Tasty bounty

His home garden filled with edibles, Jeff Pang extols a plant-based diet

By John Berger

Jeff Pang lives within walking distance of his neighborhood tennis courts, a place where he once spent a lot of time with his wife and daughter. But when his daughter was a teenager and decided she wanted to focus more attention on her schoolwork, he turned his own attention to his home garden.

Now, visit Pang’s East Honolulu residence and you’ll find the family home surrounded by food plants — vegetables, fragrant herbs, a moringa tree (also known locally as malunggay) and fruit trees, including towering banana plants.

Pang, 69, is generous with his produce, and with cuttings from his plants that lucky recipients can transplant in their own gardens. Ask “how-to” questions and he’ll share his knowledge.

He is also an active advocate of eating a healthy vegetable-based diet.

“I’ve been plant-based for a while, and actually growing a garden started me eating healthier, too, because you can’t give it all away,” Pang said. “It’s good to eat 30 different varieties of fruits and vegetables — because the (different) vegetables bring up different nutrients from the ground — rather than eating the same thing all the time.”

He called vegan eating a journey and “a matter of education.”

One of the best places to catch him for some education is at the Vegan Society of Hawaii’s potluck, hosted by the Tzu Chi Foundation on the first Thursday of the month at 1238 Wilhelmina Rise in Kaimuki.

Pang said everyone is welcome. “Bring fruits or veggies. No processed foods.”

GETTING A GARDEN started can be as simple as letting a store-bought potato or carrot put out some sprouts and then planting the top part of the sprouted vegetable in a flowerpot. Your results might vary, but Pang had great results when a Beauregard yam, a vegetable related to the sweet potato, sprouted before he had gotten around to using it.

“I’d bought a 10-pound bag at Costco, and we hadn’t eaten them all before they started to sprout. That’s how I got started. I just snipped off the top and watered it for the first week and then let it go, and it grew. Then I had, maybe, eight yams, real small ones, and I thought if I took care of them, maybe they might be more productive. I did, and sure enough, the whole front yard was planted with Beauregard yams. It was really productive, and they grew to be a very good size.”

Pang has enjoyed much success growing other vegetables and fruits. One strategic gardening tip he shared: Taller plants that like a lot of sunshine can provide the shade needed to grow other plants that don’t.

“During the summer months, which starts from May through like October, the sun is very unforgiving, and it’s just gotten worse. And that’s why I planted the gandule beans. They produce flowers around December, and you will have beans from January through May or June.

They’re very productive. In this past year, actually, I picked like 12 cups of beans in like a day. It was crazy; it takes like 45 minutes or an hour to peel the beans on top of that.”

The added benefit is that “you can plant your lettuces and things underneath the gandule plants, and (their leaves will) soften the sunlight.”

Pang cautioned that some edibles must be handled with care.

“Chaya, or ‘tree spinach,’ has a lot of good nutrition,” Pang explained. “I throw it in my soups and stews, but you’re going to make sure you cook those leaves because they have (toxic) hydrocyanic glycosides. You gotta cook it.”

Cassava root, a popular food in many parts of the world, also contain toxins; Pang recommends boiling it for at least 30 minutes. GARDENING AND encouraging consumption of plantbased food groups amounts to a nearly full-time schedule for Pang, a Saint Louis grad who continued his education at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

After stints at Liberty Bank and in property management, Pang worked for the state for some 30 years at the State Energy Office and then the Office of Aerospace Development. He retired 6-1/2 years ago. These days, when he’s not outside tending his plants, he enjoys watching Korean dramas. But before long his thoughts are back with his edible garden. To cultivate both his plants and his knowledge base, Pang has done online research and taken advantage of the information and classes offered by UH Manoa’s Urban Garden Center.

“(Growing food) is trial and error in a lot of cases, but the Urban Gardener (website) puts out a lot of information for you to learn from,” Pang said. “That’s where I learned a lot, and I took up the Master Gardener Program back in 2020. It was good to learn from all the experts at the university. Now anybody who comes by (to see me), I impart whatever I know.”

For more information, go to UH’s Urban Garden Center website at 808ne.ws/ UHgarden. Other good sources of information, said Pang, can be found at the Vegan Society of Hawaii at vsh.org and The Urban Gardener at theurban gardenerllc.com.

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