Category: Grow

Saving Seeds For Our Future

By Jon Letman

Photos Courtesy Of Regenerations Community Seed Bank
Perhaps you have a few acres in Pāhoa, or maybe just some papaya trees and a couple of small planting beds in your cramped Honolulu backyard. You can still take steps toward more sustainable living by learning how to save your own seeds.

Although some are smaller than dewdrops and lighter than a tuft of grass, seeds are more valuable than gold and more powerful than armies. But in a world beset by global crises, these tiny genetic storehouses—like the plants they become—face an uncertain future.

Today, the world of seeds increasingly revolves around profits and patents in a high-stakes industry where the demands of shareholders take precedence over the needs of cultures and communities. The wealth of crop diversity is also plummeting. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 75 percent of the world’s crop diversity was lost during the 20th century. Nearly one-quarter of wild potato, peanut and bean relatives may fall victim to climate change by 2055.

Here in Hawai‘i the understanding that we depend on outside sources for food and energy is fueling greater interest in becoming more self-sufficient. Many local farmers and gardeners say that one of the best ways to move closer to the goal of independence is to save seed. They argue that the majority of commercially available seeds developed for the continental U.S. are ill-equipped for the Hawaiian climate, soil conditions and growing assemblage of harmful pests.

Saving your own seed, even as a weekend gardener, also allows you to seek out varieties best suited for where you live. Farmers and gardeners in Kekaha, Kāne‘ohe and Kula have very different needs. Networking and exchanging seeds with like-minded growers in your area, and on other islands, gives you the chance to compare notes and share your own knowledge and experiences—something that doesn’t happen with a seed packet.

Know what you sowKauai Seed Bank

With so many variations in soil conditions and rainfall amounts characterizing the micro-climates of Hawai‘i, it’s important to seek out seeds well-suited to your area. Seed savers say that collecting and storing seeds, when done correctly, can result in better food and the preservation of traditional or obscure crop varieties that might otherwise be lost. But seed saving takes time, commitment and knowledge.

One of the most active, island-wide seed networks is the Hawai‘i Public Seed Initiative (HPSI), a program of The Kohala Center. Along with HPSI program director Nancy Redfeather, program coordinator Lyn Howe partners with the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Extension Services at the University of Hawai‘i to educate future seed savers across the state. These “seed trainers” help spread knowledge even further. Howe says it’s essential to select and grow the right seeds in order to preserve maximum viability and perpetuate good genetic material suitable for Hawai‘i.

“One of the best ways to store seeds,” she says, “is to grow them out repeatedly.” Rather than relying on mainland products from seed giants like Seminis (the world’s largest commercial fruit and vegetable seed producer and a subsidiary of Monsanto), Howe urges Hawai‘i growers to learn how to preserve crop diversity. For those who want to buy commercial seeds, she recommends companies that have taken the “Safe Seed Pledge” found on the Council for Responsible Genetics’ website.

Howe encourages growers to choose seeds proven to grow well in Hawai‘i. She says that, like landrace varieties saved by indigenous and traditional cultures, seeds that thrive in a changing climate and despite environmental stresses like prolonged drought, extreme rainfall and more frequent coastal flooding will best serve Hawai‘i in the future.

Howe gives her own example, a seed she calls the “tax man bean.” Her accountant gave her beans that had been handed down through generations in his family. With so many people having immigrated to Hawai‘i from Pacific and Asian nations, Howe says that many lesser known but valuable seed varieties still exist in the Islands, in backyards and small farms, shared between family and friends.

Banking on another kind of currency

On the north shore of Kaua’i, Paul Massey directs Regenerations Community Seed Bank and Library. Since 2008 Massey and others have held seed saving workshops and plant and seed exchanges around Kaua‘i.

Regenerations’ seed bank is run by its staff and volunteers (contact them to find out how you can get involved). Massey expects the operation to move from its current location in Moloa‘a to the Wai Koa Plantation near Kīlauea by next year. There, Regenerations will build a permanent seed center with a seed bank, lab and office space and fields for growing out seed, composting and maintaining perennial plants. His goal is to produce as much seed as possible for distribution.

Massey encourages people learn more about seed saving, saying that with the right training and tools—air-tight plastic containers, silica gel and a refrigerator—most people can properly save a modest amount of seed.

While it may not be realistic to expect every gardener to save seeds, Massey says for anyone interested in sustainability, growing at least some of their own food and seed saving go hand in hand. He sees community stewardship of agro-biodiversity as the key to a healthy future for Hawai’i: “The only way the seeds and plants that we have [will] represent the needs and desires of the local community is if they’re created by the local community.”

Home grown

kauai_seed_collecting 3
Not all seed savers are part of an organized movement. Some, like certified organic farmer Ellen Sugawara, have been saving seed independently for years. She says it can be done, but requires understanding the dos and don’ts of proper selection and a serious commitment of time, space and energy.

On Sugawara’s east Moloka‘i farm she keeps 300-foot beds where she grows vegetables out to seed. She’s been saving since at least 1980, after studying with plant pathologists who taught her the importance of examining planting beds to determine which seeds would survive. The best way to build a large gene pool is to constantly grow out huge numbers of plants, she says, and to select traits you want.

In the 1960s Sugawara studied under English horticulturist Alan Chadwick. She still remembers his words: “Any good gardener saves his own seed.” Chadwick, she recalls, aimed for the “middle seeds”—not the youngest or oldest, not at the top and not at the bottom.”

