Farms"
Over the next two weeks we experienced the food independence of our dreams. Everyone in the community farms. Men, women, children, everyone. They don't "farm" in the sense that probably comes to your mind. There are no tractors, barns, fertilizers, tillers, greenhouses or irrigation lines.

A Fijian farm more closely resembles the wild jungle. To the untrained eye, you wouldn't even know u are at a "farm". The ground is not even close to level anywhere, with many small creeks running throughout the rich landscape. Each family typically has 30 - 40 acres of this type of land. Some are a further hike then others, but they are all accessible. No fences, no roads just well trotted jungle paths. It seemed very chaotic and primitive at first, but once you see the massive amounts of food produced with very little effort you'll be awestruck.

A real food forest.

Because the natural streams have never been dammed or diverted the water table on this island has remained very high, with natural springs flowing from the hillside everywhere. Thus no need for irrigation.

"Weeds" are only pulled when opening a new spot for planting. Because they rarely get cut back, the ecosystem constantly acquires more & more biomass. Each year the soil gets richer & richer. No need for fertilizers.

Within twenty minutes we collected enough food for my entire host family for the upcoming week. Cassava, taro (leaves & corm), coconuts, sugarcane & papayas were all loaded into sacks and carried back down the mountain. My sack was so huge I had to stop multiple times to rest on the way down. They laughed, we laughed, true abundance.

 

The following weeks were filled with food, stories, singing, kava & leisurely walks around the island. Our hosts showed us the traditional method of making coconut oil. We fell in love with it & made a batch everyday, excited to share with friends & family!

Lessons to take home
Because each family (or clan) has a native right to their land, no rent is due for this farmland. No mortgages, no taxes. It's the same story for housing in the village. If u are born (or marry into) a clan you are gifted land rights. Without the stress of rent being due, food bills, water meters and "making ends meet" the people are free to spend their time enjoying life as it was meant to be. Smiling, laughing & visiting with friends makes up the bulk of the day.

This can be a tough concept to visualize, its definitely best experienced. Try to imagine your city or town with no fences, no crime, no cars. Envision knowing all your neighbors names within miles. Picture groups of children roaming freely from house to house, safely playing, smiling and eating under the loving care of an entire community.

 

This is our true nature. When the stress of money is removed, human beings are the kindest, happiest creatures on the planet. We are loving and generous, far beyond our wildest dreams.

The trip has restored our faith in humanity. In America everyone we know feels the strain of the modern world. We are longing to reunite with nature, eachother & our food. But for some reason it seems we "just don't have the time".

We have bills to pay, rent to make.

Can we change and return to the simple life we expiernced on our trip?

Can we rally around local food, reunite with our neighbors and take back the power from our corrupt government & banking system?

 

Im not sure, but at least now I know that at our core, we are good, loving beings and to me that feels like a good enough place to start.

Mahalos for reading

- Ryan

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