Farming Fantasies

Honolulu Star-Advertiser columnist Lee Cataluna mentioned Hamakua Springs in her column yesterday.

Farming inspires fantasies but requires viable funding

by Lee Cataluna

One artist’s rendition of Maui’s future shows golden fields of watercolor crops stretching from the central plains all the way up to the foothills of the West Maui mountains. The houses and buildings and highways that already exist aren’t quite there in the imagined future, blurred out like an aspirational ad.

That’s an image from the Maui Tomorrow report, which is different from the plan by Community Organic Farmland Initiative. An artist’s rendering for that plan shows blond children climbing fruit trees, a woman in a blue dress cradling a harvest of leaves in her arms, surfboards, happy turtles and a rainbow stretching across a houseless, building-less Central Maui. Next to that childlike image is a depiction of the alternative: farmers in hazmat suits, a helicopter spraying poison over dusty fields, ugly condos and factories looming in the distance.

The fantasies are darling. The reality, though, is that precious little former sugar land in Hawaii has successfully been diversified for other crops, and it’s not for lack of trying….

Read the rest

She writes about how we need funding for farmers and farming. She’s right. Farming is tough. It’s serious business, not for the faint of heart or of dreams of apple pie and haupia all day long.

But if one is determined, uses modern scientific methods and keeps track of the pluses and minuses, it can be very rewarding and even profitable under specific conditions.

Farmers, Friends & Comedians

Have a look at the  new Farmers & Friends magazine. Its tagline is always “Agriculture, natural resources, energy, livelihoods, markets, opportunities and civil society in Hawai‘i.” That pretty much covers everything.

Editor Rory Flynn’s column this issue is called “Our Ketchup Bottle Problem.” It’s about Hawai‘i’s outmigration, and it starts:

Not so long ago, ketchup was packaged in clear glass bottles. You could always tell how much ketchup was left in the bottle and that came in handy, especially at restaurants and diners. Customer and waitress alike knew when it was time to bring out a fresh ketchup bottle.

Then ketchup makers switched to squat plastic bottles and, in lieu of visible ketchup, they colored the plastic bottles red. Now you have to give the plastic bottle a squeeze or feel its heft to determine if there‘s any ketchup inside. That pretty much sums up Hawai‘i‘s shaky grasp of population and economic growth these days….

This month’s feature stories include “Study reveals the changing face of agriculture in Hawai‘i,” about the 100-page State Agricultural Land Use Baseline 2015 report. From the article:

The study team was led by Jeff Melrose, a land use planner and a seasoned observer of Hawai‘i‘s agricultural landscape.

Melrose‘s team used a combination of satellite imagery, related geospatial datasets, and on-site farm interviews to produce a new digital GIS layer showing where commercial agricultural crops are grown throughout the State of Hawai‘i. The new baseline dataset updates Hawai‘i‘s previous Agricultural Land Use Map (ALUM, 1980) produced 35 years ago.

Other articles include  “Thoughts on biotechnology,”  “Algae + papaya = biofuel,” by Jan Suszkiw,” and “Growing up with Mort, Mike and Elaine.”

That last one is about the comedians Mort Sahl, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, by the way. Fun stuff.

It’s a great issue and I highly recommend having a look. Here’s a link.

A Full Circle

I’m looking back at the long story of our farm and I see that we have come full circle.

When we started out, the objective was to farm and then, with the proceeds, eventually own land. At the time, we didn’t have any money and there wasn’t any land available, it was before the sugar plantations closed down, but we just kept on going and that was always our objective: to own land.

It’s what made us adapt and make change happen, all along the way, so we’d always be in the position we needed to be in 10 years later. We have always been comfortable with change, and it’s easy for us now. We like it and it’s a part of who we are.

The main reason we shut down the farm is that we saw what was coming. We knew the cost of farming was rising, rising, rising, and that in order to survive, at some point we would have to start cutting our employees’ pay and benefits.

The rise in farming costs was happening for external reasons, not due to any fault of our own. We were doing the best we could for our workers, but as hard as we’d tried over the years, we knew that eventually we’d be looked at as the bad guy for having to make cuts. And we didn’t want that. It just wasn’t an option to let ourselves get into that situation. That had a lot to do with why we closed the farm.