Sugawara grows five varieties of lettuce including rodan, little gem, sangria and a green oakleaf she calls “Wally.” She also grows cucumbers, eggplants, okra, endives and herbs. Her beet and chard seeds still sprout after 20 years.

The lifelong gardener says people need to closely follow the proper protocols of seed saving, “otherwise you’re just digging yourself into a hole because you’re passing on bad seed.” She adds that if you don’t look at the whole bed and plants in relation to the other plants, you might not get something worth saving.

If you want to save seeds, she recommends concentrating on one plant you love. Lettuce, eggplant and peppers are fairly easy but require time. “You’re supposed to grow out your seeds to make sure it’s what you want at least eight times before you sell.”

That’s where the value of creating seed exchange networks comes into play—provide planters with a good, mixed supply of seeds. Most small gardeners don’t have the room needed to grow multiple crops to seed.

Still, Sugawara says that people on Moloka‘i can’t just drive to Whole Foods to buy organic produce—so more farmers and gardeners save their own seeds.
“On Moloka‘i, if you want it, you have to grow it yourself.”

Learn more by contacting the Hawai‘i Public Seed Initiative or Regenerations Community Seed Bank and Library. The 13th Bi-annual Kaua‘i Community Seed & Plant Exchange will take place at Waipā on Saturday, April 19 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.  (808) 652-4118

Something Good Is Sprouting Up In The School Yard

Story by Jade Eckardt

Photos by Kirk Surry

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece”
Claude Monet

A resurgence of school gardens in Hawai‘i isn’t just connecting students with the joy of getting dirty. The growing renaissance of outdoor learning is bringing a holistic awareness of health and nutrition to students and their families. What the kids learn at school translates into the home, where long-term changes can happen.

School gardens are not a new idea in the Hawaiian Islands. Until the late 1960s, they were common in Hawaii schools. Yet somehow, student grown gardens became far and few between, for decades. “I’ve spoken with so many kupuna [elders] who remember working in their school gardens, bringing the harvest to the cafeteria, and eating what they grew,”says Nancy Redfeather, Director of the Hawai‘i Island School Garden Network.

In the last decade, classrooms in the form of school gardens have been rebuilt to inspire future farmers, hands on learning, and nutrition. According to a 2012 report on school gardens in Hawai‘i, the state boasts 168 campus gardens involving 21,577 students and 830 teachers on 30 acres of land. Redfeather says that Hawai‘i Island has more school garden teachers than any other island, while 96 percent of Big Island schools are home to a learning garden.

For decades, student-run gardens were typically implemented at the local level. Today there’s a national movement to get students growing their own fruits and vegetables. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is inspiring schools to plant food through its Farm to School Program, which includes research, training, technical assistance, and grants.

“They’re really trying to reconnect kids with the land and the source of food,”says Redfeather.

Thanks to a new program called Hawai‘i FoodCorps, a national AmeriCorps program that addresses childhood obesity and food insecurity in underserved communities, Hawai‘i is experiencing an influx of school garden teachers. The Big Island’s Kohala Center, a non-profit, community-based center for research, conservation, and education, has been chosen to be the Hawai‘i host site for the program.

In late 2013, FoodCorps service members were chosen to work in eight schools on four islands. Selected college graduates are dedicating one year of full-time public service in school food systems, where they will expand hands-on nutrition education programs, build and tend school gardens, and help bring high-quality, locally produced foods into schools.

Redfeather, who is also the program’s host site supervisor, says eight positions were filled out of over 1,000 applications. “We have to raise up the quality of school lunches, and this program is dedicated to change,”she says.

But today, although an ever-growing number of schools throughout the islands are offering up space for gardens, eating the harvest isn’t as simple as a carrying it from the garden to the cafeteria kitchen.

Students do get opportunities to reap what they sow, but Department of Education (DOE) standards prevent the produce from being served in the cafeteria. It takes some creativity to find ways to serve the harvest. Organizations like Grow Some Good on Maui have found fun ways for students to prepare, cook, and eat what they grow.

“We do a pop up café in the school garden. The kids harvest the produce, and are then assigned to a kid-friendly work station at a harvest festival,”says Kirk Surry, co-founder of the nearly seven-year-old organization that works with 2,500 students across seven different Maui schools. He says that chefs from notable Maui restaurants assist the young farmers in creating a meal for everyone to enjoy.

‘Aina in Schools, a branch of the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation, has found a unique way for students to enjoy the fruits of their labor. The raw ingredients come from the fifth grade Three Sisters Garden, a Native American inspired bed composed of squash, beans and corn. “At the end of the unit the students harvest it all and prepare a stew for everyone,”says McKinney.

Although the focus may be on gardens, students learn more than just how to plant and pick vegetables. The Grow Some Good program teaches students holistic farming techniques. “It’s all organic and sustainable farming methods,”explains Surry. “We also make our own compost, do permaculture at many sites, and make bokashi, a compost made with beneficial micro-organisms.

On O‘ahu, students participate in six components of a garden curriculum, spanning kindergarten through sixth grade with ‘Aina in Schools. According to Natalie McKinney, Director of Program Development, grades K, 1, 4, and 5 focus on garden-based lessons, grade 3 learns to compost, and grades 2 and 6 gain nutrition education. ‘Aina in Schools currently has 15 participating schools in their farm-to-school program.

