I’m just back from what we dubbed the Extreme Winter Tour 2019. I live and work (as a freelance tech content marketing writer) in Hawaii, and my daughter had never been in the snow, so we decided to take a two-part, snowy winter vacation. “Full effect!”
First, we spent what turned out to be one of our best Christmases ever, bonding with favorite cousins at Lake Tahoe. There was sledding and igloo-building right outside the back door.
And some of the cousins did handstands in the snow.
Then we spent New Year’s bundled up in Iceland, the “land of fire and ice,” a country that astounded me with its beauty and other appeals, and where—among other adventures—we walked through an ice cave that was inside a glacier.
On our way home, we stopped off in San Francisco for a couple of days, where we visited friends, ice-skated on Union Square, and took a tour of the city in a ’60s hippie van.
A highlight of that tour was careening down crooked, twisty-turny Lombard Street with “If you’re going to San Francisco” blaring on the radio and our tour driver hanging out the window flashing peace signs. A lot of other tourists took pictures and video of us, and I couldn’t stop laughing.
Let me tell you, it was all very different from a winter in tropical Hawaii. And totally worth doing.
Back at my desk
Now I’m plunging forth into 2020, this new year that still sounds to me like the future (or an eye chart). I’m getting back to work. Here’s a quick description of what type of B2B/B2C tech content marketing writer I am, in case I can help you and your company.
Primarily, I write about these subjects. (Click on the links to see some sample articles.)
I’ve written for clients including Adobe, Ancestry dot com, Barclays Investment Bank, the Guardian, Google, and NPR, among many others. My work includes white papers, case studies, articles, sales sheets, slide shows, and other written materials. I also edit manuscripts for publication.
My business plan continues to be working with people I like (so my days are pleasant) and doing my best work every time (so I make their job easy and they call me again).
Content Marketing World has become a huge conference and it was very well done. More than 3,500 content marketing specialists attended from 60 countries, as did more than 550 companies, including 40 of the Fortune 100 companies. Two hundred and twenty five content marketing experts spoke.
On the first morning, as we streamed into a large exhibit hall for opening keynote speeches, there was a slight backdrop of drumming in the air which heightened anticipation. Fog rolled and Star Wars music played (the closing keynote speaker was Mark Hamill, a.k.a. Luke Skywalker). The stage was a space ship’s control panel with windows looking out onto the galaxy. Dramatic. I got the sense big things would happen.
Joe Pulizzi, the orange-clad founder of Content Marketing Institute, which puts on the annual conference, spoke first. (The conference color is orange and it’s everywhere.) He talked about a previous content marketing company he founded that failed, he ultimately realized, due to a lack of commitment. The problem: they were not dedicated to being leading experts in content marketing.
Out of that experience came Content Marketing Institute, he said, as well as a dedication to content marketing.
That led into what he thinks is most important to know about content marketing:
“I’ve learned it’s all about commitment. There’s no half way. The meaning of content marketing is that you’re either in or you’re out. There’s no such thing as in between.”
He said that right now just two out of ten global marketers, only 20 percent!, say they are fully committed to their content marketing approach. The other 80 percent is creating a lot of marketing collateral, going through the motions, but not building a loyal audience and not telling a different story. “Meh,” he said.
He told us he was going to title his presentation, “Meh” and the crowd laughed. But he said that’s where so many people are right now.
“We’re doing what looks like content marketing, but are only somewhat committed. Can you be ‘somewhat’ committed to your relationship, to driving, to being a great father?” A slide of Darth Vadar popped up in his slideshow.
“Mediocre content will hurt your brand more than doing nothing at all,” he said.
He pointed to LEGO as a fully committed brand. He mentioned that he used to get the LEGO magazine Brick Kicks 30 years ago, and today his kids still sprawl across the floor with their LEGO blocks.
Content Marketing Rules
These are what many companies see as the current “content marketing rules,” he said:
You have to do content marketing
Create more content
But the most successful businesses, he said, are
Targeting just one audience with one message or mission
Telling a different story
Maintaining consistency over time
Building an asset by creating value outside the products and services they offer
As a content writer helping agencies and brands needing interesting, well-crafted and well-directed content for their clients, as well as developing content marketing for my own brand, these were great reminders.
It was a terrific conference. I learned a lot, met interesting people and am totally re-energized about my work.
Doug Kessler wrote a terrific (and fun to read! he’s a great writer) write-up of the conference from midpoint, as he sat wide-awake with jetlag in the middle of the night.