While we were in the process of closing down, this medical marijuana option came up. One of the most important conditions I placed on getting involved in applying for a medical marijuana license was that my workers get first shot at the new jobs.

So now, 30 years later, here we are. We own land, and though we shut down the banana operation, we still have a lot going on. It’s not like one day we closed and rode off into the sunset. It’s not the end, but a transition.

I want to make sure we are using the soil and land in a sustainable way. We have already signed leases with farmers to do some crop rotation. What we want to do is run one crop, then follow it with another crop and then possibly a third, and keep that going.

Once you get into that rotation, it’s sustainable. You’re not decreasing your soil. You rarely see that in Hawai‘i, though, for many reasons. If your business scale isn’t big enough to rotate, and if your market is not large enough, you cannot rotate your crops. But I can do this because we own the land.

If you’re trying to squeeze every last penny out of a deal, it might not be the most efficient move. In the long run it is, though, because it’s sustainable farming.

We did something different for our last banana harvest. Instead of leaving all the tall banana bunches, we used cane knives during the last harvest and chopped them all down. So by the time we got to the very last one, they were all down. We just harvested our last bananas about two or three weeks ago, and we already have the sweet potato farmer in there preparing the land.

We didn’t have to cut down the banana bunches like that. We could have just left them, because the lease says, “as is.” But it allowed us to keep our people employed as long as possible. They wanted to work until the last day, instead of leaving and getting unemployment. Shoot, you want to work? I’ll pay you.

It turns out we did a lot of work we could have left for, and passed onto, the next company, but I did that deliberately. I did it both to employ my workers as long as possible and also because now it’s easier for the new farmers to come in and start their rotation. There’s less material that needs to deteriorate.  It’s about getting to a point so when we transition to the rotating crops, it’s continuous.

Full circle, but not the end.

Free ‘Thank You’ Bananas This Friday

This Friday, we’re giving away 300 boxes of bananas from our final Hamakua Springs banana harvest. We’ll be at the Hilo soccer fields from 10 a.m.

It’s our way of saying thanks for all your support over these past 35 years, which we truly appreciate.

We’ll be at Kumu Street by the soccer fields. Turn off Kamehameha Avenue onto the short Kumu Street (just past Ponahawai St.), and you’ll see us there. Please come and take some bananas, with our sincere mahalo and aloha for all your support over the years!

Kuhio Day at Panaewa Park

It was great to see the kids running around and having so much fun for the Prince Kuhio Day celebration at Panaewa Park. There was an Easter egg hunt, food, music and astronomy exhibits from different telescopes.



Doug Simons, executive director of the Canada-France-Hawai’i Telescope, doesn’t normally walk around in shorts like me, but there he was, cooking hamburgers.


Great day.


Maui Energy Conference: ‘How Did We Get Here?’

I just got back from the 2016 Maui Energy Conference, where I spoke on a panel. It was really interesting how the moderator, Bill Aila, set up our panel. He said:

“Imagine it’s now 2045 and Hawai‘i is a wonderful place because we’re using 100 percent renewable energy. How did we get here?”

I went straight to talking about the Hawai‘i Island Energy Co-op because it’s very simple – it saves money. It’s a non-profit, and all the profits that would otherwise go to shareholders go, instead, to the folks that own meters. It’s predictable. Everything else that is going to happen with energy between now and 2045 is unpredictable. But saving money because of your business model is predictable.

Another reason a co-op is a good model is because the board members have to pay attention and keep up with what the people want or they won’t be re-elected.

The moderator also wanted to emphasize to the audience outside Hawai‘i that things are different here. It’s Hawaiian-style to prepare way in advance. People can’t just come in and look at the balance sheets, say they’re going to invest here and then expect changes to happen really quickly.

Things operate differently here. Hawai‘i’s culture has evolved from a society where relationships were reciprocal, and the more you gave the more you received, to a market economy that is more along the lines of “the more you get, the more you get.” It’s quite different, and there a lingering, uncomfortable feeling that the capitalist system is suspect.