Redfeather notes that hands-on learning helps students retain and apply concepts, and that lessons in campus gardens encompass many different academic subjects. Says McKinney, “Everyone at the school partakes in the garden in one way or another, the administration, the custodial crew, and the cafeteria workers.”

For Surry, the satisfaction comes from watching children become genuinely thrilled in working outdoors with nature, something that’s becoming increasingly hard to instill in youth since the emergence of iPads, video games, and social media. He recognizes that the earlier children get involved, the more genuine their interest is.

“It’s remarkable to see the difference between kids who started in preschool at an age when gardening is magical and full of wonder; they stay engaged. Kids who start a lot later and have never seen organics or eaten many vegetables, it’s tougher to get them into it.”

While student gardeners will someday contribute to a food sustainable future, Surry says the most inspiring part of his job is watching children become more nutrition conscious.

He says the transition some children make is nothing short of amazing. “We’ve watched kids go from not knowing how to peel a banana, to being able to identify heirloom tomatoes, and different kinds of beans, eggplants, and other vegetables.”

This is where Hawai‘i school gardens have a positive effect on a level much deeper than the soil they’re working with. A program that opens children’s eyes to the beauty of healthy, organic food is life changing in a state where approximately one third of children are obese or overweight.

“It’s amazing what a kid can do,”says Surry. “It’s not just about the future, it’s about right now. These kids go home and tell parents what they did in school and ask for homemade smoothies with kale. Then the parents show up and ask us what kale is, and later go and get some. The kids are setting an example that the adults learn to follow.”
Redfeather also sees the long-term affects of students becoming passionate about gardening. She says, “Anything these children grow, they will eat. It’s completely changing the future of food for them.”



Growing Future Farmers: Localicious Hawai‘i

Story by Heidi Pool
Photos by Steve Brinkman

How a Maui group set out to grow future farmers one salad at a time, and wound up inspiring a “localicious” movement across the State.

It all started with a salad. And the potential impact of a humble dollar. Literally.

In the fall of 2011, members of Maui County Farm Bureau’s “Grown on Maui” committee were pondering the fact that a typical principal farm operator in Hawai‘i is around 60 years old. “We realized we needed to do something to foster up-and-coming farmers,” says committee member Charlene Ka‘uhane. “Maui County’s Office of Economic Development is a strong supporter of our programs, but we’d maxed out on our existing funding, and realized we needed to explore other avenues.”

Fresh Local Salad Grown in Hawaii

From this conversation, the Farm Bureau’s “Localicious, Dine Out Maui” promotion was born. Participating restaurants create a salad made with locally grown ingredients and designate these items with the Grown on Maui logo. For every salad sold, a dollar is donated to the Bureau’s Growing Future Farmers fund, administered by the Hawai‘i Agricultural Foundation. Since its inception, the campaign has raised an impressive $13,000. “That’s a lot of salads,” Charlene chuckles.

Proceeds from Localicious, Dine Out Maui are distributed in the form of grants and scholarships for new farmers and ranchers to start or enhance agricultural businesses in Maui County. “Scholarship recipients are graduates of the University of Hawai‘i Maui College’s agricultural program who wish to complete four-year studies at UH Hilo or Oregon State University,” Charlene reports.

Existing farmers may apply for grants to expand their businesses. “Smaller farmers need just a little help, not a huge amount of money,” says committee member Chef Chris Schobel, formerly of Hula Grill. “Who knows, a scholarship or grant recipient could be the person who comes up with something really significant, all because we’re selling salads.”

But growing future farmers isn’t just about raising money. The Grown on Maui Committee has hosted several meetings with chefs and farmers so each can understand the other’s needs. “When we first began our meetings, we really didn’t know each other,” says committee member Eric Faivre, executive chef at the Grand Wailea. “They didn’t know what we needed, and we didn’t know what they grew. So we made lists of ten items we always use, like Romaine lettuce, and ten specialty items we’d like to have, like baby carrots and artichokes.”

Growing Future Farmers“Sourcing ingredients is harder than it looks,” says Tylun Pang, committee member and executive chef at the Fairmont Kea Lani’s Ko Restaurant. “This program has opened up some amazing doors. It’s given me a greater respect for what our farmers deal with every day. We now have a relationship, and it’s no longer about buying veggies in a box.”

Committee chairman Darren Strand, president of Maui Gold Pineapple Company, also applauds the collaboration. “The farmers said, ‘I wish I could sell more,’ and the chefs said, ‘I wish I could buy more.’ This program helps farmers sell more products, identifies restaurants willing to support ag, and creates a funding source to educate the next generation of farmers.”

Chef Schobel adds another campaign benefit, the opportunity for restaurant servers and guests to interact about the importance of the island’s ag industry: “Guests feel positive about eating something delicious that’s grown on Maui and making a donation for a worthy cause.”

Committee member Scott McGill, executive chef of TS Restaurants group, which owns Hula Grill and Duke’s Beach House, specifically trains his staff members on the program. “We take them on farm visits, and we’ve had Dave Horsman from Ho‘opono Farms come into our restaurants to meet everyone,” he says. “I’m excited about the program, which makes our staff excited, which makes our guests excited.”

