Kevin Gavagan, Assistant Director of Engineering at Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, is the 2022 recipient of the Mālama i ka ʻĀina Award. The award is given each year to recognize efforts in the landscape and agricultural community toward stopping the spread of invasive species in Maui County. The award is presented by the Maui Invasive Species Committee, the Maui Association of Landscape Professionals, and the County of Maui.
Gavagan was raised on a carnation flower farm in Kula. At 12 years old, he was driving a tractor to help the family business. At 13, he obtained his pesticide applicator license, sitting in classes alongside experienced upcountry farmers decades his senior. He joined the Future Farmers of America in high school and studied agriculture at Maui Community College. With help from his parents and the Alu Like Native Hawaiian Scholarship Program, Gavagan earned a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1986.
After graduation, Gavagan worked on the University’s nitrogen-fixation project, the USDA, and some landscaping businesses. After jobs with a handful of hotels in landscape management, in 2001, he joined the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea managing the grounds and landscaping team.
His combined passion for horticulture and his Hawaiian culture sparked Gavagan to lead cultural garden tours at the resort for over two decades. A quiet and humble man at first introduction, a fire slowly builds, and he becomes animated talking about native plants. He is dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of Hawaiian place names and moʻolelo (stories) of Wailea. Gavagan weaves cultural knowledge into his tour of the native and exotic plants on the resort grounds, and lights a spark in all who join him. He is creating a sense of place for guests and locals alike. “So much of the life of this land is buried in modern-day tourism and real estate activities,” Gavagan says, “When I do my tours, I try to expose people to the beautiful history of this place through the garden. I try to help them acquire a connection and respect for this wahi pana (sacred place)”.
In 2011, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts celebrated its 50-year anniversary. In celebration of the event, the international luxury hotel and resort company pledged to plant 10 million trees around the world. Maui was tasked to plant 10,000 trees. Gavagan reached out to the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC), and in their first year of the initiative, Four Seasons Resort Maui staff planted 2,000 native plants on Kahoʻolawe. Gavagan returns each year with volunteer hotel staff to plant more native plants, and his eyes light up when he talks about these trips. “We have long since eclipsed the original goal of 10,000 plantings and continue to volunteer to go there to help restore the island.” He says, “These trips are not only a way to give back in alignment with the mission of Four Seasons, but greatly enrich us all personally. Kahoʻolawe always gives more than we could ever give it.”
Gavagan’s nomination for the Mālama i ka ʻĀina Award stems from his passion for horticulture, native plants, and Hawaiian culture, his leadership in helping to restore Kahoʻolawe, and the importance of preserving Hawaiian place names in Wailea. He has affected not only the industry and community he works in but countless malihini (visitors) and kamaʻāina (locals) alike through sharing of his knowledge and skills, advocation for native plants in landscaping practices, perpetuating Hawaiian cultural values, and his commitment to maintaining a Hawaiian sense of place within Maui’s visitor industry.
The Mālama i ka ʻĀina Award ceremony will take place on Saturday, November 5, 2022, as part of the Maui Arbor Day Garden Expo and Tree Giveaway held at the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens. The in-person event will feature home garden and tree care demonstrations by the Maui Association of Landscape Professionals, cultural demonstrations and workshops, a “Hale ʻŌhiʻa” with games, prizes, and speakers revolving around the native ohia lehua, and a giveaway of more than 1,000 Hawaiian trees.
The award ceremony will feature a short mini-documentary about Kevin, filmed by videographer Spencer Hyde of Dgtl Film. The presenters include Allison Wright, President of the Maui Association of Landscape Professionals, Allison Cleghorn, Maui County Environmental Coordinator, and Serena Fukushima, Public Relations and Education Specialist of the Maui Invasive Species Committee. This year’s commemorative plaque features a sculpture of a wiliwili flower by glass artist Jupiter Nielsen, modeled after Gavagan’s favorite tree on Kahoʻolawe.
More information on the Maui Arbor Day Garden Expo and Mālama i ka ʻĀina Award can be found at arbordayexpo.com.