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Maui County Leads the State Beyond Pesticides

Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

Maui County Parks are going organic. A pilot project to create pesticide-free county parks is underway on the Valley Isle. Over the next year, the county will learn what it takes to implement an organic land management program. And they will do so at no cost to Maui taxpayers. HPR’s Ku?uwehi Hiraishi reports.

Over the past two years, Maui County Councilwoman Elle Cochran’s office has been inundated with community concerns over pesticide use at county parks, near public schools, and on beachfront resorts.

NESS: We were at the time getting pretty regular phone calls and emails and photos sent to us of different agencies spraying different things in different places.

Autumn Ness is the executive assistant for Councilwoman Cochran’s office.

NESS: And what we found was the community has these concerns and they’re not going to go away. In fact, they are kind of snowballing, and the agencies that were responsible for these different areas were hearing the community’s concerns but were really missing either the skills to change their practices or they were concerned about budget. We’re talking about government, right?

They were at an impasse. No skills. No money. In comes this guy. 

Credit Ku?uwehi Hiraishi
(L-R) Autumn Ness, Chip Osborne a horticulturalist with Osborne Organics, and Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides, inspect the turf at War Memorial Little League field.

FELDMAN: I’m Jay Feldman with Beyond Pesticides. We’re headquartered in Washington D.C. and we’re here in Maui to look at a number of pilot sites that the parks and rec  department committed to transitioning to organic land management practices.

In March of this year, the Maui County Council unanimously voted to allow the Parks & Recreation Department to accept in-kind services from Feldman’s organization. It would analyze current land management practices and come up with recommendations and trainingon how to manage without pesticides.

NESS: So it’s not going to cost the county any money up front to change our practices in a way that the community is really really wanting to, in a way that’s a win-win for our children for our environment.

The pilot project for pesticide-free parks will focus on War Memorial Little League Field in Wailuku, the Luana Gardens playing field in Kahului, Makana Park in K??au and the South Maui Community Park in K?hei.

FELDMAN: This is an incredible opportunity to put into practice management techniques that are not reliant on toxic chemicals.

Credit Autumn Ness
Organic land management training is underway on Maui.

Techniques that value the natural ecosystem, build soil biology, and take advantage of the natural cycling of nutrients, practices Feldman says we lose contact with when we use synthetic chemicals. But he sees momentum building to move beyond pesticides.

FELDMAN: We are experiencing nationwide really this transition to organic land management. We see it in agriculture. We see the growth of an agricultural market that is now a $43 billion industry. Those same agronomic principles are applicable to managing our parks.

Feldman’s organization is a non-profit that gets most 

Credit Autumn Ness
Horticulturalist Chip Osborne of Osborne Organics training staff on organic land management on Maui.

of its funding from grants and private contributions. It’s working with communities in Reno, Nevada and Irvine, California to move beyond pesticides.  Maui County would be the first in the state to do the same.

For HPR News, I am Ku?uwehi Hiraishi.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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