In my freelance writing business I frequently work as a ghostwriter, and HawaiiBusiness magazine recently featured me in an article about ghostwriting. Megan Spelman, the photographer, told me she wanted to do something a little different with the photo.
She photographed me through a window, while I stood in front of a plumeria tree with hundreds of orchids growing from it.
I think it’s fun how the picture turned out. A bit ghostly indeed!
Speaking of ghostwriting, Ilima Loomis recently interviewed me for a short article that appeared in the regular Hawaii Business magazine column called “My Job.” It was about being a ghostwriter. I love reading those columns, and it was fun to be featured in one of them.
A Guardian.com article about English ghostwriter Andrew Crofts, who has written 80 books that sold 10 million copies, talks about his own book on being a ghostwriter.
I’ve ghostwritten books in the past, but these days I mostly do content marketing ghostwriting. What this often means is writing content in collaboration with a business leader whose name will appear on the article, blog post, op-ed or other piece.
I love doing this kind of work. I really like helping someone corral his or her thoughts and present their message so it’s just right. Very satisfying!
Did you see this recent and interesting New York Times article on content marketing? It talks about an appliance store in St. Louis, Goedeker’s, which wasn’t doing so well. So the owner had his son and daughter build a website during their summer vacation, and he started taking online courses and reading up on online marketing and search engine optimization.
And it worked. From 2009 to 2013 their sales grew from $6 to $48 million and they went from 18 to 90 employees. Most of their sales now are online.
And that was even before they discovered content marketing in 2013.
For its content marketing push, Goedeker’s hired two full-time writers and began publishing daily blog posts about home renovation and appliances, which were then shared on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and Pinterest.
Today, the company spends $100,000 to $150,000 a year on its content marketing efforts, according to Mr. Goedeker. He says the goal is for the company to get 80 percent of its online traffic and half of its online sales with its content marketing efforts. So far, sales generated this way have risen from 8 percent to 14 percent of the online total.
“It’s been slow so far,” Mr. Goedeker said. “It takes some patience and persistence. With a paid ad, you get a return on investment immediately. With content marketing, it takes a while for the search engines to recognize your value.”
The article also discusses a pool and spa company in Virginia that writes blog posts about questions they hear most from their customers.
In 2009, Mr. Sheridan, an owner of River Pools and Spas in Warsaw, Va., published a post about how much it cost to install a fiberglass pool, a useful piece of data but one most pool companies aren’t eager to publish. Using a web-tracking tool, Mr. Sheridan then followed how many customers came through that post.
“That one single article has made us over $2.5 million in sales,” he said. “For a $5 million-a-year company, that’s a ton of business.”
What an interesting article. It really shows the power of writing compelling narrative copy that resonates with your customers. Sales pitches aren’t what captures people’s attention. You have to engage them. Answer their questions. Make an emotional connection. Compel them to remember your brand and think of you as a resource.
The phrase “content marketing,” and content marketing writing, are rather new buzz phrases, but creating the stuff isn’t new. “Whether you realize it or not,” writes Forbes.com contributor Jayson DeMers, “chances are your business is already using content marketing as part of your overall marketing strategy.”
He wrote a good article about content marketing, what it is, and what types of content typically form a content marketing strategy. He says this includes:
Guest blog posts
Micro-videos (ie, Vine)
Social media posts
As DeMers writes, the primary focus of content marketing is building the relationship, not making a hard sell. It’s the sort of stuff I do over here at my desk.
Good news, people! This article (by someone who’s run a corporate writing agency for 15 years) lists the five things he looks for when hiring content marketing writers and editors – and I’ve got all five covered. Were I to move to Australia, I bet he would hire me.
It’s all about these five things, he says, which spell WRITE: Write, Rapport, Interest, Trust and Edit. Click the link to read the whole story, which is from the Content Marketing Institute.
We’ve all heard the theory: It’s easy to hire good content writers because so many are being fired from traditional media, such as newspapers and magazines. Unfortunately, this just doesn’t seem to be the case.
I’ve run a corporate writing agency for 15 years, and hired many writers and editors. During this time, the media industry in Australia (where my firm is based) has been imploding. Australia’s largest newspaper publisher alone has cut hundreds of journalism jobs in recent years. Despite many of those people being among the finest writers in the country, few have become content marketing writers. And there’s good reason why.
How do you evaluate an effective content marketing writer/editor for content “newsroom” positions? How can you determine whether a journalist with a strong portfolio can generate material that’s engaging to customers, appropriate for your organization, and unlikely to create legal or other headaches? I use a methodology I call WRITE: Write, Rapport, Interest,Trust, and Edit.
