KALIHIWAI — Two gardeners said they were evicted from Kalihiwai Community Garden because they refused to sign a contract they claim didn’t match their original agreement.
Bobby Hersche and Mariah Leslie have been using permaculture and sustainable agriculture techniques in one of the community garden’s 42 plots for five months.
On April 13, they each received letters from Malama Kauai, the organization that oversees the Kalihiwai Community Garden and leases the seven acres upon which it rests.
“You were provided a month to sign a community garden agreement, as is expected of all other participants at the garden … yet, in addition to refusing to sign, we have reports of you disrespecting our staff, repeatedly not following the garden rules, and continuing to exercise unapproved authority,” the letter said.
Hersche and Leslie said when they joined the community garden they made a verbal work-trade agreement with operators and weren’t asked to sign a contract.
It was a combination of Malama Kauai bringing Megan Fox on board as the new executive director and a series of “tiny mistakes,” according to Hersche and Leslie, that led to the introduction of the document.
“They have been given several chances and warnings over the course of the last few months,” said Fox. “At some point, we had to be consistent and honor the rules.”
In the new contract, Hersche and Leslie said Fox added extra duties to the original agreement, which was to clear out five plots. In return, Hersche and Leslie were promised three plots themselves for six months and others in the garden would work the other two.
“We were offended by the new contract,” Leslie said.
Fox said she offered a standard community garden contract after offering a work-trade contract.
Lindsey and Hersche said they haven’t been allowed to sign it and haven’t had further contact with Fox.
“I went out of my way for a few months to try and work with them, but they were uninterested in following our community-established rules like other gardeners,” Fox said.
Malama Kauai said it has evicted someone from its garden once prior to this incident.
Some of the actions that led to a contract request were Hersche allowing other gardeners to plant when he had no authority, and cutting down a banana tree without asking permission first, Fox said.
Another misstep was using Malama Kauai’s name on the online fundraising webpage GoFundMe to get money for tools in the garden without permission.
“Any of these on their own are fair grounds for revoking your access, with the unapproved use of our organization’s name being one that would justify legal action should we choose to pursue it,” the April 13 letter from Malama Kauai said.
The organization decided to ban Hersche and Leslie from the garden instead of pursuing any other charges, stating in their letter “any future visits to the Malama Kauai Community Farm & Garden beyond April 13, 2017 are not in the best interest of the organization and such efforts will constitute trespassing.”
“We haven’t even gotten all of our tools out of there yet,” Leslie said. “There’s no way they can evict us that quickly.”
Hersche and Leslie grow medicinal herbs and vegetables in an ongoing project that uses bioremediation of soil.
“We are eating our food and making medicine for ourselves and our friends,” Leslie said. “We did not sell any and we now have to start over in planting our herbs in potted gardens.”
The couple’s house is surrounded in bamboo, with roots that dominate the area and make it hard to garden. They also spend time at the Kilauea Community Agricultural Center, which allows people to volunteer four hours a week in their community farm in exchange for a box of organic vegetables grown there.
Though they’ve still got a source for organic, local produce, Leslie said she and Hersche are discouraged that they’ll not be able to continue their permaculture and aquaculture farming techniques at the Kalihiwai garden.
“(Hersche and Leslie are) young and they’re learning,” said Paul Marshall, one of the community gardeners. “I can’t imagine anything that he did that couldn’t be fixed, worked out or discussed.”
But the Malama Kauai Board of Directors said in a statement to TGI that Hersche’s and Leslie’s actions aren’t the “pono way of dealing with such a situation in our small community.”
“It is our kuleana to hold members responsible for respectful behavior and our community garden rules are one way we do this in Kalihiwai,” the statement said.