Despite the pressures of development and increased tourist traffic, much of Haleiwa seems wrapped in a Brigadoon-like time warp, with a laid-back, neighborly sensibility that’s reflected in the music of North Shore native Jack Johnson and the green lifestyle he enjoys with educator Kim Johnson, his wife and muse, with whom he founded Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation in 2003.
“I’ve seen Haleiwa change a lot,” Jack Johnson, 44, said.
Still, compared with changes he’s seen in other places during his travels over 20 years, “I feel lucky. Haleiwa’s still a little town,” he said, “but there’s a lot that caters to the tourists, and it feels good to do something for the local community.”
That something is a Haleiwa community center and learning farm the foundation plans to establish on its newly acquired properties — a commercial parcel fronting Kamehameha Highway and agricultural lands on Achiu Lane — comprising 7.5 acres.
>> Photo Gallery: Jack Johnson and wife celebratory blessing event
On Friday the Johnsons held a land blessing for the community center and farm, which will have space for artists, teachers, a vintage store and other local retailers and restaurateurs, in addition to the learning farm and a farm stand.
“In addition to going out into the schools with our programs,” Kim Johnson said of the foundation’s extensive school gardening, waste reduction, recycling and other hands-on learning initiatives, “it was always in the back of my mind that Kokua needed a growing and gathering place in the heart of Haleiwa for all the community.”
The foundation, she said, had worked out of their home since the year before their first child was born, staying on when their growing family moved to another house. Now it was time for the nonprofit, which she “kind of always” thought of as her eldest child, to move to a space where it could continue to grow and fulfill its mission of experiential learning and seeding stewardship of the earth.
When they first visited the property, Jack Johnson said he was surprised that “behind the storefronts on the road, there was all this farmland — I thought, ‘Wow, I grew up here. I don’t remember this.’”
As he and his brother Trent Johnson and friends cleared the heavily overgrown ag land, they learned it had once supported loi and that there was still spring water coming up. “It was like the physical manifestation of history.”
Every day, he said, he woke up feeling excited about building the learning farm — not that it didn’t feel overwhelming sometimes.
At such times he remembered a quote from Martin Luther King: “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
That was why they weren’t waiting any longer to hold their blessing for the center and farm, which they called an “aina-warming” event, Kim Johnson added. “I finally said, ‘Let’s just do the blessing now. (The guests will) see there’s work to do, and they’ll come back to volunteer.”
The couple smiled, their eyes shining green in the sunlight filtering through the trees.
The guests were arriving in the new headquarters, a modest, historic wood building that formerly housed a flower shop.
On the walls hung maps of the land, informational displays of Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation’s programs, its Plastics Free Coalition reusable containers and a whiteboard with a diagram of the future community center.
There was also space for visitors to add their own thoughts.
“It isn’t just us,” Kim Johnson said. “Just like with the foundation, this is bigger than us. We want everybody to be part of it and share ideas.”
Warmly greeted by the Johnsons, other Kokua board members and staff, the guests followed a wide path Jack Johnson, his brother and friends had bulldozed to access the field, where a pule aina was held with a blessing by Frank Palakiko Yagodich.
A flock of children ran the length of the field beneath a view of the Waianae Mountains, and Jack Johnson and Kawika Kahiapo sang and played slack key guitar.
“This is a song I wrote for my wife, but when I’m with a lot of farmers, I like to say it’s a song about laulima (cooperation),” Johnson said as they played “Better When We’re Together.”
Speaking of laulima, said master of ceremonies Keith Awai, everyone was invited to a community volunteer workday on the land, to be held the first Saturday of every month, starting Jan. 4.
Then it was time to hold hands in a big circle before the blessing and the planting of an ulu tree with help from the children, who had learned their skills through Kokua’s Aina in the Schools program.
Just before the blessing, as she stood with her husband, Kim Johnson noticed they weren’t with their staff, who were gathered on the circle’s far side.
“Want to run across?” Jack Johnson asked her. “Let’s run.”
Holding hands, the couple took off.