All posts by Leslie Lang

DOT Turns Over Palekai to Youth Education Group

On Monday, the Hawai‘i State Department of Transportation signed over about four acres of land at Keaukaha’s Palekai, formerly known as Radio Bay, to the non-profit group Keaukaha One Youth Development.


The 12-month revocable permit will allow Keahi Warfield and others in the community, including Patrick Kahawaiola‘a, president of the Keaukaha Community Association, to spearhead a community project to restore the double-hulled navigating canoe Hokualaka‘i.


The terms of the revokable permit are for twelve months, and then the Harbors Divison has the option to extend for an additional 30 calendar days. Extensions beyond the 30 days will require Land Board Approval.

It was a beautiful, breezy sunny day when the signing ceremony took place, outside next to the bay. Hokualaka‘i was on one side of the gathering and Mauna Kea was a backdrop across the bay on the other. Community members, legislators and employees from the Department of Transportation were present.


Keahi Warfield, who runs a children’s after-school program there on the site, said Keaukaha is an ocean community, and the purpose of the non-profit is to ensure children understand ocean activities.

Hawai‘i State Senator Lorraine Inouye spoke about the transfer of Palekai being unusual and a special day for the community.


“Rarely do you see this kind of transfer happen between the state and a community,” she said. “It’s nice to know agencies and the state respond to a community’s request.”

patrick kahawaiolaa

Kahawaiola‘a spoke too, calling it a momentous occasion and a first. “We will have to live up to the example so more partnerships like this can be made throughout the State.”

They will, he said. “We are fierce Keaukaha people. We will work hard and we will show you what we can do.”


UH Hilo Offering New ‘Energy Science’ Certificate

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo will begin offering a certificate in Energy Science in the Fall 2016 semester, pending official approval by the UH Hilo Curriculum Committee, which is expected.

“Energy science is a really critical component of our future,” says Bruce Mathews, interim dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management. “It’s tied right in with our local agriculture. Our energy is dependent on outside resources, and nutrients used as fertilizers are derived from outside energy, too. We are so dependent on imported fossil fuel – oil and coal. For us to become self-reliant is extremely critical.”

He says they hope to eventually offer a whole undergraduate degree in Energy Science; currently, there is no such undergraduate program in the U.S.

From the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo:

The conversion of energy to useful forms for humans, its distribution and its impact are among the most pressing issues of our time. They are at the same level as climate change, population growth and social justice. The Certificate in Energy Science provides students with extensive, integrated knowledge about this field – enough to access entry-level jobs. The courses take advantage of the Island of Hawaiʻi’s privileged opportunities in solar, wind, biofuel, tide and geothermal energies, with field trips planned according to the course subject matter.

The management and policy concentration has an emphasis on policy, yet it requires at least two courses with significant technical content. It is intended for students majoring in humanities, social sciences, business and similar fields. It can lead to potential careers in energy policy or management. The technical concentration is a more rigorous program consisting of year-long surveys of energy science and biofuels as well as a laboratory course. This concentration will prepare students for graduate work in the energy field. It is intended for students in the natural sciences or CAFNRM. It will lead to potential careers in technical areas.

The certificate program offers two tracks. The first is for non-science majors and focuses on energy policy.

Mathews talks about what he calls a gap between policy people and science. “If you can get some policy types more informed about energy science, it can better inform policy,” he says. “A lot of people in the college feel that many of our issues in society today come about because policy-trained political scientists and lawyers don’t have a deep enough breadth of knowledge in the sciences to be as effective as they could be when, as politicians, they are making decisions for our future.”

“There’s sort of a postmodern philosophy that has gone beyond the age of reason,” he says. “It’s the idea that ‘Whatever you believe is fine.’ And, ‘If I believe it, then it’s true.’ It’s about belief, rather than judgements that are based on the best evidence, and I think that will be a huge challenge to Hawai‘i as we move forward on energy. For instance, when people believe all geothermal is bad no matter how it’s done. How will be move forward on these resources if people think like that?

“That’s why we wanted to have that part of the curricula open to students who are not of a scientific nature,” he says.

