My Blog’s Origin Story

I started this blog to support my two Kickstarter projects — read on!

Kickstarter Project No. 1

On the 29th day of Nainoa Thompson’s first voyage as a student navigator, he sees two birds fly south overhead. He orders the crew aboard the double-hulled voyaging canoe named Hokule’a to sail in the direction of their flight. These seabirds travel a short distance out to sea at dawn to eat and return to land at night, which means the canoe’s destination, Tahiti, must be nearby. At sunset, a crew member climbs the mast but does not see land.

They lower the sails, heave in the Pacific Ocean and wait.

By late the next morning, Thompson feels panicked. One of Hokule’a’s crew members saw a bird fly out of the north and Thompson, convinced the canoe passed the island during the night, has the crew reverse direction. But another man — who spied a little fish in the bird’s beak — advises him to turn back. This is nesting season and beforesunrise the feathered animal had flown out to sea to hunt for food to deliver to its babies. Later, the bird would fly out to feed itself.

The man with the wise advice is Mau Piailug, a master navigator from the tiny Micronesian atoll of Satawal who had come to the islands of Hawaii to pass on his knowledge of ancient Polynesian wayfaring, which relies on ocean swells, waves, the sun, moon, stars and seabirds to travel the open seas. Imagine: no GPS tracking, sextant, compass, not even a wristwatch. An hour passes and the shores of Tahiti appear. With it, Thompson becomes the first Hawaiian in more than 600 years to navigate a voyaging canoe using traditional wayfaring. With the 7,000-mile voyage complete, Piailug offers Thompson one last piece of advice. “Everything you need to see is in the ocean, but it will take you 20 more years to see it,” he says. “If you can read the ocean you will never be lost.”

Since that voyage in 1976, the Polynesian Voyaging Society has achieved more than 10 long-distant voyages, and an immeasurable impact on the lives and spirit of Polynesians. Hokule’a touched off a Pacific-wide movement to reawaken a lost art and a Hawaiian Renaissance to restore a lost sense of pride. The years, however, have not been without tough lessons, including the death of a beloved crew member, and the difficulty of repairing the ill effects of Western imperialism and attempting to break down the stereotype of the “Plastic Polynesian.” In 2014, the Polynesian Voyaging Society set sail for an ambitious multiyear worldwide voyage.

This blog was originally devoted to sharing this story. I sought support — through Kickstarter — for a reporting trip to Honolulu in 2011. Mahalo to my Kickstarter supporters:

Julia Christian

Carla Christian

David Christian

Cole Allen

Alia Cruz

Emily Cole

Dianne Heimer

Milo Delucchi

Suzzanna

Kitdy Rakthay

Jill Henrikson

Cathy Delucchi

Ted Cox

Mary Anne & Gene Allen

Hugh

Mario Amanzio

John Motsinger

Nicole N.

Josh Fernandez

Clay Nutting

Vanessa Schnaidt

Lindsay Schield

Kristin Bartus

My Kickstarter project No. 2

In summer 2012, I spent a week in Quito, Ecuador to research a story called “Quito Grown” for Earth Island Journal about the city’s urban farming initiative and how these farms address rising food prices and a jeopardized food supply. This experience made me even more committed to reporting on issues related to farming and grassroots efforts to put the power of food production back in the hands of people.Quito Grown11

In 2000, Ecuador adopted the U.S. dollar as its official currency to restore political and economic stability. But the process unintentionally led to rising food prices and hunger among Ecuadorians, particularly indigenous populations, refugees and children.

Quito’s urban farming initiative allows families and students to grow produce for themselves, and connects growers to local farmer’s markets at which to sell their healthy fruits and vegetables. Also, because Ecuador ranks as one of the world’s highest users of pesticides, there is a growing demand for organic produce.

Thanks to my Kickstarter supporters:

Julia Christian

Cathy Delucchi

Yen Le

Nathan Papini

Tom McMahon

Danny Cross

Mike Tener

Hugh

Nicole

Carla Christian

Dave Constantin

Camille

Mario Amanzio

Milo Delucchi

Laura

Lorenzo Orselli

Jess

Jon Kiefer

Mary Anne Allen

Stephan M.

Kitdy Rakthay

Oona Mallet

Ron B.

Cole Allen

David Christian

Christopher Lebedzinski

Jen Rotter

‘Quito Grown’ Appears On Earth Island Journal

Whoa, I barely even finished sending out rewards to my Kickstater backers for “Quito Grown,” and I’ve learn that Earth Island Journal decided to publish my article on its website today. I just submitted my draft yesterday. Now that’s what I call a quick turnaround!

The unfinished greenhouse on the rooftop of Escuela Bogota. Photo by Julia C.

Unfortunately, the editor previously forewarned me that the article would likely not make it into print. That’s one of the drawbacks of pitching to a quarterly magazine. But I’m still very excited and thankful for the article’s online appearance, and I’ll be trying to spread the link around and get as much exposure as possible. Feel free to help a sister out!

Marco waters vegetables in the garden at this school. (Photo by Julia)

I hope you enjoy my article “In Ecuador, urban farms provide an antidote to rising food prices.” Thanks, again, to everyone for all your support both emotionally and financially.

