Field Notes: Inside a Honolulu Community Garden
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: the Makiki Community Garden.
Makiki Community Garden offers the apartment dwellers of the Makiki-Tantalus area an opportunity to spend quality time with Mother Nature. It was founded in 1975 and is the oldest of O‘ahu’s 10 community gardens. Located on a half-acre in Makiki District Park, it has 160 plots, each tended by a different gardener or household of gardeners. It is overseen by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation but governed by the gardeners themselves.
The majority of gardeners are retirees. They tend to show up early in the morning, before the day gets too hot. At least half of the garden community is made up of immigrants from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other countries. Many speak little or no English. “We speak everything here,” says Don Cook, president of the Makiki Community Garden Association, whose English is tinged with an Oklahoma accent.
The gardeners meet once a month at the park’s recreation center to discuss issues of common concern, such as mulch, pests, theft, and the aggravating limo drivers who use the garden’s water to wash their cars. They also discuss what do about gardeners who break the rules.
Vegetable theft is a constant problem, despite locked gates on the 5-foot fences enclosing most plots. Thieves pick whatever they can reach. Some bring ladders, or drop their children over the fences to do the dirty work. One prolific vegetable rustler, who was 6 feet 7 inches tall, simply leapt the fences. The gardeners called him The Leaper. After plaguing the garden for months, The Leaper was caught in the act by police. He hasn’t been back.
There are lots of rules, including:
- NO fewer than four types of plant can be grown.
- NO selling what’s grown.
- NO working in somebody else’s garden.
- NO plants or fences over 5 feet tall.
- NO chemical pesticides or herbicides.
- NO marijuana, coca or other illicit plants.
- NO using human waste as fertilizer.
Garden monitors issue citations to rule-breakers. Persistent violators can be expelled by a vote of the other gardeners. Bruce Milton, a retired carpenter, was cited for repeatedly watering his neighbor’s garden while his neighbor was traveling. This violated the rule about tending somebody else’s garden. At the next monthly meeting, the other gardeners revoked Milton’s plot. He immediately filled out an application and got back on the wait list for a new plot. Now he’s back and serves as a garden monitor himself. “I like to give people a chance before I issue a citation,” he says.
HOW TO GET A PLOT
Prospective new gardeners must attend a monthly meeting to get on the wait list, then they must continue attending meetings until a plot becomes available. The average wait time is 14 months. Annual fees are: $5 for dues plus $10 for water.
Roger Bautista, plot K15
“I grow more vegetables than I can eat, and I eat a lot of vegetables,” he says.
Don Cook, plot G14
“I believe chicken manure sweetens the soil,” he says.
Young Kil Hong, plot C3
He has gardened here for about 15 years. He tends his plot nearly every day. He is from Korea and speaks no English.
Did you know? Altogether, O‘ahu’s 10 community gardens have 1,248 plots, honolulu.gov