The Chefs behind Localicious

Localicious Hawai‘i

During the month of March, the Localicious campaign expands to encompass all Hawaiian Islands, not just Maui. “When we discovered how successful the Maui County Farm Bureau’s Localicious program has been, we saw an opportunity to create a statewide initiative,” says Denise Hayashi Yamaguchi, executive director of the Hawai‘i Ag Foundation.

Restaurants participating in Localicious Hawai‘i have designated an item on their menu (not necessarily a salad) that’s made with locally grown, caught or raised products, and a portion of the proceeds goes towards statewide ag education. Localicious Hawai‘i is chaired by renowned chef Alan Wong, who has restaurants on both O‘ahu and Maui.

“Restaurants raising at least $500 during the month of March can adopt a local school where the Foundation’s Ag in the Classroom program will be implemented,” says Denise. “The Foundation will partner with public school teachers to introduce an innovative national agricultural program in the classroom beginning in fall 2014. Our goal for this year’s Localicious Hawai‘i campaign is 60 participating restaurants generating $50,000 in donations, and we plan to make it an annual event.”

And it all began with a simple salad

Growing Future Farmers - Salad

“Growing future farmers is critical to the perpetuation of Hawai‘i’s agricultural industry,” says Charlene Ka‘uhane, “and ag education is fundamental to ensuring its continued viability. We want our keiki to know where their food comes from, understand ag’s importance in our communities, and see farming as a genuine career opportunity.”

“Localicious is a perfect example of how giving now pays off in the future,” says Chef Schobel.

To find out which Hawai‘i restaurants are participating in the Localicious Hawai‘i campaign during the month of March, visit








Get Fresh: Produce Boxes Across Hawai‘i

Boxes full of fresh, seasonal produce direct from your local farms are available across Hawai‘i. While some subscription services act as brokers, and others are traditional CSAs (short for Community-Supported Agriculture, in which you are technically purchasing a harvest share from a certain farm) the benefits to you are the same—the freshest, 100 percent local ingredients to your table at a great value, all while showing direct support to your local growers. This is also a great gift idea!

Things to consider: Check on the volume, or amount of produce, the box will come with to ensure it meets your needs. If organic is a priority, be sure your box is certified. All boxes are not confined to produce; ask whether you can include items like flowers, honey, eggs, bread, or jams and syrups. Another important detail is whether there is a delivery or if you’ll have to pick up the boxes yourself.

Boxes are available from dozens of sources; depending on which island you are on, here are a few good places to start:

Hawai‘i Island is so vast—and fertile! Hawaii Homegrown Food Network keeps a thorough island-wide listing of the dozens of CSAs available. Visit their website and look in their Resources tab for full listing.

Kula Fields Farmshop services Maui, O‘ahu, and Lāna‘i with home delivery of a variety of different produce boxes and specialty items. Visit for more information.

MA‘O Organic Farm’s traditional CSA box also helps support their socially-driven farming projects. O‘ahu Fresh brokers produce and specialty items from island farmers with delivery and pick-up available.

Kauai Farm Connection is a consortium of organic farmers that offers a subscription produce box; pick-up available in Kilauea and Kapa‘a.

A Historical Timeline of Coffee in Hawai‘i

Special Downoad: Historical Timeline of Coffee in Hawai‘i Bookmark (print and use!)

1813 – Don Francisco de Paula y Marin records planting coffee on O‘ahu.

1825 – The HMS Blonde sails in Honolulu with 30 coffee plants.

1828 – Coffee is planted in Kona and Hilo on The Big Island of Hawai‘i.

1830s – Coffee initiated as a commercial crop.

1835 – Coffee is planted in Koloa, Kaua‘i.

1849 – Coffee is exported to California during the Gold Rush.

1877 – Lava from Mauna Loa volcano flows through the Kona District.

1882 – Hawai‘i Agricultural Society forms.

1890 – Strong economies in Europe and America results in rise of market prices for coffee, creating a boom for Kona coffee.

1892 – Hermann Widemann introduces a Guatemalan coffee variety to Hawai‘i that is now referred to as “Kona Typica.”

1898 – Japanese coffee farmers establish the Kona Japanese Coffee Producers Association in an effort to improve processing and market a higher value product.

1904 – Judge Copp plants coffee in the Kokomo District of Maui. 125 acres are planted by Honolua Ranch in West Maui.

1904 – Donkeys, known as “Kona Nightingales” are brought in to help with the coffee harvest.

1910 – Japanese coffee farmers make-up 80% of the total farming population in Kona.

1932 – Dept. of Education institutes the “Coffee Vacation” so students can pick coffee during their hiatus from school from August – November.

1944 – Upcountry Maui children trade hand-picked and roasted coffee to the Marines of the Fighting Fourth at Kokomo for cans of Spam.

1956 – Fukunaga and Beaumont publish research from the Kona Experiment Station revolutionizing coffee pruning worldwide.

1957 – 15 million pounds of coffee are produced in Hawai‘i—the peak of production.

1959 – Statehood.

1967 – Kona Pacific Farmer’s Co-Op purchases and converts a former pineapple cannery into a coffee mill.

1969 – “Coffee Vacation” canceled, Kona schools conform with the rest of Hawai‘i.

1970 – Kona Coffee Festival

1980 – Malulani Farm plants 500 acres of Red Catuai coffee on Moloka‘i.

1987 – Kaua‘i Coffee Co. plants 3100 acres of former sugar fields into coffee.

1988 – Pioneer Sugar Mill converts 500 acres to Ka‘anapali Estate Coffee in West Maui.