The second Energy Science Certificate track, a more rigorous one, is for people with natural science backgrounds.

He says they are also working on offering Energy Science courses for non-credit through the university’s continuing education program, though that’s not available yet.

While the program officially starts in the fall, two Energy Science courses will be offered this summer.

Hilo Physics Professor Philippe Binder will teach in and has taken the lead on promoting the Energy Science program. Engineering professor Shihwu Sung, whose focus is biomass, was recently hired to teach in the new certificate program. Next, says Mathews, they will hire an assistant professor who focuses on managing energy grid systems and energy efficiency in rural areas.

He says his biggest worry is that students won’t sign up for the program because they are fearful of the science. “Students are coming to college inadequately prepared from high school and I see it all the time when I talk to high school students,” he says; “they have a huge fear of the physical sciences.”

He says, though, that Dr. Binder realizes this and is willing to help. “As long as a student is motivated,” says Mathews, “he’s willing to tutor students and will open up office hours to do this. For this program to be successful, it’s going to take encouragement and intervention. We will also make courses as engaging as possible, with exciting field trips and laboratories. Places like the Natural Energy Lab, HELCO, Pacific Biodiesel, and people in the solar sector have said they will do anything they can to help us with these courses. There’s a lot of support in the Hilo community for this program. We welcome other support from industry, too, in terms of interaction with students, and hiring students as interns.”

“All universities are increasingly having to operate like businesses and try to generate revenue,” he says, “but there are some things the state needs to realize are important to our future. These sorts of programs have to be supported and go forward. When problems arise, it will be more costly if we don’t have people in the state who are trained about our food and energy problems. The nexus of food, water and energy is the core. We need a lot of energy to grow our food, and we can’t grow the food without water. It’s all connected to the future of humanity, and so these are areas that need to be critically protected.”

“We will also miss out on federal grants and such if we don’t have a program in place for them,” he says. “It’s critical for us in securing research money down the road.”

Mathews says an Energy Sciences certificate, which will take two to three semesters to complete, will give a student a leg up in terms of entering the energy sector after college.

“Companies like HELCO and those in the solar industry, for instance, will appreciate someone who has training in energy sciences. It’s a starting point.”


Richard says he couldn’t be happier that UH Hilo is moving toward a degree in Energy Science, something that is not currently offered anywhere else in the U.S.

“I’m especially interested in this because a group of us are promoting the benefits of an energy utility co-op. Doing work that is effective as well as affordable is most important. It’s all about doing work and it takes energy to do work.”

“I am very pleased to have enabled Nate Hagens to be the program’s first guest speaker,” he says. “I am going to see if we can bring in more world class speakers in the months and years to come.”


Civil Beat Article about Richard & Co-op: ‘When People Power Meets Electricity’

Did you see this Civil Beat article that ran yesterday about Richard and the Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative? It’s a good look at how the price of oil and electricity affects agriculture.

When People Power Meets Electricity On The Big Island

NextEra Energy’s proposed takeover of Hawaii’s century-old utility has sparked a renewed effort to establish an electric utility co-op on Hawaii Island.

At Hamakua Springs Country Farms on the Big Island earlier this year, rows of aging arched white awnings covered surprisingly barren soil along the dirt road that leads into the farm.


Guest Post: Rat Lungworm Disease in Hawai‘i

  • Did you know that 90 percent of the confirmed Rat Lungworm cases in Hawai‘i are found in people from East Hawai‘i?
  • That you should remove lettuce leaves by hand before washing them, not chop them off the core? (That one stopped me, careful me, in my tracks.)

We have a guest post today written by Marlena Castro Dixon, M.S., an epidemiological specialist with the Hawai‘i State Department of Health, Hawaii District Health office.

Marlena was born and raised in Hilo and received her education from the University of New Mexico. She works for the Disease Outbreak Control Division, Disease Investigation Branch.

She’s well qualified to tell us about Rat Lungworm disease, which, of course, is especially prevalent here on the Big Island. She tells us what it is, how it happens, and especially how to prevent it.