In my opinion, it’s partly why Hawaiians introduce themselves by talking about who they are, with some of their genealogy. You don’t come in here all of the sudden and try to rush things through on us. It doesn’t work that way here in Hawai‘i. We have to know who we’re talking to.

I also used the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) as an example. We can’t say that one size fits all, that all telescopes are bad, that a whole mountain is sacred. And the GMO subject, where the anti-GMO folks will say that all GMOs are bad. Well, not really. Some are bad and others are helpful. It depends on what you’re talking about. We can’t talk in generalities.

What are we trying to achieve? I asked. We’re trying to make sure our society benefits all of us, not just some of us. The ends don’t justify the means. That doesn’t work.

I talked about how I came to the TMT project and the two most important things I learned from it: 1) To follow the process, which I learned from Patrick Kahawaiola‘a, and 2) “What about the rest?” which I learned from Kumu Lehua Veincent. I talked about how agriculture and energy are tied together. I even had a chance to talk about my Uncle Sonny Kamahele, who taught me the most important lessons I ever learned about farming.

It was a good discussion. We had a lot of really good feedback.

TMT Providing Loads of Classroom & Scholarship Money

I wrote about the THINK Fund back when it was getting started. It’s a grant and scholarship program provided by the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory to prepare Hawai‘i Island students to master science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and to become the workforce for higher-paying science and technology jobs in Hawai‘i’s 21st-century economy.

TMT contributes $1 million per year to the scholarship THINK Fund, which is now in its second year. It specifically benefits students only on Hawai‘i Island.

To date, more than 8,000 students and 150 teachers on Hawai‘i Island have been directly involved in a project supported by the THINK Fund  at HCF – and it’s only been 15 months.

THINK stands for “The Hawai‘i Island New Knowledge” Fund, and funds are distributed by the Hawai‘i Community Foundation (HCF) and the Pauahi Foundation.

Of TMT’s $1 million annual contribution, $750,000 goes into the THINK Fund at HCF. Part of those funds go towards building a THINK fund endowment at HCF, so STEM learning on this island is supported long into the future.

The THINK Fund at HCF provides two types of grants:

1. Classroom Project Grants,for teachers in the public and charter schools, support STEM learning projects for grades 3-12. Teachers can post about a project for consideration on anytime, and if they meet the criteria it is usually funded within a week or two.

More than $85,000 has gone to STEM classroom project grants since November 2014. Just since the beginning of this 2015-16 school year, 30 teachers have received funding for student learning materials such as National Geographic Space Building and Ocean Building kits, microscopes, laptops, and compasses.

Some other specific STEM classroom projects that have been funded by THINK:

  • Applied Science supplies and kits to the Volcano School of Arts and Science public charter school, grades 3-5
  • What is STEAM & Why My Students Need Your Help Please, to the Laupāhoehoe Community Public Charter School, grades 3-5
  • Future Health Professional—Providing Hope for the Rural Community, to Ka‘ū High & Pahala Elementary School, grades 9-12
  • Narrow the Achievement Gap in Mathematics, to Konawaena Middle School, grades 6-8

2. STEM Learning Grants, for non-profit organizations and schools, are awarded through an annual application process. The substantial amount of money awarded each year keeps going up.

In 2014, the THINK Fund at HCF gave $200,000 to launch the STEM Learning Grants. So many compelling community requests were received for grants, though, that HCF recruited other organizations to contribute to the funding too, and it received another $300,000.

As a result, in March 2015, $500,000 in STEM Learning Grants were awarded to 23 Hawai‘i Island organizations.

This year, more organizations are contributing to the STEM Learning Grants, the most recent being the Maunakea Observatories. HCF says this year’s goal is to distribute at least $700,000 in grants.

The types of programs funded through the STEM Learning Grants include after-school and intersession programs for students, project-based teams, robotics and student internships, equipment upgrades, STEM curriculum development in local schools, teacher development, mentor training, and STEM professional learning networks.

Twenty-nine applications for this year’s STEM Learning Grants are being reviewed now, and funding will be awarded in late March.

