Article by Sara Smith
Photos courtesy of Anna Peach
Renegade farmer brings one more crop back to Hawai’i
Last spring, after securing a plot in the Lalamilo Farm Lots, an agricultural subdivision in Kamuela, Peach founded her first farm, Squash and Awe. An artist-turned-gardener, Peach called on a year of intensive squash research, countless hours volunteering in urban gardens in New York City, and her family’s six generations of Wisconsin farming for the grit and wherewithal to accomplish her mission: make her super garden a commercial operation.
Six farmers had tried and failed on her parcel, so her first order of business was hand-building its dry, depleted dust into a moist, nutrient-rich soil. Peach bucks tradition by using a no-till method she calls ‘lasagna gardening’: layers upon layers of cardboard, newspaper, fish and vegetable food scraps—all collected for free from local businesses—with garden green waste.
“I soil-build for the worms and microbes, I plant for the bees,” she sums.
Supporting her one-person model, this method requires no machinery, but it does require her to walk her fields—an act key to fostering an intimacy with her farm.
Her next renegade act was planting only heirloom varieties. Onlookers shook their head, saying she couldn’t make it without GMO seed because of pickle worm. “That made me want to find the solution, then share it.”
Peach trialed 45 varieties of squash in search of the strongest, tastiest contenders to take to market. While a portion of her farm is dedicated to growing near-extinct heirloom varieties to seed, she’s focused-in on five workhorse varieties that have proved hardy and pest-resilient, including Kikuza and Black Kabocha.
And chefs love them. In a bold move, she secured clientele in advance of her harvest using fruit from her trial plants for initial sales calls into the kitchen of the island’s finest restaurants. Within a hundred days of her initial planting, Peach was making commercial deliveries. Fast forward one year, Squash and Awe is moving 1,000 pounds to market every month. Recently, the Hawai‘i Prince Resort featured a month-long specialty squash menu starring her produce.
The success of her guerrilla farm, as she calls it, is catching national attention. The president of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds travelled from Missouri to visit her quarter-acre operation. The visit resulted in an invitation for Peach to speak at the National Heirloom Expo this September, an event she calls “the SuperBowl of sustainable farming.”
In the meantime, Peach is busy preparing a quarter-acre expansion and experimenting with varieties of eggplants, a companion planting she’s found to do well with the squash. She continues to grow as much as she can, with excess poundage being stored, donated to local food banks, or composted. It’s endless work, as she puts it, “bringing one more crop back to Hawai‘i.”
For more information, great farming tips, and squash recipes visit www.squashandawe.com.