Rat Lungworm Disease in Hawai‘i

by Marlene Castro Dixon, M.S.

One of the benefits of living in Hawaii’s great climate is having access to fresh produce year-round. However, a rare disease called Angiostrongyliasis or Rat Lungworm Disease (RLWD) has gained the attention of the community, especially on the Big Island. The severity and symptoms of Rat Lungworm disease varies from person to person and can be a very devastating illness to the patient and their families.

RLWD can affect anyone — residents, farmers, visitors, even other animals such as dogs. All face the risk, especially if they are not aware of this illness. Prevention is crucial, so that all can enjoy our local produce without being infected with the Rat Lungworm. RLWD cannot be passed from human to human, making prevention crucial.

There are lots of facts to know, but understanding how this disease transmits from rats and other vectors to humans is important. RLWD is caused by a parasite, Angiostrongylus cantonensis. Adult worms reside in the lungs of rats, hence the name “Rat Lungworm.” Infected rats pass the larvae in their feces which are then passed onto hosts such as slugs, snails, fresh water prawns, crabs, flatworms, frogs and other vectors by consuming the infected feces. Humans can become infected when they eat raw produce containing slugs or snails or eat undercooked fresh water shrimp or crab, other infected vectors or contaminated water.

Once consumed by a human, the larvae cannot finish their lifecycle. The parasites invade the nervous system and the brain tissue, causing specific neurologic symptoms depending on where in the brain they migrate. Neurologic symptoms such as parasthesia, hyperesthesia (severe sensitivity to the touch) skin pain, sensitivity or numbness, and photophobia subside as initial damage is done by the migration of the worms.

Secondary damage is done by the inflammatory response to the presence of dead and dying worms. This inflammatory response causes swelling of the protective covering of the brain and the spinal cord, a condition known as Eosinophilic Meningitis. As previously mentioned, symptoms will vary from person to person, making Angiostrongyliasis or Rat Lungworm disease very difficult to diagnose.

Diagnosis of the disease can be difficult and involves an extensive look at the patient’s food history and possible environmental exposures. Currently, the only way to test and confirm a case of RLWD is through a spinal tap. Due to its invasive nature, not all patients come in for testing. As a result, some potentially infected patients are not seeking a proper diagnosis, which has contributed to the low number of confirmed cases.

Between 2007 and 2014, Hawaii has had 42 confirmed cases of RLWD. However, the Big Island of Hawaii, particularly the east side, is disproportionately affected by Rat Lungworm Disease, accounting for approximately 90% of these cases. Because of this, the Department of Health (DOH) partners with other agencies to work on educating the public in various ways to be sure there is public awareness, allowing residents and visitors to enjoy our local produce safely.

The DOH has also worked on things like testing for RLWD locally. The DOH can now test for RLWD here in Hawaii, instead of having to send specimens to the CDC, enabling physicians to make a diagnosis and treat the patient earlier. Despite our efforts, we still have a long way to go.

Fortunately, there are precautions that can prevent transmission of the disease. Always carefully rinse fresh produce with potable water, and discard any that looks like it may have the presence of slugs or snails. It’s easier than you might think to miss a tiny creature in the folds of a leafy vegetable. For leafy greens, open up, peel off each leaf (do not chop off the core), and rinse each leaf one by one to the base of the stems. Visually inspect the produce while rinsing. Use a steady stream of water as there currently is no product or solution to wash your produce that will kill this parasite.

Cooking vegetables will kill the parasite. Boil snails, freshwater prawns, crabs and frogs for at least 3-5 minutes. Never handle slugs and snails with your bare hands. Control the slugs and snails on your property as well as the rodent population. Proper filtering and maintenance of catchment tanks and a proper cover is important for prevention as the parasite can survive in water. Prevent children from putting objects in their mouths, especially when playing outside. Bring food and water dishes for your pets indoors at night if possible.

Whether visiting or living in Hawaii, enjoy the local food, but know the exposure risks and keep in mind that there are preventative measures that can prevent a devastating disease from harming you and your family.