First, be sure your candidates can write. That may sound trite, but you’d be amazed how many people present well and have appropriate resumes, but lack a real aptitude for writing. And be warned, journalists can be published for years and even rise high despite having mediocre writing skills. Their saviors are the bosses and copy editors who fix their spelling, grammar, and even facts.
To avoid getting caught out, ask candidates where they believe their strengths lie; give them short writing, editing and proofreading tests; and ask their references what the person’s first draft copy is like. And be sure to verify they can write quickly enough to meet your needs.
Recently I wrote some articles for Full Life Hawaii, and I thought I’d share them here as an example of one type of content marketing. Full Life is a Hawai‘i Island non-profit agency dedicated to helping people with developmental disabilities lead happy, productive and self-directed lives, and I wrote about some of their clients and their Full Life support workers (with authorizations all around, of course).
It’s a wonderful organization and I loved working with them. Amazing support workers there are doing work that really makes a different for the individuals who are getting helped, or being able to live independently, because of them. Every one of the Full Life clients I interviewed, too, made a lasting impression on me.
Remember those free AOL disks that used to be everywhere? They came unsolicited in the mail, and it seems like they were packaged with every magazine you bought (remember buying magazines?).
Things have changed a lot in this online world. Today I’m thinking about how ubiquitous blogs are these days, when they really haven’t even been around that long. Before blogs, there were digital online communities (now they seem kind of primitive to me) like the moderated discussion groups at Usenet, GEnie, the early CompuServe, email lists and bulletin boards.
I can remember getting on those boards and lists and thinking the whole thing was so cool, but also pretty limited. Back then, I would have loved knowing where we were headed with this Internet business. Those were the dial-up days. Before that, people drew their messages on cave walls.
I wonder what’s still to come.
Justin Hall is said to have been one of the first bloggers. He started writing online in 1994 while a student at Swarthmore College and he’s still going.
We didn’t even have the rather ungainly word “weblog” until 1997, when Jorn Barger coined the word for web + log.
In 1999, Peter Merholz jokingly turned the word “weblog” into the phrase “we blog” in the sidebar of his, well, blog, and gave us the word “blog.”
Shortly after that, Evan Williams started using “blog” as both a noun and a verb, and he concocted the term “blogger” (he was helping to create the blogging software Blogger at the time).
That’s about when blogging really took off as a result of blogging “tools” coming on the scene. Open Diary started in October 1998 and had thousands of online diaries. That was the first blog community where readers could comment on other writers’ entries.
Also in 1998, the Charlotte Observer live-blogged Hurricane Bonnie, and that’s thought to be the first known instance of a blog on a traditional news site.
LiveJournal started in March 1999. Blogger.com started in August 1999 and brought blogging to the mainstream (Google bought it in February 2003).
Popular American political blogs started appearing in 2001, how-to manuals started appearing for bloggers, and established journalism schools started researching blogging and noting the differences between it and journalism.
Movable Type, which spawned TypePad, started in September 2001.
Since 2002, blogs have gained increasing notice and coverage for their role in breaking, shaping and spinning news stories.
WordPress started in 2003.
In 2004, blogs have become increasingly mainstream. Political candidates were using them, the Columbia Journalism Review began covering them regularly, and Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary declared “blog” the word of the year.
In 2006, I set up a blog for Richard Ha, and I continue to help edit and write posts. We have blogged close to three times a week ever since – eight years now! – and we’re still going strong.
Since then I also spent a couple years with a business partner running the now-defunct blogs Honolulu On The Cheap and Big Island On The Cheap, blogged here at my own website, and blogged for clients at various sites including at Fodors.com and Ancestry.com (alas, no byline at Ancestry, but I write some of the posts at that link).
This month, I’m participating, along with a lot of other writers, in a 30-day blogathon. I really enjoy blogging. There’s a nice rhythm to posting to the same blog over time, and it’s a comfortable way to bring your message – one that resonates with and is important to you – to your readers. The writing is often a little less formal, while still being professional. Readers can respond to what you post, and sometimes there’s some back and forth. It’s a very satisfying style of communicating.
I specialize in writing about Hawai‘i, where I live and have deep roots, in addition to ghostwriting memoirs, biographies and family histories. I help Hawai‘i individuals, small businesses and larger ones with their content marketing.
Content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.
