Dispensary Scores Released: ‘We Try Harder’

The State Department of Health released information yesterday on the eight of us selected to Medical Marijuana Dispensary licenses, and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser wrote about it.

Marijuana businesses told to pick up licenses

By Kristen Consillio
May 20, 2016

The state Department of Health issued licenses Thursday to the eight businesses chosen to begin selling medical cannabis legally for the first time in Hawaii.

DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the companies selected to open the state’s first medical marijuana dispensaries were given the green light to pick up their licenses and officially begin work to open retail outlets as early as July 15….

Read the rest

The State also released information about the number of points each of the 8 applicants earned in the application processes.

How do I feel about coming in second on the Big Island? I’m grateful we were selected!

City & County of Honolulu


Aloha Green Holdings Inc.


Manoa Botanicals LLC


TCG Retro Market 1, LLC dba Cure Oahu


Hawaii County


Hawaiian Ethos LLC


Lau Ola LLC


Maui County


Maui Wellness Group, LLC


Pono Life Sciences Maui, LLC


Kauai County


Green Aloha, Ltd.


Pacific Biodiesel: Is Keaau Plant Actually Sustainable?

Pacific Biodiesel in Kea‘au has just been certified sustainable – the first biodiesel plant in the U.S. to be granted such a certificate – and that’s significant.

The plant opened using primarily waste cooking oil, and that cooking oil has been financing the plant. Now, it’s built. We don’t have to grow, say, palm trees and try to utilize the palm oil to build a plant and make that work out. The plant is already up and running.

All we need to do now is supply a product, whatever it may be. This gives us the opportunity to bring in other products and try them out as biofuels.

This is great news.

From the New York Times:

Biofuels Plant in Hawaii Is First to Be Certified as Sustainable

KEAAU, Hawaii — The trucks roll in and out of the plant at a business park nestled near papaya farms and a forest preserve on the Big Island here, an operation that transforms waste cooking oils, animal fats, fruit and seeds into biodiesel fuel, nearly 13,000 gallons a day.

Owned by Pacific Biodiesel, an industry pioneer, the plant was designed with an eye toward conserving water and energy and avoiding environmental harm.

But after about $20 million and four years of operation, a central question about the plant, and the industry as a whole, has persisted: Do biofuels ultimately reduce carbon emissions?

“We’re worried that the efforts to ramp up our use of biofuels are actually doing a lot of damage and digging the climate hole deeper,” said Jonathan Lewis, a lawyer focused on climate change at the Clean Air Task Force.

Now, the biodiesel industry’s backers say they have an answer, at least for this modest plant….

Read the rest

We Will Be Producing & Dispensing Medical Cannabis

What a big day. This morning we all stood around our office waiting to learn if our group was one of two Big Island groups granted a medical cannabis dispensary license. We knew they were going to announce it at 11:30 this morning.

Our office isn’t in operation anymore, because we closed down the farm and so of course we aren’t taking any orders. But there we were in the office anyway, watching the press conference on Hawaii News Now on five or six iPhones, two or three iPads and a couple computers. That’s how we found out, same as everybody else.

From the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

Business Breaking  Top News

Hawaii announces 8 medical marijuana license winners

Star-Advertiser staff

April 29, 2016

Updated April 29, 2016 1:03pm

The state Department of Health announced the selection of applicants for eight medical marijuana dispensary licenses today. Prominent Big Island farmer Richard Ha was among the winning applicants, while actor Woody Harrelson was not.

The winning applicants and owners, according to the department, were:


>> Aloha Green Holdings Inc., Thomas Wong;

>> Manoa Botanicals LLC, Brian Goldstein;

>> TCG Retro Market 1 LLC, Tan Yan Chen;

Hawaii island:

>> Hawaiian Ethos LLC, Shelby Floyd;

>> Lau Ola LLC, Richard Ha;


>> Maui Wellness Group LLC, Gregory Park;

>> Pono Life Sciences Maui LLC, William Mitchell Jr.;


>> Green Aloha Ltd., Justin Britt.

Dispensaries can open as soon as July 15.

A four-member panel reviewed nearly 66 applications to open dispensaries based on criteria including companies’ proof of financial stability, ability to comply with security requirements and being able to meet patient needs….

Read the rest

When they announced our group Lau Ola was awarded one of the licenses, it was like we were watching the Super Bowl and somebody scored a touchdown. I was elated, and then I thought, “Holy Smokes.” It’s a huge deal, and I am thinking about the big picture.

As I wrote on my Facebook page, the more I looked into the medical use of cannabis, the more I realized how vast the potential is for really helping people. Here in Hawaii, my inspiration was Jari Sugano and her daughter MJ, who’s six. MJ has an extremely rare disorder that causes children to have uncontrollable seizures. Medical cannabis is one of the only medications that helps her. Read their story here.

There’s also the potential for our UH Hilo School of Pharmacy to lead the way in medical cannabis research, and for our College of Ag to lead the way in production methods. I intend to have a conversation with them both to see how we can make this happen.

Thanks to everyone for all the support. It’s an honor for our company Lau Ola to have been awarded one of the two dispensary licenses on Hawai‘i Island, and it’s also a big responsibility. We will take this responsibility very seriously.

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 DonorsChoose.org 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).