For more information, please visit:

or call 808-586-4586.
For details on slug and snail control visit: Control and management of slug and snail vectors, with special reference to species in Hawaii.


Could Big Island Feed All Its People Using Traditional Methods?

Sometimes, here on the Big Island, we hear someone say this:

“The Big Island used to feed a population about this size by farming without the use of GMOs, pesticides, and other farming aids, and we can do it again.”

But could we? We examined this from several angles. 

Dr. Bruce Mathews, interim dean of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources, says research shows that in pre-Western contact times, most Hawai‘i Island residents spent most of their days on activities related to agriculture. He says this would be a big shock if we tried to return to a subsistence type of lifestyle.

“I’ve seen a lot of times at the College of Agriculture where people want to spend a day in the field, doing agricultural things, and they end up saying, Gosh, I’ve never worked so hard in my life.”

“It sounds very, very challenging,” he says, “just in terms of the amount of labor to grow all that food without mechanization and without fertilizers. I don’t know how many people today really want to spend a lot of time on drudgery labor. Going in the forest to clear, digging holes, sticking mulch inside them, waiting awhile for everything to rot, and to transplant.”

He says it would be even more challenging these days, because now we have imported diseases, pests, and other invasives.

“I’m okay if people don’t want to use GMOs and chemicals, but I’d want to know who’s going to do all the labor,” he says. “Who’s going to pull all the weeds and control all the pests? Because if you’re going to do that naturally, you’re going to have to be out there every day spraying with natural products and pulling weeds all the time. I think it’s delusional, unless everybody’s going to only be involved with agriculture and there’s no other forms of livelihood.”

Jeff Melrose, who authored the Hawai‘i County Food Self-Sufficiency Baseline Study 2012, agrees about the tremendous amount of work it would entail.

“‘Back in the day,’ everybody played a part in the farming and feeding process,” he says. “We didn’t have students, we didn’t have scientists, we didn’t have retail workers; none of the specialization we have today.” He points out that means no one would have time to work in our hospitals; our ancestors kept sick people at home, wrapped in poultices, and they died much younger than people do today. “Everybody had to be involved in this process of feeding, catching, storing, preserving, whatever.”

“There are certainly some people today that aspire to be more self-reliant and live off the land, and fish and hunt, and do,” he says. “They also still go to town and do what they gotta do, and that’s fine. But it’s not for everybody.”

There’s also the practical matter that in pre-contact days, Hawaiians had a very different system of land use. “We have [private] land ownership now,” says Mathews, “and we don’t have a king mandating what people should do and grow. You don’t have a king to say, ‘This ahupua‘a shall be managed as one big contiguous unit.’”

Mathews points out that, initially, Hawaiians cultivated the most fertile Big Island valleys – Waipi‘o, Waimanu, and Pololu – and then when the population grew larger and they needed to feed more people, they needed other areas to cultivate.

They sought out “sweet spots” in terms of rainfall, which turn out to be places with about 50 to 60 inches of rain per year. This is enough that the soil is broken down and will have sufficient nutrients to sustain good crop growth, but not so much that it leeches the nutrients out of the soil. Much less rainfall than that, though, and the crops fail. This is what led them to develop the Kohala Field System. (In contrast, Kauai’s population never got that large, so that island never needed to develop its uplands and only farmed its valleys.)

“[Ecologist] Peter Vitousek did plenty of work looking at whether the Big Island’s [field] systems were really sustainable, and his work questioned that,” says Mathews. “Because when there were periods of drought the yields were low, and that put tremendous pressures on the population. Furthermore, when he looked at soil samples underneath the rock walls as compared to the former fields themselves, he found that despite all the best practices the native Hawaiians were using, be it fallows and mulching, etc., they were still depleting the soil fertility. So if Hawaiians hadn’t had contact with Western society, that would have really put a lot of pressure on those lands.”

Eventually, Mathews says, that system, too, would have broken down. Just as the population had outgrown its system of cultivating food in the valleys, they too were in the process of outgrowing their field system of agriculture. What would have happened next?