I’m familiar with Hawai‘i’s culture, its language and orthography, and many of the islands’ movers and shakers. Whether it’s writing content about Hawai‘i’s business, travel, culture or people — or something else — I do it. My master’s degree in anthropology, specifically the cultural anthropology of Hawai‘i and the Pacific, makes me knowledgeable about and able to write well about Hawai‘i’s culture and people. My journalism degree and background means I know how to conduct research and find the information I need.
Who hires a writer like me to write content? Hotels (I’ve written for the Kohala, Halekulani, and Trump Waikiki hotels, among others), representatives of trade industries (like Hawaii Hospitality magazine), airlines (Hawaiian Airlines, the former Aloha Airlines), travel companies (such as Jetsetters, Fodors.com), online behemoths (such as Ancestry.com), human resources companies (ALTRES), other corporations (Trek Bicycles) and local businesspersons (Richard Ha, and many others). Just about anyone who has a business and a message to impart, in other words.
I’ve been in this business full-time now for about sixteen years, and it’s been interesting to see content marketing emerge. It’s sort of a new buzz phrase, content marketing, but really it means writing articles, web copy, blog posts, white papers, reports, and the like to help tell someone’s story. It’s very much what many of us writers have been doing all these years.
Read about what happened here, in an article I wrote about kalo (a.k.a. taro) and poi. This article, for the Hawaiian Airlines in-flight magazine Hana Hou, earned an “Excellence in Journalism” award for feature writing/long form, from the Society of Professional Journalists.
by Leslie Lang
A few years ago, I did a newspaper interview with the comedian Howie Mandel, who was coming out to perform in the Islands, and he kept cracking canned jokes about poi — the traditional Hawaiian staple made from pounding the root of the taro plant into a starchy, nutritious paste. His seemingly endless stream of one-liners stopped only when I mentioned that my husband grows taro and we make our own poi. He was taken aback. “You mean you really eat that stuff?” he asked, sounding confused. “You like it?” The idea, apparently, had never occurred to him.
Mandel’s reaction is fairly typical of newcomers who encounter poi for the first time at a tourist lü‘au, and frequently compare it, unfavorably, to “wallpaper paste.” As far back as the 1850s, Mormon missionary George Q. Cannon had this to say about his first poi experience:
“Before leaving Lahaina, I had tasted a teaspoon of ‘poi,’ but the smell of it and the calabash in which it was contained were so much like that of a book-binder’s old, sour paste-pot, that when I put it to my mouth, I gagged at it and would have vomited had I swallowed it.”
Proving the conventional wisdom that poi is an “acquired taste,” however, Cannon’s attitude changed dramatically after he realized that if he didn’t learn to eat it, the people preparing his meals would constantly have to cook separate food for him. “This would make me burdensome to them, and might interfere with my success,” he wrote. “I therefore determined to live on their food, and, that I might do so, I asked the Lord to make it sweet to me.
“My prayer was heard and answered; the next time I tasted it, I ate a bowl full and I positively liked it. It was my food, whenever I could get it, from that time as long as I remained on the islands. … It was sweeter to me than any food I have ever eaten.”
It might perhaps surprise wise-cracking malihini like Howie Mandel to learn that the plant from which poi is made, taro — or kalo in Hawaiian — is not only relished by the Islands’ kanaka maoli (native people), but also regarded as a divine ancestor. According to the sacred Hawaiian creation chant the Kumulipo, the sky father Wakea and earth mother Papa had a stillborn son named Haloa-naka, who was buried, and from his body grew the first kalo plant, which was also called Haloa (“everlasting breath”). Wakea and Papa’s second son, also called Haloa, was the first human being, elder brother of the Hawaiian people. Hawaiians ever since have been nourished by their sacred ancestor who died to become the kalo plant.
Taro is a perennial herb that takes around nine to twelve months to mature. The plant is primarily grown in wetland conditions, and the traditional Hawaiian method of cultivation involves ingeniously designed, water-filled terraces called lo‘i, surrounded by walls of earth reinforced with stones, and irrigated by streams passing through the terraces. Along the banks of the lo‘i, other useful crops such as bananas, sugarcane, ti and wauke for making kapa cloth were planted, and edible fish were raised in the water along with the taro. In areas where there was rich soil and enough rainfall, Hawaiians also planted taro in dry plots.
Every part of the plant can be eaten, though it must be thoroughly cooked first to break down oxalate crystals that otherwise sting the mouth and throat. The long, heart-shaped leaves are cooked as greens, similar to spinach. The stem can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. And the potato-like corm is baked, boiled or steamed and eaten sliced, or pounded with water to make poi, or sometimes fried into taro chips. Today, one can find taro used in breads, bagels, pancakes, biscotti and lavosh, among other foods. You can buy “poi in a tube,” flavored with banana. There is even poi ice cream.
