If you are blessed enough while here on this planet, you will get to intimately experience a human example of pure love and intention. It has certainly been a blessing to work alongside Ikona, a true Hawaiian Warrior. Recently, Ikona Fernandez, who had been our lead gardener for the past 4 years at Kauai Farmacy, at age 23, had an accident up in a coconut tree a few miles from the Farmacy, and passed away.
I met Ikona when he was 19 years old. He was a locally raised Anahola boy and former straight A-student, captain, and linebacker of his Kapaa High School football team. He first showed up at Kauai Farmacy as an eager and powerful yet gentle young man, with a glowingly innocent smile on his face. He humbly asked me if he could work the land. Thankfully, I knew not to ask questions other than, “How many days do you want”. For years we had been trying to call in some grounding local vibes, especially in the garden. And here was an idyllic locally grown young man standing eagerly in my presence. Little did I know what all that really meant.
He was the first and only gardener in the 11 years since Genna and I began stewarding this land, that chose to work 5 days a week. Up to that point, 3 days a week was the most a gardener could work over the long term. The hot sun, wet rain, and harsh tropical jungle creates the most physically and mentally demanding work - truly suited only for the rarest of breeds.
However, you could see that working the land was different for Ikona. You immediately sensed that this man worked for no one, for such pure mana could only be of service to a more significant cause. And everyone knew Kona was ‘Loyal to the Lepo” (soil), as he named his successfully launched coconut and sugar cane growing, juicing, and crafting service and business project. A “Hawaiian grower” must have been in his bloodline, as he seemed as connected to the ways of the past generations of Hawaiian growers as he was to the ʻĀina. The finest grower I have ever known.
When he first arrived on the farm, he was fortunate to work alongside a permaculture mentor named Brad. Brad gladly received this eager workhorse under his wing and taught him lots about gardening, permaculture, and plants on the daily. But Kona also came with such a strong connection to the land and work ethic that within just a year of his start date at the ripe age of 20, he was the clear leader of the gardens, by example of course, and never required any formal management recognition. It was clearly understood that this exemplary human was the “head” of the garden operation.
Kona would often be the first guy rolling in each morning. I would glance down at the parking lot just to witness this man boot up while sitting in his car. His clear intention “to go to work” would resonate all around, almost as if he was both consciously and unconsciously speaking to the plants and the land. It was just his way. With a project in mind, he typically headed to the tea house to gather his tools and begin the day’s work. Kona clearly approached his work as a way of life, a time to connect with the medicine, the rocks, the water, the lepo; Mālama ʻĀina, and serve the people of his community. Kona would proceed to work on the farm with such positive vibes day in and day out, rain or shine, weeding or planting, harvesting or excavating, muddy or dry, solo or accompanied by others, for 4-5 days a week for the next 4 years. “It will happen” he liked to say to just about any request or desire we would throw at him. His level of humbleness, dedication, leadership, intellect, strength and stamina was legendary.
He didn’t really say a lot, kept his head down and worked. “Staying in my lane,” he liked to say. He soon attracted and assembled a like-minded and dedicated team of world class gardeners that were equally honored to take his lead while working by his side - Maria Sol, Olivia, Nephi, Mahea, Kimberly, Will, and Noa were just some of his dream team during his years. With the help of this epic Kauai Farmacy team, they would easily triple the size of the Kauai Farmacy gardens. But his work here goes way beyond the definitive measurements. I believe all of the recipients of our plant medicine will also attest to the rising quality, efficacy, and pure mana of the plant medicine that has been growing in our gardens. The individual plants as well as the gardens as a whole continue to get stronger, greener, and healthier with every passing day. The immune system that he and his team have been cultivating in our gardens has been effectively healing so many of us.
Since hearing the news of his passing, one can not help but think “why him, such a noble man?” And the answer seems clear. We are to intensely feel and honor his inspiration, his leadership and his legacy - and act accordingly. His life and now death will serve as a message to us all that it is our kuleana, our responsibility to take care of the land and each other. I feel his flame deep inside me, as I imagine many others do that had the great fortune of knowing him. The rippling effect has unquestionably been a positive and inspiring awakening for us all.
For he planted more medicine on this farm than one can even imagine. Thousands of comfrey, lemongrass, sissoo spinach, self-heal and laukahi ground covers, banana circles with compost centers, full-fledge medicinal food forests, as well as hundreds of māmaki, ‘awa (kava), kō (sugar cane), ‘olena (turmeric), ‘uala (sweet potato), cacao, kukui, noni, kalo, and papaya plants, just to name a few. The guild planting systems that he designed and built with the collective are brilliant pieces of regenerative art for the permaculture farming students around the world to study and replicate again and again. “Loyal to the Lepo” was his way - from grinding coconut husks to making the kindest mulch and planting soil, to crafting kukui and macadamia nut biochar, to operating the grass-to-worm compost tea feeding system. Kona was responsible for leading the innovation, design, building, and operation of so many avant garde regenerative farming production systems. These foundational growing systems are intended to nourish, sustain, heal, seed, and educate our modern day and future communities for generations to come.
Thank you to his amazing wahine Kela for leading Kona to Kauai Farmacy and blessing us all with his mana. So much love and prayer to his ohana. Thank you Kona. You are forever all around us in these gardens. Your way will forever lead and inspire our mission. It is our honor to uphold your legacy.