(As an aside, anthropologists tell us that in pre-contact times, you’d have to have good relationships with people that have food for when times of drought came or upland crops failed, or else be able to exert power for trading purposes. There’s evidence that this island had very severe droughts.

Some anthropologists think it makes sense, therefore, that the strongest political power – Kamehameha, the only chief to unite the islands – emerged on Hawai‘i Island. If you’re the leader of a place that’s under stress for food and security, you have to be tougher politically and militarily.)

Because we don’t have mineable sources of fertilizer on the Big Island, says Mathews, trying to farm without it would come down to trying to concentrate animal waste. And there’s science behind that.

“Generally in modern times people rely on organic methods, but they are usually robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he says. “You’ve got the organic farmer going down to a livestock enterprise and getting the manure and putting it in their garden, but those nutrients came from somewhere else. Eventually those systems where those nutrients are being captured, even if they rely on biological nitrogen fixation for nitrogen, they begin to collapse because they’re removing the phosphorous, the potassium and eventually the nitrogen fixation. Biologically, nitrogen fixation doesn’t work so well when the soil becomes depleted of phosphorus and potassium.”

“We could grow mulch crops like nitrogen-fixing trees,” he says, “and use them for mulches to release nitrogen and nutrients to the soil for the crops to grow in between them. But one of the dilemmas with that is that the microbes don’t always release the nutrients in synchrony with what the plant needs and when the plant needs it. And if you get a heavy rainfall, it just washes everything out and then you’re stuck. If you have fertilizer, you can go out there and correct it immediately.”

We have also diverted, changed and blocked many of the old waterways. “In many of those old ahupua‘a in the Kohala area, the water was diverted long ago and the streams and water conveyance systems have dried up,” he says. “It would take massive reengineering and restoration, and even then, there’s been some climate change. It would be challenging.”

Fishing made up a large part of the traditional, pre-Western diet. Could that work again on a large sale?

Not anytime soon, says Mathews. “When you talk to native Hawaiians and others who fish, a lot of our fisheries are overfished and depleted. The near-shore fisheries are really in bad shape. Everybody tells me they aren’t in anywhere near as good a shape as they were a hundred years ago.”

On a practical level, Melrose points out that our contact with the outside world has dramatically changed who we are.

“If you were to say, ‘Let’s just eat what we grow,’ well, we have a very seasonal and limited body of products that we grow,” he says. “I can just see your kid with his iPhone. ‘No, Mom, not ulu again.’ ‘Sweet potatoes, AGAIN?’ ‘Poi again?!’”

“We have evolved substantially into a much more discerning people,” he says. “You’d have to change fundamentally who everybody is.”

The bottom line, according to Mathews: Conditions have changed drastically since those pre-Western contact days, and if for some reason we were cut off from the U.S. Mainland, we’d have to eat a lot of wild pig and Parker Ranch cattle for awhile while we figured out what we were going to do.

“I think there’s a lot of romance in Hawai‘i,” he says. “A lot of Eden-like thinking that it was so good back then, back in the day.”

Mathews, who has children in high school, says he thinks it’s “a little bit tragic” that sustainability from an agricultural standpoint is not taught better in Hawai‘i’s school system. He sees a bias against new and modern technologies in general, and a general assumption that all new things are bad without evaluating them on a case-by-case basis.

“They really don’t get into how sustainable we are now and how sustainable it was in the past,” he says, “and I wish the schools would teach sustainability science with much deeper thought and understanding.

“I don’t like all new technologies,” he says, “but I think these blanket bans are not good.”

photo: CC BY-SA 3.0 AlaskaDave


TMT: Common Ground Meeting, with Video

by Leslie Lang

Last week, I attended the second of four TMT & Maunakea: Common Ground meetings. The Hilo-Hamakua Community Development Corporation is putting on these meetings to bring together the community to hear about the culture, history, science, safety, economics and other issues regarding the Thirty Meter Telescope.

The announced speakers were Paul Neves, speaking on culture, Peter Adler on sacred spaces, and Michael Bolte on the TMT approval process. Paul Neves called and cancelled, though, citing a possible conflict of interest re: an ongoing lawsuit he is involved in. Hawane Rios, who is active in the Ku Kia‘i Mauna protest movement, spoke in his place.

