Cherry Blossom Fest Names Two Honorees

Media Release:

The 18th Annual Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival remembers two individuals who made exceptional contributions in their respective fields of interest. They are lei and kapa-making kupuna Marie McDonald and local agriculture researcher Milton Yamasaki.

Both Waimea residents will be recognized at the start of the 9 a.m.-3 p.m. community festival on Saturday, Feb. 5. Hawai‘i County Mayor Billy Kenoi will honor McDonald and Yamasaki with a commemorative plaque on the entertainment stage behind Parker Ranch Center.

Marie McDonald, photo courtesy her daughter Roen Hufford

Marie McDonald, 84, is one of the state’s most respected kupuna (teacher) in the arts of lei and kapa-making. She was recently named the Alfred Preis Honoree by the Hawaii Arts Alliance, has been singled out as a native Hawaiian “living treasure” by the Smithsonian Institute and named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment of the Arts.

McDonald is credited with spending 50 years producing exquisite lei. She is one of Hawaii’s best-known authorities on the subject and author of the definitive “Ka Lei—The Leis of Hawaii” and “Na Lei Makamae,” co-authored with Paul Weissich. McDonald, who has an art education degree, first got involved with lei as a child and “took it to a more sophisticated level” after working with the City and County of Honolulu’s May Day lei competition.

“Many of the resources for my lei research came from Waimea,” shares McDonald, who has taught many others the joy of creating lei.

In addition to lei, McDonald has been involved with kapa-making, the art of making cloth from tree bark. She has developed ancient plant dyes for her kapa cloth designs and her work was recently exhibited at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Through her love of these two Hawaiian art forms, McDonald has become an advocate for the sustainable gathering and growing of required plant materials. Leading the way to protect forests and green space, she promoted responsible plant gathering practices and led a movement to encourage lei-makers to grow their own materials to slow down depletion of native forest.

McDonald’s 10-acre farm, Honopua, is on Hawaiian Home Lands in Waimea and a resource for the community to see how to grow their own lei gardens. She has planted ohia, to produce lehua blossoms, and a variety of ferns that can thrive in the farm’s micro-climate. She also cultivates wauke (paper mulberry) in the traditional Hawaiian way so it can be pounded into good quality kapa.

“With everything I advocate for, I believe in excellence,” says McDonald. “I even teach toward that, asking students to go beyond what is expected and reach for excellence. I want them to be proud of what they’ve accomplished.”

Milton Yamasaki at the Mealani Research Station...with the blueberries, Courtesy of Fern Gavelek

Milton Yamasaki, 66, has posted 40 years of dedicated public service to Hawaii Island agriculture. He retired last fall as long-time manager of the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resource’s (UH-CTAHR) Mealani Research Station. He oversaw operations at five Big Isle research sites: two in Waimea, two in Kona and one in Hamakua.

During his tenure, Yamasaki initiated the development of healthy food systems crops, such as 100 percent grass-fed beef, green tea and blueberries. His efforts were cited in 2007 when he was named Governor’s Award Honoree for Distinguished State Service at UH. He also earned UH’s Dean’s Award from CTAHR and the Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Civil Service Employee at UH Manoa.

The Honoka‘a High grad pioneered the development of a quality and sustainable 100 percent, grass-fed beef industry. It involved extensive research on forage systems for maximizing nutrition, intensive grazing techniques, cattle breeding selection, low-stress animal practices and working with local meat processors to improve product handling.

To jump-start the local grass-fed industry, Yamasaki introduced annual Forage Field Days to educate ranchers how to produce a consistent and quality grass-fed product. He also founded Mealani’s Taste of the Hawaiian Range in 1995 to educate the food service industry and consumers that 100 percent, grass-finished beef can taste good if prepared properly, and also be of high quality—and that means all of the animal, from nose to tail.

Also at Mealani, Yamasaki is credited with researching the cultivation of green tea and blueberries. To develop unique, Hawaii-grown teas, Mealani began research in 1999 on 10 cultivars and over 300 different seedlings. Work has included ag production techniques, field studies, quality control and product processing—plus providing local growers with cuttings and educational workshops.

In an effort to develop blueberries as an alternative crop for farmers, Yamasaki began evaluation trials in 2005 of 34 warm-clime varieties both in and out of hot houses. Research involved studying variety acclimatization and resistance to disease, plus pruning methods and production timing.

“I’m honored for this recognition and happy that in recent years I can say our research started to lead the industry by developing new products and methods, instead of only solving current problems,” notes Yamasaki, who grew up on a farm. “We were able to look at opportunities for value-added products to benefit our ag producers.”

Yamasaki adds that research is all about being progressive. He continues, “Local research needs to continue investigating products we can grow so our producers can get a good return, while feeding our island.”

In addition to recognizing McDonald and Yamasaki, the Waimea Cherry Blossom Heritage Festival offers a wide range of activities that sprawl eastward from the Parker Ranch Historic Homes on Mamalahoa Hwy. 190 to the Hawaiian Homestead Farmer’s Market on Hwy. 19—look for pink banners identifying site locations. Enjoy Japanese and multi-cultural performing arts, plus demonstrations of bonsai, origami, tea ceremony, quilting and mochi pounding, plus a host of colorful craft fairs. The festival offers free shuttle transportation among venues.  For info, 808-961-8706.

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