Jack Johnson has the laid-back vibe you'd expect of any folk-rock singer-songwriter who hails from the Aloha State of Hawaii. But when it comes to food, he doesn't mess around. "In Hawaii, 80 to 90 percent of our food is shipped in," he says. "Why are we shipping in so much food when we could be growing it here?"
And much of the food that is grown in Hawaii is under threat from genetic modification. Genetically modified papayas, corn, and soy dot the landscape of Hawaiian agriculture.
His solution? Get kids involved in the local food movement through the Kokua Foundation, and start touring to get adults more active in their food system. Rodale.com got to sit down with Jack Johnson to talk GMOs, organics, and gardening this past weekend at Farm Aid 2012. After he gave us the downlow on why you have the right to know what's in your food, he gave us a private concert of a song he wrote about his organic garden.
Rodale.com: You come from a surfing background, and you've been a strong advocate for clean water, aiding groups like Waterkeeper Alliance and the Surf Rider Foundation. Why did you decide to get involved with the food movement?
Jack Johnson: My wife and I became involved with the Kokua Foundation in Hawaii initially to get recycling programs at schools. But another big issue in Hawaii is that 80 or 90 percent of the food is shipped in. We tried to figure out ways we could get kids connected to food at a young age. Things like field trips to farms…just trying to get them to have the vocabulary that's needed to ask the bigger questions of why are we shipping in so much food when we could be growing it here.
Rodale.com: Do you have an organic garden?
Jack Johnson: It's all organic. It's not real impressive, just a little garden outside of our house. It grows, though; I even add little beds to it. When I do go on tour, sometimes I'm able to get a friend to housesit, other times it just goes to weed and I have to start over, which is kind of fun, too.
Rodale.com: What are your favorite things to grow in your organic garden?
Jack Johnson: I grow something we call kalo in Hawaii; it's known as taro worldwide. I also grow kale, Swiss chard, collards, spinach, tomato plants, lettuce, bok choy. I have a lot of friends who are organic farmers in Hawaii—they give me a lot of starters.
Jack Johnson Sings about His Organic Garden Backstage at Farm Aid 2012
Rodale.com: Do you eat a lot of raw food from your garden?
Jack Johnson: All different ways, but I do eat a lot raw. The kids like to pick it right there in the garden and eat it. I always have to tell them, 'Make sure there's not slug trails on it.'"
Rodale.com: Are you a vegetarian?
Jack Johnson: My theory is I try to eat vegetarian whenever I can—sometimes I'd be in Germany or Barcelona and invited to dinner. I tend to eat whatever's served, and then my wife and I shop vegetarian the rest of the time.
Rodale.com: Do you support the Prop 37 Right to Know GMO labeling initiative in California?
Jack Johnson: I definitely think people have the right to know what's in their food. I just shot a public service announcement for the Just Label It campaign, and I'm definitely behind Prop 37 and the idea that we are what we eat, so we should know what we're eating. We all have the right to know what's in our food. When you look at the fact that the European Union has completely banned GMOs, I think we have the right to at least know if we're eating GMOs.