Perhaps a hundred people attended the meeting, which was held at the Kula‘imano Community Center in Pepe‘ekeo. It was a respectful crowd comprised of people on both sides of the issue, and I found it a very worthwhile and interesting evening.


Click here for the video of Peter Adler speaking or you can read a transcript of his talk.

Peter Adler, who authored the 2007 Keystone Center report Assessment of the risks for sitting the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, spoke about what is sacred, and I could almost see the hackles start rising on the backs of some of the Hawaiians as he began. Who was he to pontificate on what is sacred?, I imagined they might be thinking.

But his was no off-the-cuff dinner chatter. He has thought deeply about this subject for years, he said, and it was apparent. Watch the video and you’ll hear him talking about how hard it is to understand the sacred places of other people. He also spoke about the whole issue we are discussing also has to do with leadership and about building bridges between cultures. He showed a short film clip from the movie Invictus, in which Mandela was trying to build a new country and build a bridge between cultures and make a place for everyone. He added something about not necessarily comparing Ige to Mandela. At that there was murmuring.

He talked about India where there are communal riots, he explained, between bored, angry, alienated young zealots, some of them Hindus and some Muslims, often over cows, which are considered sacred there. He told a very thought-provoking story about an  accidental injury to a bull in India and how he saw the aftermath unfold. That story right there is worth watching the video for. It makes you think about how sacredness means different things to different people.

He spoke of what makes mountains like Mauna Kea and Everest and others sacred, and then about how sacredness does not lie within a thing, but how something being sacred always comes down to behavior, protocol, ritual. Watch the video to hear more about what he means by that.

I’m finding it hard to summarize Peter Adler’s talk adequately. He’s a really interesting thinker and I found it unexpectedly fascinating. I highly recommend watching his talk above. I found him to be a great speaker.


Click here for the video of Michael Bolte speaking.

Michael Bolte, president of the TMT Board of Directors and a professor of astronomy at UC Santa Cruz, has been involved with the TMT from the beginning.

He talked about two topics. First he talked about the history and wonder of telescopes, and it was a neat overview. Until the year 1609, people did amazing things just with the naked eye. They developed calendars, and clocks, and figured out when to plant their crops. He talked about the tiny telescope Galileo created in 1609, which just had a three-inch lens, and what he was able to discover with that and how it changed humankind’s whole view of the universe. Bolte talked about how, as telescopes got larger, we learned not only that our sun was not the center of the universe, but, eventually, that our galaxy was not even the center of the universe. And they keep getting larger. Now, with the much larger Thirty Meter Telescope, he explained, we will be able to actually look back in time.

His second topic was to give an overview of the whole TMT process, since Mauna Kea was first considered as a site in 2004. He talked about how the TMT board spoke to both supporters and opponents here in Hawai‘i, and found lots of people who were “vaguely negative” about the idea of the project because of how previous telescopes had been handled. Every single person involved with the TMT wanted to do right by Mauna Kea, he emphasized, with not a single exception. He outlined all the things they needed to learn, to ask, to hear, to make right.

He finished his talk with a couple of quick stories of very interesting interactions with people that happened along the way. I’ll let you listen to those at the end of his video, above. They are worth a listen. Great stories and I was glad I heard them.


Click here for the video of Hawane Rios speaking.

Hawane Rios is involved in the Ku Kia‘i Mauna movement. At the eleventh hour, after learning that Paul Neves had cancelled, she volunteered to give a cultural perspective about Mauna Kea. She is well-spoken, did a great job, and you would never have known she didn’t have time to prepare ahead of time.

She opened with the chant Malana Mai Ka‘u. Then she spoke about Hawaiians having a relationship and exchange with Mauna Kea, which teaches them how to navigate the ocean, when to plant food, when to step into the ocean, when not to, and more.

She pointed out that before the construction of the observatories, the reason not many archaeological finds or artifacts were found at the top of Mauna Kea is because that place was sacred and they were not allowed to go to the top.