The THINK Fund at HCF also provides college scholarships. In 2015, 24 Hawai‘i Island students received a total of $95,500 in awards ranging from $3-7,500. The students are pursuing 17 different STEM degrees, from aerospace engineering to zoology.

This year’s college scholarships will be announced in May. One hundred thousand dollars worth of awards will be provided to students pursuing undergraduate or graduate level degrees, certificates, or other professional development coursework to become a STEM educator on Hawai‘i Island; or degrees or certificates in STEM-related fields.

Another bonus is that when a student applies to the THINK Fund at HCF scholarships, he or she is also considered for other HCF scholarships (HCF offers more than 200 in total).

It Takes All Of Us: Help the Hawaii Island Energy Co-op

Help us make the case that a co-op utility model is in the Big Island’s interest by donating to our crowdfunding effort.

Before we can ask large investors for additional funding, we need to raise $50,000 to prove that the community is on-board with a coop for Big Island. The money will be used for planning and public outreach. (Actual purchase of the utility would be made with traditional financing sources.)

Donate here

Donate today and we’ll send you an “Own the Power” t-shirt and other cool HIEC swag.

Here’s the Hawai‘i Island Energy Cooperative’s story:

HIEC was formed after a huge offshore company announced in late 2014 that it intended to buy our local electric utility. Our board decided that as the deal was being evaluated, all options should be put on the table—including, and especially, an energy cooperative for Hawai‘i Island.

To date, HIEC has actively participated in public meetings and hearings hosted by the Hawai‘i Public Utilities Commission (PUC), offering expert testimony regarding the merits and benefits for the people of a Big Island cooperative.

Right now, HIEC needs your support. Before we can ask large investors for additional funding, we need to raise $50,000 to prove that the community is on-board with a coop for Big Island. The money will be used for planning and public outreach. (Actual purchase of the utility would be made with traditional financing sources.)

Donate today and we’ll send you an “Own the Power” t-shirt and other cool HIEC swag.

Why a coop? Local, democratic control, community-driven strategic priorities and potentially lower electric costs are just a few reasons. Under the coop model, profits would be returned to members or invested back into the coop; no dividends paid to the Mainland or to outside shareholders—the money stays local.

HIEC is connected to a national network of energy coops—more than 900 across the United States. If we are able to negotiate a deal to buy the utility, this affords us access to low cost capital as well as purchasing power for things like renewable energy development, pensions and information technology.

HIEC is not be alone. Our friends on Kaua’i operate the state’s only electric cooperative. We have been working closely with Kaua’i Island Utility Coop (KIUC) to build on its experiences. KIUC recently reached 90% renewable energy penetration and has returned $33 million to its members since 2002. We believe this is due to its cooperative business model—the ability to be nimble and rapidly respond to Hawai‘i’s changing energy landscape.

The decisions we make today on Hawai‘i’s energy future will have long lasting impacts. Help HIEC continue its work of being an active participant in the PUC process as well as keeping the community plugged in via social media, eNewsletters, farmers market pop-ups and coffee hours. The power can be in YOUR hands!

“Yoohoo! I’m Looking for an Uhu!”

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Kramer/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Recently I heard Suzanne Case of the Department of Land and Natural Resources speak about overfishing here in Hawai‘i, and what she said really rang a bell with me.

When I was growing up, my family lived on the ocean at Maku‘u. I can remember my Uncle Sonny being very concerned about not overfishing. I can really identify with concern about ocean resources.

When I was in Vietnam, I saw a school once of maybe 30 or 40 uhu, huge ones, ten-pounders. But in Hawai‘i, I only ever saw one or two at a time and I had no idea they swam in schools like that. So when I saw that big school in Vietnam I thought it must be a different species.

But Suzanne had a photo of a school of uhu just like that and she said that was their normal condition. I almost fell over. The consequences of overfishing became very clear to me.

It was fascinating to learn that some of our local communities are saying enough is enough and that they have to do something. Leslie Lang talked to Suzanne and found out more:


Our ocean fisheries have declined 75 percent over the last hundred years, says Suzanne Case, chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

In the past, Hawai‘i’s natural resources were controlled by kapu when we had the ahupua‘a system, but that sort of protection is long gone.

