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Gaining a new Perspective of a traditional crop: ‘Awa

Author: Patti Hatzistavrakis

More than a dozen Community members and staff from HIPHI participated in the first Perspectives on Community Health field trip of 2024 on Tuesday, April 9. Perspectives field trips allow people working on public health issues and community members to step out of their regular routines by joining peers on visits to unique places to learn about their approach to community health. HIPHI believes these trips foster networking, idea exchange, and trust-building, all crucial for collaborative work towards common goals.

This trip focused on ‘Awa (Kava) to provide an in-depth look at the traditional cultivation and use of ‘Awa, a plant grown in the Melanesian and Polynesian islands. The trip took place on the northern coast of Hawai‘i Island at two locations, beginning at Pū‘iwa Hawaiian Farms with a tour and presentation by Farm Manager Sam Valdez. Pū‘iwa Hawaiian Farms has three primary goals: reignite cultivation and usage of Hawaiian ‘Awa, educate the public on how Hawaiian ‘Awa helped form the Hawai‘i we know today, and research and promote the effectiveness of ‘Awa in treating various medical issues such as stress, anxiety, and sleep. Participants toured the greenhouses, learned about the farm’s Agroforestry plan for the 200+ acre farm, and discussed the propagation, cultivation, and harvesting techniques Sam and his team employ for their ‘Awa crops. 

Next, attendees traveled to the private residence of Ed Johnston, a passionate advocate for ‘Awa for more than 30 years and member of the Association for Hawaiian ‘Awa. Ed presented the history of ‘Awa in Hawai‘i, provided a tour of his plantings, discussed the various cultivars in his care, and reviewed the health benefits of consuming ‘Awa in the traditional beverage form. According to research findings by Ed and others, drinking ‘Awa in moderation has been a way of life for Native Hawaiians and many Pacific Islanders throughout their long histories. Their research has also demonstrated the many health and social benefits of the traditional consumption of ‘Awa. It is more beneficial to health and human relationships than alcohol and smoking, brings people together, builds communal bonds, and provides a calming effect for those who suffer from anxiety.

Touring the two locations provided insight into both the traditional propagation and cultivation of ‘Awa and the methods used to move this crop forward to make it more accessible to more growers, thus creating sustainability for this traditional plant. Through discussions with Sam and Ed, participants expanded their knowledge of ‘Awa, gaining an understanding of how ‘Awa was and is a vital staple in Hawaiian Culture. Attendees formed relationships through the joint appreciation of ‘Awa and thoughts of how they might incorporate the learnings into their lives moving forward. Many contemplated cultivating this traditional crop for personal use, and others enjoyed learning about the cultural history of such an important crop. All agreed the trip was worthwhile and looked forward to future Perspectives Trips to continue expanding their knowledge bases. 

Currently, we are working to plan additional trips for 2024 and beyond, so stay tuned for more information. You can learn more about our previous Perspectives trips at

Patti Hatzistavrakis

Patti Hatzistavrakis

East Hawai‘i Health Eating + Active Living Initiative Coalition Coordinator
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