She said the world is calling out now to protect Mauna Kea but our government is not listening, and talked about what is sustainable for our island communities. She said the earth and land are suffering, and wondered aloud if there will be water and food that has not been demeaned, fresh food, for seven generations. She spoke about being native, about community, about who is making the decisions, and how come they gave those people that power if they are abusing it.

She said she finds this TMT process very disturbing but is thankful for it too because it is awakening her people. We are small but we are mighty, she said. “We have people standing with us and saying, ‘We are Mauna Kea.’” She said that although Governor Ige made his announcement, he made it out of fear, and she has compassion for him because he has fear. There is much more at the video of her talk (above).


The final TMT & Maunakea: Common Ground meeting will be next Tuesday from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. and refreshments will be provided.

A correction to the published information below: Art Kimura and Richard will not be speaking. Cultural Expert Hank Fergerstrom will be speaking instead.

common ground.png

Another way to make sure you’re up to speed on the facts is to read The Facts About TMT on Maunakea, which the TMT put out. It is very straightforward, clear, and easy to read. Definitely worth checking out.


The Wheres & Whyfors of Hamakua Springs

By Leslie Lang

The other day Richard gave some of us a tour of Hamakua Springs Country Farms in Pepe‘ekeo, and its new hydroelectric plant, and wow. I hadn’t been out to the farm for awhile, and it was so interesting to ride around the 600 acres with Richard and see all that’s going on there these days.

Most of what I realized (again) that afternoon fell into two
broad categories: That Richard really is a master of seeing the big picture, and that everything he does is related to that big picture.

Hamakua Springs, which started out growing bananas and then expanded into growing the deliciously sweet hydroponic tomatoes we all know the farm for, has other crops as well.

tomatoes.jpgThese days there are farmers leasing small plots where they are growing taro, corn, ginger and sweet potato. These farmers’ products go to the Hamakua Springs packing house and Hamakua Springs distributes them, which speaks to Richard’s goal of providing a place for local farmers to farm, wherethere is water and packing and distribution already in place.

As we drove, we saw a lot of the water that passes through his farm. There are three streams and three springs. It’s an enormous amount of water, and it’s because of all this water that he was able to develop his brand new hydroelectric system, where they are getting ready to throw the switch.

The water wasn’t running through there the day we were there because they’d had to temporarily “turn it off” – divert the water – in order to fix something, but we could see how the water from an old plantation flume now runs through the headworks and through a pipe and into the turbine, which is housed in a blue shipping container.


This is where the electricity is generated, and I was interested to see a lone electric pole standing there next to the system. End of the line! Or start of the line, really, as that’s where the electricity from the turbine is carried to. And from there, it works its way across the electric lines stretched between new poles reaching across the land.

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 11.17.00 PM

He asked the children who were along with us for their ideas
about how to landscape around the hydroelectric area, and also where the water leaves the turbine to run out and rejoin the stream.

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 11.17.00 PM

“We could do anything here,” he said, asking for thoughts, and
we all came up with numerous ideas, some fanciful. Trees and grass? A taro lo‘i? Maybe a picnic area, or a water flume ride or a demonstration garden or fishponds?

There are interesting plans for once the hydro system is operating, including a certified kitchen where local area producers can bring their products and create value-added goods.

Other plans include having some sort of demo of sustainable
farming, and perhaps ag-tourism ativities like walking trails going through the farm, and maybe even a B&B. “The basis of all tourism,” he said, “is sustainability.”

Hamakua Springs is also experimenting with growing mushrooms
now, and looking into several other possibilities for using its free

As we stopped and looked at the streams we kept coming
across, which ran under the old plantation roads we drove upon, Richard made an observation that I found interesting. In the Hawaiian way, the land is thought of as following the streams down from mountain to sea. In traditional ways, paths generally ran up-and-down the hill, following the shape of the ahupua‘a.

“But look at the plantation roads,” he said, and he pointed
out how they run across the land, from stream to stream. The plantation way was the opposite. Not “wrong” – just different.

Richard has plans to plant bamboo on the south sides of the
streams, which will keep the water cool and keep out invasive species.