1994 – The Internet revolution. Coffee farmers are now able to market directly to consumers.

1995 – The Hawai‘i Coffee Association is formed.

1998 – Labeling guidelines law passed for origin certification in Hawai‘i.

2005 – Kona Coffee Council and Maui Coffee Association established.

2010 – Kaua‘i Coffee Co. produces half of the coffee grown in the United States.

2013 – 200th Anniversary of Coffee in Hawai‘i.

History of Coffee in Hawaii

Taking Root: 200 Years of Coffee in Hawai‘i

Story by Margaret Kearns

This year, coffee—one of Hawai‘i’s heritage crops—celebrates its 200th anniversary of taking root in the islands. If not the largest agricultural crop in the State, coffee is among its most romantic, often nuanced with the impassioned sensorial descriptors akin to viniculture. And while conversations over a cup of joe can linger on subtleties of terroir and mouthfeel, Hawai‘i coffee-growers today are navigating the future—and threats—of their $34.6 million per year industry.

According to records, Hawai‘i’s first coffee plant was introduced in 1813 through King Kamehameha I’s Spanish advisor, Don Francisco de Paula y Marin. His royal journal noted planting the seedlings on O‘ahu, though little is known of the fate of that planting. In 1828 missionary Samuel Ruggles brought the first coffee tree to Kona, and by the 1930s coffee had become a commercial product in Hawai‘i—the only state in the nation to successfully cultivate the crop. (For the full historical timeline, check out this post.)

Two centuries later, more than 800 coffee farms operate across the islands. A whopping 700 of these farms are on Hawai‘i Island, most averaging just five acres in size. According to Hawaii Coffee Association’s (HCA) statistics, Hawai‘i Island is at the heart of the multi-million industry, with its ideal growing conditions of rich volcanic soil, climate and elevations of 1,000 to 3,000 feet. Across Hawai‘i, coffee is primarily farmed in the Kona tradition: hand-picked, fermented, and washed.

While Kona coffee continues to be the most renowned, the bean thrives in 11 growing regions across the islands, including areas on O‘ahu, Moloka‘i, Maui, and Kaua‘i. HCA president Greg Stille, a Maui-based grower himself, points out that in recent years, Ka‘u and Hamakua on Hawai‘i Island, as well as coffee farms on other islands, are challenging Kona’s top spot.

Numbers indicate that pouring a mug of Hawaii-grown coffee will continue to be a premium experience. Reports from the annual HCA conference held in July estimate the total coffee crop at 7.2 million pounds, down 5 percent from last year. While planted acreage remained unchanged at 8,000, harvested acreage logged in at 6,100, a 25 percent dip. Despite the decline in yield, the association estimates total coffee farm revenues to be up 10 percent this season.

“The good news/ bad news is demand for our specialty coffee here [in Hawai‘i] and in worldwide markets exceeds availability, resulting in higher prices for our coffee. One of the industry’s biggest challenges is finding more land in ideal coffee growing areas and attracting like-minded individuals committed to sustainably growing and cultivating outstanding quality beans,” Stille says.

Kaanapali Coffee FarmsIn fact, Stille, who together with his wife Susy, owns and operates the two-acre, boutique Piliani Kope Farm above the town of Lahaina on Maui, is personally on the search for more coffee acreage. He’s eyeing four different farms located in Kona, ranging from 12 to 108 acres.

A Mighty Threat

That Stille is even considering property in the Kona region is an indicator that he’s bullish on the success of a collaborative effort to tackle a tiny but dangerous pest. The Coffee Berry Borer (CBB) beetle was discovered on Kona district farms three years ago and has since destroyed up to 80 percent of infested crops, forcing many to stop cultivation. (Remember that 25 percent drop in harvested acres?)

Tom Greenwell, a fourth-generation Kona coffee grower, explains: “Up until 2010, Hawai‘i was just one of two coffee producing regions in the world not affected by the Coffee Borer Beetle—the most destructive of all coffee farm pests. For more than 150 years, growing coffee here had been relatively easy. We’re blessed with ideal conditions, soil, weather and elevation among them. That’s not to say we haven’t had our share of challenges over the years, such as drought, other pests and high labor costs, but nothing as potentially devastating as this.”

While CBB is not the only reason for harvest shortfalls and increased retail pricing (land and labor costs also contribute), it is by far the biggest. Preventing its spread to other growing regions is imperative to the health of Hawai‘i’s coffee industry.

Such grave threat to our nation’s only coffee growers was a wake-up call in Washington DC: this February, $1 million was made available toward the effort to combat the pest thanks to the efforts of U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and grassroots groups like the Kona Coffee Farmers Association and the Coffee Berry Borer Task Force.

Kona Coffee Farmers Association President Cecelia Smith and her husband Bob, both descendants of sugar plantation families, have been cultivating their five-acre Smith Farms Kona coffee for 25 years in Honaunau, the area hardest hit by the borer beetle. As they watched their crop yields decrease by 40 percent while facing increased costs for pesticides, they somberly considered giving up on the business they’d spent over a quarter-century building.

“We’re extremely grateful to the USDA and to Mazie; $1 million is a large amount of money and the best part is it will be used to fund science-based research, that’s exactly what we need—long-term scientific research,” she says. “It’s so much more help than attempting to fight it yourself.”

