Category Archives: Company News

Selling an Easement at the Farm

The other day there was a front page article in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald about our attempt to sell an agricultural easement at the farm.

We wrote about this in a blog post earlier this year.

Our grandson Kapono has just started working with us on the farm. We have four generations working on the farm now, and I could not be happier. I would like to keep the farm, with its unique set of resources, intact, so it can continue providing food into perpetuity. Most farmers sell their land when they are ready to retire. We are only selling the development rights, so that this land can be kept in agriculture.

Facebooktwittermail

Korean Natural Farming in Pepeekeo

Master Cho Han Kyu is the founder of “Korean Natural Farming,” a farming method that uses no imported fertilizers or chemicals. He visited our farm today and pointed out alternate methods that I could use to control white flies and increase fruit set, as well as yields. They will write out instructions for us on how to implement Korean Natural Farming techniques.

MasterChoOrganic Ginger Grower Dean Pinner points out his farm site to Master Cho, the founder of Korean Natural Farming

A reent Hawaii Tribune-Herald article discussed Korean Natural Farming, and Master Cho’s visit to Hawai‘i:

Farmers in Korea use less water, no chemical fertilizer and yet increase production. The system’s beneficial byproducts include healthier soil conditions, reduced water pollution and other environmental pluses, healthier diets and a stronger agriculture economy.

Natural farming focuses on living soil and indigenous micro-organisms that convert organic material into the inorganic minerals and nutrients plants can utilize. Read more here.

I’m going to be working on a controlled trial with University of Hawai‘i extension agents to see if I can get positive results. I’ll report here periodically on how things are progressing.

Facebooktwittermail

The Hamakua Springs Perpetual Motion Machine 2010

Ha Ha Ha! April Fool!

Did we get you yesterday? Richard’s post about his project “PMM 2010” referred to a mythical “perpetual motion machine.”

The history of perpetual motion machines dates back to the Middle Ages. For millennia, it was not clear whether perpetual motion devices were possible or not, but the
development of modern thermodynamics has indicated that they are impossible. Despite this, many attempts have been made to construct a perpetual motion machine. Modern designers and proponents often use other terms, such as
over unity, to describe their inventions.

Wikipedia explains the history of perpetual motion machines, and wow, I didn’t know a lot of that.

The photo above is an engraving of Robert Fludd’s 1618 “water screw” perpetual motion machine.

  • The earliest designs of a perpetual motion machine dates back to
    1150, by an Indian mathematicianastronomer, Bhaskara
    II
    . He described a wheel that he claimed would run forever.[1]
  • In medieval Bavaria, the magic wheel or magnet wheel, was basically a wagon wheel that spun by itself. Magnets with lead plates on their backs were affixed to the wheel, like the seats on a Ferris wheel. Each magnet was attracted to a magnet affixed to the base on the ground. The lead allegedly blocked attraction as each magnet passes by it, so the wheel would keep moving for a time before friction stopped it.[citation needed]
  • In the 13th century, Villard de Honnecourt had a drawing of one in his sketchbook. Honnecourt was a French master mason and architect. The sketchbook is made up of mechanics and architecture.
  • Leonardo da Vinci made a number of drawings of things he hoped would make energy free.[2][3] Da Vinci examined a few overbalance wheels.[4] He also designed a centrifugal pump and the “chimney jack“. The chimney jack was used to turn a roasting skewer (a reaction-type turbine).[5
  • In 1900, Nikola Tesla claimed to have discovered an abstract method on which to base a perpetual motion machine of the
    second kind. No prototype was produced. The Serbian American Physicist Inventor wrote:
A departure from known
methods – possibility of a “self-acting” engine or machine, inanimate,
yet capable, like a living being, of deriving energy from the medium –
the ideal way of obtaining motive power.

 

That Wikipedia article goes over who has claimed to invent what perpetual motion machine throughout the centuries and all the way up to the present day. It is fascinating!

I keep wanting to copy parts of it over to show you here, but I had to stop because it just goes on and on about people claiming to have built a perpetual motion machine that worked who: received a patent/were flat out proved to be frauds/built something inspired by a series of recurring dreams and currently the subject of commercial research and investigation/built such a machine after an (alien?) abduction/left notes upon their death in 1958 that are still being studied today, and much, much more.