Today, some community groups are stepping forward to restrict fishing in their local waters in order to rebuild dwindling marine populations.

A community group in Ha‘ena, Kaua‘i was the first group to pass a set of community-based subsistence fishing rules. That was last summer, after they worked on developing the rules for 16 years.

The result is a co-management process with the state. “The state has to enforce the rules,” says Case. “The local community cannot go out and be vigilantes.”

She explained that they are switching to traditional fishing practices. “So that means no monofilament nets, one pole and line fishing, and you can’t fish during spawning aggregation. All of this means you fish more carefully, as opposed to you just go out and wipe out a whole school of uhu or weke because you can.”

Now Ka‘upulehu, in west Hawai‘i, is working on a similar process. “They’re talking about a closure – no fishing out to 20 fathoms for ten years,” says Case. “And the community, as far as I know, has committed not only to not fishing there, but to not displace their fishing efforts by going elsewhere. They’re serious about it.”

There was a formal public rulemaking hearing about this last Thursday.

The Ka‘upulehu Marine Life Advisory Council, formed in 1995, consists primarily of lineal descendants of people who go way back in the community. “There’s a lot of inherited local knowledge,” says Case.

The Council has also created a program called Makai Watch, which determined what to look for, who to call for enforcement if needed, and how to provide outreach to people who are users of the area in the first place, so they know the area’s rules.

These sorts of community-based action are happening elsewhere, too. Case says a Kipahulu, Maui group has imposed a voluntary three-year ‘opihi rest area. “They’re trying to get one of their key ‘opihi grounds that has been overfished to recover. They’re trying to let the remaining ‘opihi get big and have lots of babies. They’re not even waiting for state legislation – they put a voluntary ban in place. It’s not legally enforceable, but you want to respect it.”

In the old days, of course, natural resources were protected by the ahupua‘a system. “The ahupua‘a boundaries extended out beyond the reef,” she says, “so that included the estuaries and the fishponds and the near shore environment, and the reef and the outer reef, and then out into the deep, as well as the mauka to makai part. We had a pretty large population, with fish being a major source of protein.”

The ahupua‘a system worked. “It sustained the population,” she says. “Back in 1839, Kamehameha the Third codified the local control into law, and the konohiki had the right to put kapu on fish, or make some off-limits during the season, or the like. In the Mahele, those were actually identified as property rights.”

But then the system changed.

“In the overthrow, when Hawai‘i became a territory, the Organic Act of Hawai‘i in 1900 implemented full open access to fisheries, and there were a series of laws to codify the private ownership and konohiki rights and responsibilities for managing fisheries,” she says.

“The Organic Act provided that if you had a private property fishing right, you could register it but then the Territory could condemn it. So it was a very intentional act to total open-access to fisheries.”

Fast forward to the 21st century, when we are much more efficient – and less sustainable – at fishing. We can get into deeper water,  stay down longer, and GPS allows us to find big schools of fish.

“With the loss of local knowledge, too,” she says, “you may lose some very important elements, such as when certain fish spawn so you don’t fish during the spawning seasons. And how big fish are when they finally reach reproductive size.”

She points out that older, bigger fish are far more fertile than those just barely of reproductive size. “Unfortunately, we like to fish the big fish, which are by far the most productive. For instance, six-inch weke only spawn once a year and produce 90,000 eggs,” she says. Compare that to a twelve-inch weke that spawns four or five times a year, producing 45 million eggs each time. That’s 180 million eggs per year, instead of 90 thousand.

“So what we need to do to improve our fisheries is find ways to let the fish get bigger,” she says. “So that could be with the right kind of legislation, for a minimum catch size but also a maximum catch size so they can grow big in protected areas and spill over into the adjacent areas and help those areas restore their fisheries.”

But legislation takes time, and also depends on cooperation from the community. This is what’s happening in communities around Hawai‘i, as well as throughout the Pacific.