Beyond Kona

CoH-Molokai red dirtIn the meantime, coffee farms on all five islands are continuing to improve growing methods and processing techniques to bring out the unique flavor profiles found in several distinct coffee varieties— Arabic Typica, Red Caturra, Catuai, Pache, and Bourbon.

Far from the small farms of Hawai‘i Island is Kauai Coffee Company, Hawai‘i’s first and largest commercial coffee orchard. The mammoth 3,100-acre plantation drip-irrigates its 4 million trees (possibly the largest coffee plantation in the world to do so), uses mechanical harvesters, and wet processes their beans using aqua-pulpers for mucilage removal. Kauai Coffee Company alone comprises nearly 40 percent of the 8,000 acres in coffee production in Hawai‘i.

At the other end of the spectrum, and island, are John and Daphne McClure, owners of Moloa‘a Bay Coffee near Hanalei. The couple has been farming award-winning coffee on six acres for over a decade. All of his 3,000 Kona Typica trees are sustainably grown, hand-picked and naturally processed. They do all the demanding work from planting and stumping (pruning trees to their stumps), processing, roasting, packaging, and marketing themselves.

“I do most of the farming, while Daphne handles packaging, marketing and sales,” McClure says. “We bring in a small crew to help during peak harvest times.”

His hands-on approach has not gone unnoticed. For the last three years, Moloa‘a Bay Coffee has claimed first place in their division in HCA’s esteemed annual cupping competition.

On the Friendly Isle, the only source for 100 percent Moloka‘i-grown coffee comes from Coffees of Hawai‘i, the island’s only grower. The the 500-acre estate is planted with the Red Catuai, an Arabica variety, selected for its superior quality and compatibility with local growing conditions. The established orchards are rooted in the vivid red soil on the upper slopes of Kualapu‘u, right in the heart of the island.

And what of that initial recipient of the mighty bean, O‘ahu? While early attempts at cultivation on the south side of the island proved unsuccessful, coffee found a nurturing home on its famed North Shore. Waialua Estate Coffee and Cacao, a division of the Dole Food Company, was founded in the late 1990s on land previously cultivated in sugar and pineapple. At that time, Chairman David Murdock determined that the area’s nutrient-rich volcanic soil, abundant rainfall and plentiful sunshine would produce coffee and cacao to rank “among the world’s best.” Along with extraordinary quality and flavor, Murdock was especially interested in the healthful antioxidant benefits of the two products. To this day, they use beneficial insects for their pest management program, allowing them to grow crops pesticide-free.

Waialua Estate’s 155-acre coffee farm sits above the coastal towns of Haleiwa and Waialua at a 700-foot elevation, while the 20-acre cacao orchard is situated at sea level along the banks of the Kaukonahua River near Waialua town.

For an up-close and personal taste of the rich history and flavors of Hawai‘i grown coffee, don’t miss the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival on Hawai“i Island November 1–10, 2013, or the Ka‘ū Coffee Festival held each spring.

200 Years of Coffee in Hawaii

Not So Sour: Lemons in Hawai‘i

by Ken Love

Lemons are just beginning to get the respect they deserve and in Hawai`i we’re fortunate enough to have a large number of varieties to grow, market and use for a massive number of culinary creations. There are almost 14 million tons grown worldwide, with India and Mexico the largest producers. In Hawai`i we grow and sell less than 100,000 pounds and still import almost 4 million pounds. Pretty shameful considering how lemons go to waste in the state.

Most who study horticulture think the lemon originated in northern India as a naturally occurring hybrid between sour orange and a citron. Lemon made its way to Italy in 200 AD then Iraq and Egypt by 700 AD. By the end of the 12th century it had spread all around the Mediterranean. In 1493, Columbus brought it to Hispaniola and from there it went with the Spanish to California in 1751. Don Francisco de Paula Marin first brought lemon to Hawai`i in 1813 with other varieties coming in 1823 with traders.

Early territorial reports from 1904 to 1906, including a USDA Citrus in Hawai`i publication, listed Eureka and Lisbon varieties. These and other publications mention Villa Franca and Sicily, which I’ve yet to be able to identify in Hawai`i. The rough Jambiri came as a rootstock in the 1920s and started to produce prolifically by 1934 when the grafts died off. Ponderosa and its seedling American Wonder and a sweet lemon were all mentioned by 1934.

Often called “local lemon,” Rangpur and Kona are actually orange-colored limes.

The Rangpur lime came to Hawai`i as a rootstock but those grafts also died off. Over the next 175 years the trees evolved so that Rangpur has a puffy orange skin and very thorny branches. Its offshoot that is now called Kona lime has a tight skin and very few thorns.

There is also a primitive subgenus of citrus called Papedas, some of which also came to Hawai`i as rootstocks and now produce here. Ichang papeda is often mistakenly called or sold as Japanese Yuzu. Yuzu, however, also fits into this subgenus as does Suidachi, Yuko, Kabosu, Khasi, Melanesian, Kalpi and the popular Kaffir lime.

Kalpi (Citrus webberii)

Kalpi is arguably one of the most common lemons in Hawai`i. A natural hybrid found in the Philippines, one could only presume that it came here with the immigrants. The name comes from the Bicol region of southern Luzon. These trees are found all over the state and very prolific. They are often confused with small Italian lemons that are very recent imports and the larger rough-skinned Jambiri lemon. Kalpi is sometimes called Malayan lemon.

