Melanie and Colehour Bondera are a lot of things. They are founders: Melanie co-founded Hawaii Genetic Engineering Action Network and SEED, the islands and states organization dedicated to educating people about the dangers of GMOs and promoting sustainable agriculture in Hawaii. They are board members: Colehour served on the Kona Coffee Farmers Association and the Kona Coffee Council for more than five years, and was recently selected to serve on the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board.
They are also networkers, travelers and activists, but they are—first and foremost—farmers. Homebase is Kanalani Ohana Farm in Honaunau, Hawaii, where the Bonderas produce avocados, cacao, jam, mead, and an award-winning Kona coffee that is a finalist for The Slow Food Foundation’s prestigious International Parmigiano-Reggiano Award.
Luckily for Slow Food USA, we grabbed a quick interview with the two sustainable food mavens to see how they do what they do.
SF: When was the moment you knew that farming was what you wanted to do with your life?
MB: As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone, I felt the pull to go work in the fields in my belly and would skip my volunteer work, to go dig, weed and harvest in my village, Senekedugu.
CB: After about ten months, (working in San Francisco) during several weeks of seeing a series of documentary oriented-films focusing on diet and agriculture, I found myself looking deeper into myself. I looked harder and realized that it was a grass field that was part of the broader whole landscape that included farms with and without legal boundaries. I realized that for myself that is the foundation of my thriving. I realized I need a strong foundation, and in one way or another farming would be the center of that. At the time I had just become, 20 years old.
SF: What are people’s reactions when you tell them you are a farmer?
MB: Often they are people who idealize organic farmers and are awed. Others are surprised and ask how much money I make. Some want to see my hands to see if I’ve really been working with them, if I don’t fit their image of a farmer.
SF: What have been the best and worst moments on your farm this year?
CB: Best moments in the past 12 months were realizing that the worst drought in this area had not dramatically caused damage to any of our crops. Worst moment in the same time frame was the stress caused by the long drought in terms of concern for farm health and how that took away from addressing other farm needs!
MB: Discovering Coffee Berry Borer Beetle is entrenched was almost as bad as the 4 month drought (worst in 50 years). Best was finding out we were going to Terra Madre and finally having a good crop of Cacao!
SF: What is the biggest issue facing our food system?
CB: Overall, the biggest thing that our food system faces is people worldwide being connected with where [their] food comes from. Food is not only from farms, but from the broader environment also, and recognizing that farming can be more free form than working a politically defined piece of land, but instead is an attitude, is important.
MB: Corporate agribusiness. They come up with onslaught after onslaught of ways to eliminate the small family farm, growing of healthy food, and healthy consumers.
SF: What do you see as the most promising trend in the food movement?
CB: Currently people are more cognisant of eating fresh and local than in recent decades. Quality, including organic certification, is sought more generally, and people are not wanting questionable or bad things to be part of their food (such as GMO crops).
SF: Who are you most looking forward to meeting at TM or what are you most
looking forward to doing and experiencing?
MB: I am most looking forward to meeting other farmers from around the world and discussing farming as well as agriculture issues. I’m thrilled to go to one place where farmers of so many different languages and cultures will be together with the shared theme of food. I’m so glad that indigenous languages and their earth wisdom will be highlighted this year. This alone makes me feel hopeful again.
CB: I really look forward to talking with folks about how they deal with tropical management of both levels of production, but more-so keeping the small farms going without breaks. I am looking forward to connecting with people in similar circumstances from around the world and speaking with them as equals, not as an outsider. I see it as an opportunity of equality and sharing!