Rothman is smoldering when I go back to his house after visiting the farm. The sun is well into its downward slide, painting the firmament with soft oranges and fiery pinks. His shoulders, as big as hills, slump. He seems exhausted. We stand quietly for a minute, watching the ocean. It’s hard not to think this is essentially about Monsanto interlopers coming in and rewriting the rules of the island. Like the foreign surfers before them and Captain Cook before them. And it’s hard not to see that Rothman doesn’t know exactly what to do.
As if to comfort himself, he recounts a moral victory in his past, over an enemy he could physically best. “See that right there?” he says, pointing to a spot on the beach. I nod. “Years ago there were some little girls playing on the sand, and this big guy came and, you know, showed them his…you know…his thing.” He gestures at his crotch. “So I went over to his house. He was a big guy, and he was in there cleaning his gun, so I got scared. But I knocked on the door and he answered, and then he made a move. I’ve always been a little guy, and so I just go on instinct and—pow—I hit him in the mouth. He knocked out but woke back up when he hit the ground and started moaning. His wife came running to the door, and they called the cops because I broke his jaw. But when the cops came they couldn’t say nothing because the guy would have to say why I cracked him. He was a lieutenant in the Army or some shit. Fucking creep. But that’s the last time he showed himself to any kids.” He lowers his head and rubs his eyes.
“Why don’t you just crack them?” I ask, referring to Monsanto. This is exactly how Rothman drove the surf world into a panicked fear, by knocking enough people out that no surfer ever steps out of line. He turns toward me, and his expression that rarely changes turns into a mask of helpless bewilderment. “I can’t,” he says. “There is no them. I mean, they are everywhere. If I go and slap someone, they just gonna throw me in jail, and I don’t even know who they are. They hide behind their corporation.” He looks back out at the Pacific. The sun is even lower now, and the orange is softer, the pink more fiery. He sighs deeply, carrying the weight of his own legend and facing a new foe that is far baser than any he has faced before. He wants to act, but how? He sighs again and growls, “Let’s go.”
We drive together in silence down his dead-end road, out to the main Kamehameha Highway, then quickly turn into a gorgeous piece of unspoiled North Shore greenery. The land is terraced where we are standing, and I can see half-dug rows almost ready for planting. A large yellow tractor sits idle. The volcanic range rises in the near distance and is crowned with a strange sort of pine that I have seen only in Hawaii. “This is my farm,” he says as we start moving toward the patch of reddish dirt that is his organic farm.
Eddie Rothman the specter has become Eddie Rothman the farmer, just on the opposite side of the range from where Monsanto’s Kunia research farm sits. He tells me he spends long days moving giant rocks by hand, because if he used the tractors they would “fuck up all the water hoses we have.” He tends to taro crops and digs holes for water-purification systems by hand as well. “I’ve seen them do it this way in Samoa. They use their hands and their feet like this.…” He climbs down into an unfinished hole and starts to claw at the earth. He digs his own wells, installs solar panels and feeds his chickens and ducks.
Rothman becomes more animated and less exhausted as we wander around his farm—this plot of land is a Hawaii he can control, where no outsiders threaten the balance he’s struggling to regain. He tells me he worries about Monsanto’s chemical drift but is doing everything in his power to limit his farm’s exposure to the company’s tactics. He says the farmwork is good for his body, and the food, once it really starts growing, will be good too. As we walk, it becomes clear that farming is the way he has chosen to physically go to war against Monsanto, by taking back the land, acre by acre. It’s a tactic shared by other, more experienced farmers in Hawaii, who are lobbying the largest landowners to shift their proportion of GMO leases toward more natural and organic farmland. They want land tainted by pesticide use to be cleaned and repurposed as incubators and education centers for organic farming. They want to be given a fighting chance to sustain their island their way. The chances that a few organic farmers in the middle of the ocean will evict a billion-dollar multinational corporation are slim. But Rothman will have none of that.
Hawaii has been decimated by foreign disease, subjugated by foreign agricultural interests, annexed by foreign nations. It is a series of defeats. Rothman, though, has a victory to his name. Because of Da Hui, and because of him, visiting surfers’ blood still runs cold. He wrestled and punched the North Shore back from the clutches of foreign surf interests, and he is dead set on doing the same for the land. He has played slim odds in the defense of a dream before and won.
He also has the land on his side. The locals talk about the curse of Pele, the legend that anything taken from the Hawaiian Islands will bring bad luck to the taker. By that reckoning, Monsanto is exporting a bête noire as its seeds get planted around the world. Whether because of a curse or the passing of time, the sugarcane and pineapple barons have come and gone. Captain Cook is dead. The interlopers in Hawaii have gotten their due. Eddie Rothman is doing what he can, by protest and by pitchfork, to hurry it along. Before we get into his truck and head back down the hill, he kicks at a volcanic rock and then gives my shoulder a hard pat. It hurts.