In generations past, the pounding of poi was a regular part of life’s rhythm. My grandmother often told stories of my great-great-great grandfather, Tutu Nalimu, who was born in 1835 and even into his eighties regularly pounded kalo that he grew himself on family land along the Big Island’s fertile Hamakua coast, where I still live. She described the scene to me so many times I sometimes have to remind myself that it was her memory, not mine: The elderly, blind man with a thick shock of white hair, sitting on a lauhala mat on the floor, a cloth tied around his forehead to catch the sweat, swinging a stone poi pounder rhythmically onto the cooked kalo on the wooden poi board in front of him.
These days, many Hawaiians have gotten away from eating traditional foods, since farming and hand-pounding poi don’t fit easily into 21st-century lifestyles and work schedules. Yet there’s still a demand for taro, and on important family occasions it’s still common protocol to throw a backyard lü‘au with all the familiar foods. At the dawn of the new millennium, farmers in Hawai‘i had some 470 acres in taro production, and sold $3.7 million worth of their produce, a record high. The price of taro grown for poi was also at a record high: an average of 53 cents per pound.
At the end of a rough gravel road in Hilo, an old brown building houses the production headquarters of Pa‘i‘ai Poi Systems. Inside, on Tuesdays and Fridays, workers are all business. At 3 a.m. they start peeling taro that was cooked the night before. When they’re done, the taro is run twice through a commercial meat grinder to make poi, then packaged and labeled. By about 9 a.m., the whole operation is done, and the bags of poi head for the airport, bound for supermarket shelves in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona and Las Vegas, where there are substantial populations of expatriate Hawaiians.
Young, sincere, and articulate, Kalae Ah Chin, who runs the poi factory along with his wife Keli‘ikanoe, sports a shaved head, tattoos and a T-shirt that reads Loa‘a Ka Poi? (“Got Poi?”). The couple also owns Ka‘upena ‘Ono Hawaiian Foods, the original hole-in-the-wall take-out place in Hilo (with another opening soon in Kona), where a sign in the front windows boasts in Pidgin: “Poi – We Always Get.”
Ah Chin says his vision is to get poi back on the tables and into families’ diets. “If you eat poi the traditional way, in a communal bowl,” he says, “it forces everyone to move from the living room and the TV back to the table, where there’s lots of sharing. We wanted to bring families back to the table.”
Talking about taro is not at all like talking about other crops — all business and market prices — because taro is also about culture. “People don’t respect poi like they used to,” says Mahina Gronquist, a Hawaiian-language immersion school employee who was raised in the old ways by her grandmother. “There was a whole protocol,” she says. “To kahi (scrape the poi off the sides of) the bowl; and when you’re eating poi, you cannot take from the side of the bowl, you have to take it from the middle.”
Traditionally, poi was referred to as “one finger,” “two finger,” or “three finger,” according to how thick it was. The thickest poi could be swooped up to eat with one finger; the thinnest needed three. Taro used to be preserved by pounding until it reached the stage called pa‘i‘ai, before much water was added. “Pa‘i‘ai was when the taro was more like a potato than a poi — thick, thick, thick,” says Gronquist. “That’s what our navigators would take on their long canoe voyages because it kept, so they had nutritious and healthy food that would last.” Indeed, taro itself is one of the Islands’ “canoe plants” — the vital crops that Polynesian wayfarers painstakingly carried with them across countless of miles of ocean when they settled in Hawai‘i more than a thousand years ago.
Today, kalo remains a potent symbol of the Hawaiian culture, and, increasingly, educational groups have been using taro cultivation as a means to help Hawaiian young people literally get back to their roots.
Among these is Nawahiokalaniopu‘u School in the rural Big Island town of Kea‘au, which has been around since 1994 as a Hawaiian-language immersion high school, and this year added lower grades for the first time. It’s an incredible campus, where everything is recycled or reused and the lessons are practical. Students learn about raising fish in the school’s aquaculture program, and they tend pigs, chickens, rabbits for food, all of whose waste is captured and used to make soil.
The cultural history, planting, tending and preparing kalo is only one lesson at Nawahiokalaniopu‘u, says groundskeeper Jimmy Nani‘ole, but it’s an important one. “Most of us today live detached from our bodies,” he says. “We don’t give our bodies what they need; we give them what we want, and the result of that is that people are getting overweight, they’ve got no more energy. What we do with kalo and sweet potato (another Hawaiian staple) is to bring children to the awareness that what you eat is who you are. Just like you cannot have good kalo if you don’t have good soil, you cannot have a good body if you don’t have good nutrition.”