Here are some popular varieties:

Meyer (Citrus x meyeri)

The lemon was first found on a fruit-hunting trip by Frank N. Meyer, who was sent to China by the USDA’s David Fairchild. Of the more than 2,500 species Meyer introduced to the United States, this is the only one that bears his name. The Meyer lemon has dramatically increased in popularity over the past 20 years in part due to Alice Waters and Martha Stewart featuring them. They do very well in warmer climates like Hawai`i where other lemons may struggle with the heat.

The improved Meyer lemon is a selection found in the 1950s that is resistant to tristeza virus. It was released in 1975 as an improved version. Ever-increasing in popularity, it is sometimes referred to as the Sweetheart citrus.

Sweet Lemon (C. limetta Risso)

Called sweet lemons and, to a lesser extent, limes, this fruit found in some areas of Hawai`i. “Sweet” is somewhat of a misnomer as the fruit is generally insipid with only a very slight taste. A number of varieties were introduced from India and later Brazil and Mexico but they have never achieved any commercial value. The fruit is not without fans and there are a few named cultivars.

Jambiri (Citrus Jambhiri)

This rough-skinned lemon, originally from northeast India, was commonly used as a rootstock for citrus coming to Hawaii. Those grafts died off and the tree became a popular backyard tree. Recent studies, using molecular markers, show that it is a cross between mandarin and citron. The tree is somewhat resistant to a host of pathogens and extremely resistant to leaf spot although sensitive to Phytopthora and waterlogged roots. It is tolerant of both cold and Hawaii’s hotter than average, for citrus, climate. Its unclear if the fruit arrived in Hawaii with Marin in the early 1800s or later with the first Portuguese immigrants. The Spaniards are credited with bringing the fruit to Florida and the new World. There are a number of named cultivars; Estes, Milam, McKillop, Nelspruit 15 and Lockyer although it’s not known if these are in Hawaii. About 98% of the seeds planted are true to form and the tree is fast growing and early maturing. Some texts list the Volkamer or volckameriana lemon as being a type of Jambiri. Rangpur and Kona lime is also given the Jambiri name at times.

Ponderosa (Citrus limon)

Ponderosa and its protégé American Wonder are among the most popular lemons grown in Hawai`i. Elsewhere it’s considered an ornamental because of thick foliage and very large “showy” fruit. It came from a seedling grown in 1887 by George Bowman in Hagerstown, Maryland. It appeared in many nursery catalogs in the early 1900s. Sometimes classed as a citron hybrid, ponderosa fruit is extremely large. It has been confused with pummelo at some of Hawai`i’s farmers’ markets, although one taste makes it is obvious that it’s a lemon. There are some commercial plantings and the tree is often used as a rootstock for other lemons.

Eureka (Citrus limon)

The first Eureka originated from seed in 1858 in Los Angeles and was propagated in 1877 by Thomas Garey, who called it Garey’s Eureka. Its popularity rapidly increased, in part due to the tree being virtually thornless. The University of California lists 14 types of Eureka lemons. Depending on the source, Hawai`i seems to have a few of these: Old Line, Frost Nucellar, Allen-Newman and the Variegated Pink-Fleshed Eureka. The pink came from a shoot from a regular Eureka prior to 1931 when budwood was distributed. Pink Lemonade Eureka has become very popular in Hawai`i over the past 20 years.

Lisbon (Citrus limon)

Perhaps the most popular commercial lemon next to Eureka, its relationship to Hawai`i has always been marginal as it produces much better in cooler areas. The trees are more cold tolerant. The tree is most productive in California. Thick foliage better protects fruit from the sun. The thorns are considerable. The yield is about 25% greater than Eureka.

There is some disagreement as to the origin of Lisbon. What is known was that seeds were sent Portugal to Australia in 1924. The name Lisbon is not used for the lemon in Portugal. It was listed in nursery catalogs as early as 1843. It was introduced to California in 1849 and again from Australia in 1874 and 1875. Although continuously imported to Hawai`i, Eureka seems to be more popular. The University of California lists 12 types of Lisbons.

There are hundreds of other lemons around the world, which have not made their way to Hawai`i. With citrus greening disease (HLB) in many locations around the world, it’s doubtful many of these will ever come to Hawai`i. Lemons and lemon hybrids like Sicily, Femminello, Genova, Monachello, Perrine, Marrakech, Pear, Galgal, Karna, Sanbokan and Snow should be found in HLB-free areas or tissue cultured and given a chance to thrive in Hawai`i’s microclimates. Each of these unusual varieties represents a potential for niche marketing as fresh fruit or in value-added products for Hawai`i’s agriculture entrepreneurs.

Lemons in Hawaii

Seeds of Hope: A Film About Farming in Hawai‘i

By Jon Letman

It’s a well-known fact that Hawai`i imports nearly 90% of its food. Owing to geographic isolation and a heavy reliance on these imports, people in the islands are keenly aware of what could happen to the state’s food supply if transportation lines were disrupted. Greater recognition of this vulnerability has fueled a movement of people who aren’t just talking about breaking Hawai`i’s import addiction, but are paving the way to a stronger, healthier, more food-secure tomorrow.

Now their story is being told in a feature length documentary called Seeds of Hope (Nā Kupu Mana`olana). Several years ago board members of the Hawai`i Rural Development Council (HRDC), a nonprofit that supports the economic and social welfare of rural communities, decided that the best way to raise awareness of the need for greater self-sufficiency was to make a film.