UCLA student Daniel Block works with kids on the greenhouse project in Quito. (Photo by Julia)

More good news: Alternet has also published my story. One more thing! In my article, you’ll read about a nongovernmental organization called Triple Salto. This group is critical in making urban farms happen throughout the city of Quito, and they have an ongoing need for donations and international volunteers. To connect with or donate to Triple Salto, visit www.triplesalto.org or email info@triplesalto.org.

An agricultural engineer with CONQUITO assembles a greenhouse on the rooftop of a school. (Photo by Julia)

Feast Your Eyes

Well, hello there! Clearly, you must be looking for something to do. I have an idea: Check out more of my photos from my recent trip to Quito, Ecuador.

Quito is nestled in the majestic Andes.

Me and Laurie touring the sites.

Quito’s historic district.

Quito boasts many Catholic cathedrals, built hundreds of years ago.

Hanging out in Quito.

Walking through Quito’s historic district.

Enjoying hot springs up in the mountains.

While You Wait

I’m busy writing my article on urban farming in Quito, Ecuador, but that doesn’t mean I can’t show you all a good time while you wait (the story won’t be published until a few months from now, so make yourself comfortable). Here are some photos taken by my sister Julia and new friend (and accomplished artist and photographer) Christian Velastegui.

Overlooking Quito, a city of 2 million people nestled in the Andes. Photo by Julia.

One of many stray dogs in Quito. Photo by Julia.

A street performer in downtown Quito. Photo by Christian Velastegui.

A fellow street performer in downtown Quito. Photo by Christian Velastegui.

My Quito Observations

Hola amigos! I’ve returned from my trip to Ecuador, where I did research and interviews for an article on an urban farming initiative in the city of Quito. I’ve compiled a list of generalizations and thoughts based on five days spent in Quito. Obviously, I barely even know what I’m talking about, but here we go:

The Nourish group, and Laurie, Julia and me.

1. Julia’s warning that getting hit by a car is the biggest thing to worry about in Quito was correct. Pedestrians are totally insignificant!

2. I figured out where they find all those sad-looking stray dogs for the Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials. They’re roaming the streets of Quito.

3. I saw graffiti with the words “Chevron = muerte (death)” and other references to the evils of the oil company that’s caused much destruction in the Amazon rainforest.

Student waters garden on rooftop, while greenhouse is constructed.

4. As a developing country, Ecuador doesn’t appear to have environmental controls or regulations in place. At least that’s what my stinging eyes and burning lungs suggested. The pollution in Quito is terrible.

5. Quito boasts lots of delicious vegetarian restaurants. Yum!

6. If you’re a gringa, be prepared to be financially taken advantage of by taxi drivers. Cha-ching!

7. Everything is up for negotiation. $1 for a cab ride? Too much! How about 50 cents?

8. Red stop lights are purely a suggestion.

9. Ecuadorians are friendly people and willing to assist visitors, especially two pathetic young women with limited use of the Spanish language.

10. Consistent rules for riding the bus?! Not necessary! Sometimes you pay, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes they take the money on the bus. Sometimes a guy will jump down and take money from exiting passengers.

11. Quito residents are proud of their hometown. As one resident told me in Spanish, “There’s something special about this city.”

Dan, of Nourish, and Shak construct the elementary school greenhouse in south Quito.

12. I observed what happens when you’re not supposed to flush toilet paper down the toilet.

13. I saw how everyday the sun rises at 6 a.m. and sets at 6 p.m.

14. I learned what it’s like to travel to a country and not know the language and the stress that brings. As an English speaker, I’m used to people around the world accommodating me and my lack of knowledge of other languages. But that’s not how it is in Ecuador. And that’s humbling.

15. I made a new friend in Quito, and his name is Cristian Velastegui and he’s an awesome painter and photographer. Check out his art (for sale) here.

Things My Sister Says Part II

Our trip to Ecuador hasn’t even begun, yet I find it’s time for the second installment of “Things My Sister Says,” featuring the one-and-only Julia.

“We have to go to the equator! You put one foot in the southern hemisphere and one foot in the northern hemisphere. How cool is that?!” ~ Julia

———-

“I don’t know any Spanish. All I know is ‘adios’ and ‘gracias.’” ~ Julia

———-

“I want an iPod for the trip. Want to buy me one?” ~ Julia

———-

“How many pairs of jeans are you packing?” ~ Julia

“Two. Now that I have back chub I don’t have a lot of pairs that fit comfortably.” ~ me

“Oh, that’s too bad. I’ve been working out a lot.” ~ Julia

———-

“The biggest thing to worry about in Quito is getting hit by a car.” ~ Julia

———-

“You better be careful what you say or it’s going to end up in the second installment of ‘Things My Sister Says.’” ~ me

“Oh my gosh, my words are so popular.” ~ Julia

Off We Go!

Hola! I’ve brushed up on my Spanish, packed mosquito repellant and Pepto-Bismol, and suffered the side effects of a Typhoid vaccine. This can only mean one thing: My trip to Ecuador is almost here! I leave this Sunday for an eight-day foray in Quito. My sister is coming along to snap photographs and make sure I don’t get lost. We’ll visit the site of an urban farming project and speak with locals taking a community-based approach to addressing rising food prices and malnourishment by growing their own organic produce. Wish us luck!