Another place where the culture of kalo is being taught is the nonprofit, 97-acre Ka‘ala Farm, located deep in O‘ahu’s Wai‘anae Valley, which is loud with birdsong and removed from modern development. In old times, the valley was the area’s “poi bowl,” or breadbasket, where the kalo for the whole leeward coast was grown.
Ka‘ala Farm got its start in the 1970s, when a group of “alienated youth” from the Wai‘anae Rap Center, a federally funded community organization, hiked the uplands of the valley and stumbled onto ancient stone terraces. They didn’t immediately recognize them as lo‘i — wetland taro fields — but Eric Enos began investigating further. He was on the staff at the Rap Center then, “though I was probably a little alienated, too,” he laughs. Now he’s director of what has become the Ka‘ala Farm and Cultural Learning Center, where some of the abandoned lo‘i have been restored and replanted. In the early days, Enos says, “We had no idea about growing taro, so we had to learn about it from the University of Hawai‘i’s Lyon Arboretum. They were so overjoyed, because here were Hawaiians interested in taro, which at that time was an unusual thing. They had tears in their eyes.”
Today, three to four thousand students visit Ka‘ala Farm each year to learn about Hawaiian culture by planting kalo and making poi, as well as learning about making kapa cloth and listening to kupuna (elders). Most love getting into the mud to work with the kalo, their bare feet sticking in the slurpy muck as they work. Students learn that kalo was used for offerings, food, as bait for fishing and even as medicine.
Ka‘ala Farm, which is not open to the public, has a Hawaiian Studies program through which high school students can spend one day a week mapping cultural sites and working on stream studies with the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. Another program helps individuals from a Wai‘anae substance-abuse program learn life skills through working in the lo‘i.
One cannot talk about growing taro without talking about water rights, an issue that has posed serious challenges for the farm, and for contemporary taro growers in general. Over the last century, large amounts of Hawai‘i’s surface water has been diverted away from natural streams and traditional taro areas to support sugar plantations and other modern commercial uses. The effect, Enos says, has been to contribute to “the whole breakdown of Hawaiians’ connection to the land and fishing and everything else.”
“The valley got dried out to make a town,” says Butch DeTroye, Ka‘ala Farm’s facilities manager. “But we believe it’s possible to put water the back, and share it with the forests, too.” Enos says he went through years of bureaucratic struggles to bring water from a diversion ditch down to the valley, where it used to run. “We still don’t have enough water,” he says. “But I think we’re closer to the driver’s seat. Before, we weren’t even in the bus.”
Here at my home on Big Island, where rainfall is abundant, my great-great-great grandfather’s kalo has continued to grow, even during decades when no one was tending it. A few years ago, I came across a bundle of old letters my grandmother had written to her own mother in 1940, including one referring to taro, and to my grandfather wanting to learn to pound poi:
“… We eat a lot of taro now, and also make our own poi with the meat grinder. Have to strain it, though. In a few days we’re going to make some more poi, and Don wants to pound it so he’ll know how. He says if Tutu could pound poi at 80, he (Don) should be able to do it at 29. Instead of improving with the times and using modern, labor saving devices, we’re going backwards.”
Now, more than sixty years later, my own husband — himself from a long genealogy of taro farmers in Waipi‘o Valley — grows taro where my Tutu Nalimu did. We make our own poi using a commercial Champion-brand juicer — a machine now favored for that purpose by many families in Hawai‘i. My favorite way to eat poi is fresh, when it has an almost nutty taste. My husband likes it better when it’s a couple of days old and has soured a bit, in the true Hawaiian style. No doubt, Tutu Nalimu would approve more of my husband’s taste than mine.
Some of the taro plants we grow are actual descendants of Tutu Nalimu’s kalo, living symbols of how the process helps me feel connected to my Hawaiian ancestors stretching all the way back to Haloa at the dawn of time.
Poi entrepreneur Kalae Ah Chin encourages more families to grow their own kalo and get “poi machines” like ours. “I wouldn’t say it’s better, or even just as good as the old-fashioned way — the quality family time that goes into sitting around watching Tutu pound the kalo,” he says. “But in light of the fast-paced, Western world we live in, it’s a good way to get the family back together, eating at one bowl, and getting healthy stuff back into their diet.”