The 87-minute documentary was written and directed by Hawai`i Island–based filmmaker (and former HRDC member) Danny Miller. He describes Seeds as a vision of how 21st century Hawai`i is answering the challenges of food security by drawing upon its own traditions, historical understanding of the land, and people who recognize the need to cooperate with nature in order to survive.

In 2009, Miller began three years of speaking with dozens of farmers, ranchers, gardeners, educators and local food advocates across the state. He says he was moved by how many people in Hawai`i already “get it” and are making the shift toward food sovereignty.

A more sustainable food future for Hawai`i, Miller says, is rooted in its past. He points to the Hawaiian land management system based on ahupua`a land divisions that fed a pre-contact population comparable or greater than today.

HRDC Chair Alan Murakami says the making of Seeds helped him appreciate how Hawai`i’s resource base already contributes to sustaining small communities by growing their own crops, hunting and fishing. He hopes the film will advance the discussion of food security.

“We’ve got basically no warehousing except for those containers on the ocean between California and Hawai`i. If something happens to that pipeline, we’re out of food,” Murakami says.

For Seeds co-executive producer Kevin Chang, one of the most poignant moments in the film is when Moloka`i activist Walter Ritte describes paddling away from the island until he can look back and see the physical limits to available resources.

“In a lot of ways people on the continent aren’t able to appreciate that perspective, but there’s a lot to learn about what a small system like Hawai`i is doing to deal with these issues. People say the Earth is an island … it’s just that you can’t see it until you actually look at an island on the Earth.”

Like her fellow HRDC board members, Seeds co-executive producer Mona Bernardino hopes the film drives home the point that everyone in Hawai`i needs to support the farmers by buying locally grown produce. The filmmakers hope the movie forces people in Hawai`i to consider what kind of agriculture they want to support.

Seeds brings together a diversity of voices from small family-owned farms and organic farmers to multi-national biotech giants like Monsanto and even a Hawaiian professor who led the production of GMO papayas. In doing so, the film raises questions about whether remaining agricultural lands, infrastructure and vital resources like water should be used strictly for growing food to feed people here or for producing experimental genetically engineered seeds for export and other crops for biofuels or other nonfood items.

“That balance is going to be critical to whether we achieve greater food security,” Murakami says.

Seeds of Hope is proof that talk of food security is not merely pie-in-the-sky. The more than 45 people Miller interviewed for the film—the farmers, ranchers, teachers and community leaders—are the real deal and they’re creating Hawai`i’s food future.

They are people like Kamuela Enos, a director at MA`O Organic Farms in Wai`anae. Enos says Seeds speaks to more than simple questions of sustainability but also examines the depth and complexity of Hawai`i’s community-based food systems. He believes the film can spark discussions about environmental and social justice and sovereignty—both cultural and community—and about revitalizing indigenous agricultural models.

On Kaua`i, lifelong farmer Jerry Ornellas says Seeds of Hope imparts a wealth of knowledge from people who aren’t just what he calls “Google experts” but from people who live and breathe agriculture. He says the film has broad appeal because its topics are universal and, in an increasingly urbanized world, “people everywhere are in interested where there food is coming from.”

During a recent visit to the East Coast, Ornellas noticed that people in large urban areas had the same interest in local food and farming as people in Hawai`i. A major difference, he says, is that in Hawai`i everyone can grow food year-round, even if it’s just something small in a backyard garden or on a lānai. “If nothing else, gardening teaches you what farmers have to deal with,” he says.

Director Danny Miller sees plenty of reason for optimism. “It’s happening now. This shift, away from imported food dependence to a future where we have control over our own food sources, is coming—and it will come—from the people. It’s really a grassroots movement, in every way.” Making this move will mean Hawai`i is better off economically, environmentally and socially, says Miller. “I believe the people will lead and, eventually, the government will follow.

Big Island farmer and educator Nancy Redfeather also appears in the film. She says support by State agencies like the Department of Education is imperative to the success of transitioning to a more sustainable food model. Redfeather, director of the Hawai`i Public Seed Initiative (a project of the Kohala Center), says the State has a key role in making sure land and water are available for small farmers and that it invests financial resources in the education of future farmers.

Besides maintaining higher standards of land stewardship, Redfeather says it’s critical to have children in school seed-to-table garden programs beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school and college.

Redfeather believes part of the solution may be to, instead of having one 1,300-acre farm, strive for 1,300 one-acre farms which is closer to the traditional Hawaiian model.

“When Captain Cook sailed into Kealakekua Bay, his botanist recorded looking up on a hillside of green, small gardens where the Hawaiians grew food for what is thought to have been 100,000 people that might have lived on the Kona Coast of Hawai`i Island.”

Watching a film like Seeds of Hope is important, Redfeather says. “Sometimes when you know the story, it influences your behavior.” She hopes the film will inspire the government to support a farming renaissance that is rising from the community. “This is an opportunity now. It’s not something that needs to be created—it’s already there.”

“We don’t have to gather more research,” says Redfeather. “We just need to act and that takes will, intention, direction and focus. It seems like we should be able to do it. This is really a time to act.”

Learn more about Seeds of Hope (Nā Kupu Mana`olana)at and watch it on PBS Hawai`i in September 2013.

Seeds of Hope: A Film About Farming