WEST MAUI - Charley Dofa has always considered himself a farmer. As a kid, he'd follow his grandpa around their vegetable plot, clutching a hose and observing how he cared for the bitter melon, ginger root and tomato plants. His family lived on the grounds of the Olowalu Sugar Company, where their personal garden was surrounded by tall sugarcane.
"I was about three or four years old when my grandpa said, 'Okay, put down the hose and help me plant,' " remembered Dofa. "From that point on, it was about learning by doing, and thankfully, most things came naturally."
Those skills led him to a career as a landscaper and later, a heavy equipment operator. Today, Dofa continues to uphold his family's farmer roots. He's the current vice president of the Napili Community Garden, a space he helped build and establish in 2011, which now has roughly 200 gardeners and a long wait list. Dofa, alongside other green thumbs, tends to any maintenance needs, spruces up the garden grounds during community work days, and of course, grows organic produce, such as Molokai sweet potatoes, taro and eggplant.
Charley Dofa serves as vice president of the Napili Community Garden.
His volunteer work also goes beyond the garden: from participating in reef fish counts to lending a hand at native planting projects across West Maui. "People are so grateful for my help; it's a wonderful feeling to be able to work with your community," he said.
Dofa is also conscious of how his actions on land affect what's happening downstream.
"At the community garden, we think about how our practices will affect the ocean; in the end, it's all connected," he said. "We try to prevent muddy runoff by placing plants in areas that will hold the soil, and we also use organic fertilizers, in case any of it does manage to slip away."
Learning from others, said Dofa, is an added benefit of his community work. "Your background or even your skills doesn't matter - when people join together, we build on each person's strengths and get the job done."
West Maui Community Voices - stories featuring the everyday people who make West Maui the unique place that it is - is a project of West Maui Kumuwai.
West Maui Kumuwai (WMK) is focused on reducing land-based sources of pollution that can harm our ocean. The campaign offers ways in which individuals can take action to curb these pollutants at home, in their yard or through community projects. WMK partners with retailers to highlight Ocean Preferred yard care products, as well as with landscapers who are committed to approaching yard care with the ocean in mind. By asking individuals and businesses to pledge their commitment, by supporting the work of community groups and non-profits, and by sharing the stories of everyday ocean heroes, WMK is committed to protecting our ocean and our unique West Maui way of life.
The collaborative effort is made up of Maui community members, individuals from non-profits, state and federal agencies, and local businesses. The campaign's strategy is supported by the nonprofit SeaWeb Asia Pacific, with funding provided by NOAA Coral. WMK also supports the efforts of the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative. To learn more, visit www.westmauikumuwai.org.