At the farm, they continue to experiment with raising
, which are in four blue pools next to the reservoir.

June & Tilapia.jpgJune with a full net

The pools are at different heights because they are using gravity to flow the water from one pool to the next, rather than a pump. Besides it being free, this oxygenates the water as it falls into the next pool. They are not raising the fish commercially at present, but give them to their workers.

Everything that Richard does is geared toward achieving the same goal, and that is to keep his farm economically viable and sustainable.

If farmers make money, farmers will farm.

Continuing to farm means continuing to provide food for the local community, employing people locally and making it possible for local people to stay in Hawai‘i: This as opposed to people having to leave the islands, or their children having to leave the islands, in order to make a decent life for themselves.

The hydroelectric system means saving thousands per month in
electric bills, and being able to expand into other products and activities. It means the farm stays in business and provides for the surrounding community. It means people have jobs.

This is the same reason why, on a bigger scale, Richard is working to bring more geothermal into the mix on the Big Island: to decrease the stranglehold that high electricity costs have over us, so the rubbah slippah folk have breathing room, so that we all have more disposable income – which will, in turn, drive our local economy and make our islands more competitive with the rest of the world, and our standard of living higher, comparably.

When he says “rubbah slippah folk,” Richard told me, he’s always thinking first about the farm’s workers.

This, by the way, is really a great overview of how Richard describes the “big picture.” It’s a TEDx talk he did awhile back (17 minutes). Really worth a look.

It was so interesting to see firsthand what is going on at the farm right now, and hear about the plans and the wheres and whyfors. Thank you, Richard, for a really interesting and insightful afternoon.


Caption Contest Winners!

It’s blog editor Leslie Lang here with the winners of our caption contest.

Here is the picture for which we asked you to supply a caption:

Screen shot 2012-06-28 at 9.14.26 PM

You’ll recall that Richard asked me to choose the winner, ostensibly so he wouldn’t be swayed by friends or family. But now I’m thinking he just remembered how hard it is to pick a winner!

We had lots of entries, and there were some really clever ones. It was hard, but I narrowed them down. I stripped the names off my top four, showed Richard and tried to get him to help me decide which one was the best one.

He read them, laughed and announced a four-way tie.

So here are the four winning captions and the winners’ names. They are not in any order (except alphabetical):

• And the four little piggies cried ‘Auwe!’ all the way home  – Maia Nilsson

• Dinner on the run – Patrick Kahawaiolaa

• Finally, Porky was able to fulfill a lifelong dream: to recreate the cover of the Abbey Road album – Baron Sekiya

• Hey Ralph… are they stopping for us, or did that oil thing peak out? – Wally Andrade

Congratulations to Maia, Patrick, Baron and Wally. If you are on the Big Island, please call Richard at 960-1057 and make arrangements to pick up your prize: a box of fresh, mixed Hamakua Springs vegetables.

If you are not located here, then we send you our heartiest congratulations, and unless you have plans to come to the Big Island we’ll have to leave it at that (as we mentioned in the first post; sorry!).

And thanks to everybody for the submissions. It was fun.

Pahoa Elementary: Tomatoes All Around

Richard told me they took tomatoes down to Pahoa today, and gave some to every kid in the elementary school there.

There was an unexpected spike in production, he said, and he wanted to give them to the kids and their families.


“We’ve done that over the years,” he said. “We just kind of made our way down the coast to the elementary schools. Kalani‘ana‘ole, Ha‘aheo, Hilo Union, Kapi‘olani, Waiakea Elementary, Kea‘au Elementary, ending up in Hawaiian Beaches at Keonepoko. So the next one was Pahoa Elementary.”

The farm first started handing out tomatoes and bananas at Keaukaha Elementary, back when the Thirty Meter Telescope adopt-a-class project was new and there were a lot of extras one season.

Over the years, he said, he’s been floored by the response. “There are so many people, I have no idea who they are, who come up and tell me they were so happy to receive the tomatoes.”

“We decided elementary kids because it’s a prize they can take home to their parents,” he said. “I feel pretty good being able to do it.”