“The goal is to have fisheries rebound so there’s more fish for people to fish,” she says. “That’s the shared long-term goal and it requires a long-term commitment, not just short-term gain.”

PUC Testimony & HIEC Proposes Alternative Power Generation Plan

This is video of Marco Mangelsdorf of the Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative (HIEC) testifying at the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission on February 9, 2016.

Below the video is the HIEC’s just-released alternative power generation plan, which would move the Big Island faster and cheaper toward cost-effective clean energies and reach close to 100 percent renewable years before the state’s 2045 target date.

(HILO, HAWAII, FEBRUARY 10, 2016)—Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative (HIEC) today released its alternative power generation plan that would move the Big Island faster and cheaper toward cost-effective clean energies and reach close to 100 percent renewable years before the state’s 2045 target date.

The HIEC plan, based on a new analysis of the island’s existing resources and estimates of potential new solar, wind and energy storage resources, presents a less expensive and cleaner alternative to previous plans.

“We are very excited to be able to propose a compelling, practical and doable plan that would accelerate our island’s clean energy transformation in a way that would yield significant benefits for the more than 83,000 electric customers here,” noted HIEC director and spokesperson Marco Mangelsdorf.

According to Mangelsdorf, “By building on the successes achieved by Kauai Island Utility Cooperative to integrate high levels of cost-effective solar PV into the grid while adding just the right amount of storage to ensure system stability and reliability, HIEC would be better able to ensure a lower-cost, more balanced power supply portfolio.”

Through its analysis HIEC has developed a plan that includes:

No new fossil fuel generation

  • With the abundant availability of cost-effective renewable energy resources, there’s no need for any additional petroleum-based generation.
  • Any fossil fuel substitutions would be based on near-term cost advantages without requiring costly infrastructure improvements.

No liquefied natural gas infrastructure or long-term reliance on fossil generation

  • Alternative plan does not use LNG.
  • Opportunity fuels such as propane used for lower short-term cost savings with low conversion investments and quick paybacks.

Continued expansion of roof-top solar

  • Investment in battery and pumped storage would allow for additional roof-top solar with fewer technical concerns about system reliability.
  • Utility scale storage would avoid daytime curtailment and move excess roof-top generation to night time peaks.

Competitively priced, cost-effective utility-scale solar PV and wind

  • Utility-scale renewable generation, using Hawaii Island’s abundant solar and wind resources, would replace continued reliance on fossil generation.
  • Early retirement of fossil generation would occur as new renewables come on line.

Capital expenditures would be less compared to the current or future investor-owned utility model

  • Lower cost of capital due to non-profit status.

Lower cost solar and wind resources would replace LNG conversion costs. Greater efficiencies in overall operations

  • Coordinated quick response dispatch would back utility and roof-top solar generation with fossil units, thereby firming variable output for system stability.
  • Ability to integrate new low cost renewables as technologies and appropriate smart grid investments improve efficiencies.

Whether, where and when more geothermal energy will be brought on line to be left to the membership and democratically-elected board of the fully operational cooperative

In the Hawaiian Electric Industries-NextEra Energy merger proceedings now being held by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission,  NextEra has asserted that the primary question the Commission should ask itself is whether Hawaiian Electric ratepayers and the State of Hawaii would be better off with or without the sale going through.

HIEC has argued that the Commission should consider the merits of the cooperative ownership model for Hawaii Island.

Noted HIEC president Richard Ha, “Credibility, purpose and a focus on how to best serve and benefit the island’s 195,000 residents is what this cooperative is all about.  HIEC’s alternative power generation plan provides an important basis to establish that a cooperative does what its members want, not what is in the best interest of shareholders.  We are committed to a path to the island’s renewable energy future that will get us faster and cheaper to where we all want to go—an economy based on more affordable electricity and an environment that’s cared for.”

About Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative

HIEC is a non-profit cooperative association that seeks to establish a member-owned electric utility and encourage non-petroleum-based transportation for Hawaii Island. HIEC presents a unique opportunity for all electricity consumers to “Own the Power.” For more information, visit HIEC is on Facebook and Twitter @HiEnergyCoop