Willie Quayle is the man behind the magic of Ulu Mālama Terrace Farm at the Upper School, where he collaborates with fellow teachers to integrate the garden across disciplines, including in Brenda Clark’s Food Literature, Adrienne White’s AP Human Geography, and Robyn Scarth’s Intermediate EAL Composition. He also helps with lacrosse and teaches a 12th grade capstone course called Agriculture and Design—a study of land and farming from a regenerative-design and systems-based approach. Quayle received his B.A. and M.A.T. at the University of Virginia.
Where did you grow up, and how (if at all!) did it prepare you for running a large garden in Hawai‘i?
I grew up in Charlottesville, VA in a rural area where my earliest memories include the time when cows from a neighboring property got loose and created an abundance of manure in our yard. My mom “recruited” us to go around with a wheelbarrow to collect the black gold for her garden. I have equally vivid memories of my grandmother’s garden—finding the perfect fig or climbing the crabapple tree to taste the sour fruit. I’d say my childhood taught me an appreciation for compost and instilled in me a desire to put my hands in the soil.
Do you incorporate traditional Hawaiian farming wisdom, techniques, and/or philosophies into your work? If yes, how have you learned what you need to know?
I feel incredibly fortunate to stand on the shoulders of giants who have tended the land upon which the Ulu Mālama Terrace Farm sits—from the Hawaiian mahi ʻai who once abundantly sustained a population larger than that on the island today—to the HPA faculty, especially longtime science teacher Deighton Emmons, who worked tirelessly to bring to life a living laboratory for applied agroecology and the restoration of an ancient agricultural field system.
We are also extremely fortunate to gain insight from HPA alumnus and Stanford professor Peter Vitousek ’67 whose non-profit organization Ulu Mau Puanui, under the direction of Kehaulani Marshall, helps provide direction as we experiment with traditional Hawaiian cropping techniques. It is both inspiring and humbling to work in the shadow of these leaders, my heroes.
If you could be one plant growing in Ulu Mālama, which one would you be and why?
Such a good question! My immediate response would be the native shrub ‘a‘ali‘i that we have in our graduation lei garden. I would choose this for its admirable quality of being able to withstand harsh conditions, an attribute that would serve us all as we encounter the challenges inherent in life. However, given that this plant is native to this land and I am a mere transplant, I think it is more appropriate that I choose a plant that reflects my “introduced” status. As such, I think I’ll go with the pigeon pea, a leguminous perennial. Why you may ask? Well, for one, it is unassuming and happy to do its work behind the scenes. In this case that means underground, where its roots play an important role in making nutrients available to other plants. There I find the most noble of causes and what I gladly aspire to be: a useful partner in an effort to improve my community. I’m also drawn to the fact that it is a perennial, and I, too, hope to be here for many years to come.