LIHUE — Volunteering at the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s Breadfruit Institute is more than a chance to learn the nuances of ulu for Dave Hubbard. It’s a way to put gratitude in action.
“Service is really important to me. It has a big connection to gratitude,” Hubbard said. “Instead of just saying ‘I’m grateful’ and sitting back, I want to show it — be grateful in action.”
And NTBG and the Breadfruit Institute showed their gratitude for Hubbard’s service this year by naming him Volunteer of the Year. He’s the first to receive the distinction, according to Diane Ragone, director of the Breadfruit Institute.
“We usually have a gathering where we recognize the volunteers, but this year they asked each of us to pick someone from our program for special recognition,” Ragone said.
She chose Hubbard, eight-time dropknee world champion pro bodyboarder, because when he’s on-island he consistently invests his time into the Breadfruit Institute.
“He works with the collection here at McBryde Garden,” Ragone said. “He harvests and monitors each of the trees.”
Data collection for research is also part of what Hubbard does at the Breadfruit Institute, as well as finding homes for the extra breadfruit.
“Donating some of it to the food bank was his idea,” Ragone said.
Sharing the abundance of the collection is one of the delights of the job, Hubbard said, and he likes to pass the extra fruit on to staff members and those attending the many functions at NTBG.
When there’s a big harvest, though, he’s able to spread the ulu a little further around the island.
“Last year 500 pounds of breadfruit went to the food bank — a quarter-ton. I felt that was cool,” he said. “If there’s abundance and it’s falling on the ground, let’s give it to people who need it. So that’s rewarding.”
Hubbard started volunteering with the Breadfruit Institute in 2012, and by that time he’d already formed a passionate interest in ulu. The first time he volunteered with NTBG’s Breadfruit Institute was during a flour-making project.
The goal was to test three pieces of equipment: a rotary shredder that shreds the raw breadfruit, a solar dry house to dehydrate the shreds, and a bicycle-powered mill that grinds the strips into flour.
“I was one of the younger volunteers that was helping, so I would spend a lot of time on the bike,” Hubbard said. “Then later, in 2013, they had a breadfruit festival on the island and I had enough experience that they asked me to demo the machinery at the festival.”
Since then, Hubbard has been acting as somewhat of an on-site collection manager for the McBryde breadfruit collection.
In addition to his work at the Breadfruit Institute, Hubbard volunteers with youth at his church and is president of the Island School Alumni Association’s advisory council.
He also takes information on the versatility and usefulness of breadfruit out to the community.
“The ulu plant offers medicine and shelter and building materials and food and even clothing — it’s not necessarily comfortable, but you can make a type of cloth from the bark of a new shoot,” he said. “It’s so much for one plant to offer.”
Spreading the word on the abundant plant is always helpful for the NTBG’s Breadfruit Institute, and for the garden overall.
“From weekly harvesting, weighing and measuring of fruit in the research orchard, to his ambassador spirit involving education on breadfruit at Kauai and Maui schools, Dave does all with humble pride and graceful aloha,” Ragone said.