Richard’s PMM 2010 is not listed there in Wikipedia, so he must have been — HA HA HA! — pulling a fast one.

Happy April Fool’s Day, everybody.

Facebooktwittermail

New Project At The Farm

We’ve been working on this project (PMM-2010) for a year, and we finally have it figured out. It involves our hydroelectric project.

We plan to generate electricity and using the pump hydro idea, we will pump the water back up to a reservoir and generate electricity continually as the water runs back down hill. Using the same water, this can keep on going forever. All we will have to do is compensate for evaporation.

The system will generate 74 KW of power, which we will use to run all our coolers, our water pumps and we’ll even have a place for our employees to plug in their plug-in electric vehicles. And the extra power will go to HELCO, for which we will get a monthly check.

Facebooktwittermail

One More Step Forward: Putting Some Of Our Land into Conservation

We have decided to place the 264-acre portion of Makahanaloa Ahupua‘a we own into agriculture forever. We are working with the Hawaii Land Trust to make this happen by putting a conservation ag easement on it.

Bananas Bananas

The world has changed and we must protect our uniquely productive agricultural lands.

This land is particularly productive. A flume runs right through the property, and we are developing a hydro-electic project that will generate 74 KW of electricity continuously.

Flume
Flume water, originating from the highest elevation Hilo corner of the property

The soil is more than 10 feet deep in places.

In addition, we have use of a former county spring that used to supply Pepe‘ekeo town. All we need to do is put a valve in to activate the 8-inch cast iron pipe and get fresh clean water under gravity flow.

Tai Wan Gu grows more than 100 acres of sweet potatoes on the land.

Sweet potatoes
More than 100 acres of sweet potato

Danny Loeffler is the largest sweet corn grower on the Big Island, and he rotates crops with Tai Wan. Tom Menezes grows apple bananas, taro, cacao and other crops. These are the best, most productive farmers on the Hilo/Hamakua Coast.

It is very rare to find this combination of resources – the tremendous amount of fresh water that flows downhill by gravity, the soil more than 10 feet deep, and the fact that soon we will be generating electricity for our farming operation there – and it must be preserved for future generations.

Even with it becoming conservation ag land, we can continue farming there.

This whole project is an important part of our Family of Farms project:

I wrote in a recent post about how much I admired Uncle Sonny’s ability to grow great watermelons in a very effective and efficient way.

Over the years, I have noticed that this is a characteristic I see all the time in small farmers’ operations. So how are we going to supply food for Hawaii’s people, in the variety that the community will need, so they won’t need to travel so often? And on the community scale, how will we have enough variety to feed the community around us?

This is how the concept of “Families of Farms” came to me. I asked myself, What happens if we lease lands and hydroponic houses to area farmers?

Our idea is that we would each bring certain resources to make the whole more than the sum of the parts. We believe that this will help each of us make more money together than if we operated independently. So it’s in all of our interests to stay together.

•    We would get effective and efficient farmers working with us. Small farmers do not waste anything. And we would get more production than what we could do ourselves
•    We would get more variety than we could do ourselves
•    We would get more young farmers into farming
•    We would bring the water and electricity resource that we have
•    We would bring our technical expertise
•    We would bring our marketing and distribution system
•    We would bring our cooling facilities

We will need to adapt to a new normal. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Facebooktwittermail

Hilo Coast Farms

We are now marketing products under a new brand: Hilo Coast Farms. Under this label we are starting to market the produce of other Hilo/Hamakua farmers who see a value in shipping and marketing together.

Box1

We now pack locally grown Williams and Apple bananas, sweet Hawaiian corn, Japanese cucumber and green onions.

My son-in-law Kimo Pa, our farm manager, and Mike Nist of Seattle Tacoma Box Company designed this box over a couple of beers. Our farm is mauka of the “gears” in Pepe‘ekeo, hence the picture of the gears and the “Hilo Coast” name.

Box2

I have written about the “Family of Farms”  concept here before. From my previous post:

This is how the concept of “Families of Farms” came to me. I asked myself, What happens if we lease lands and hydroponic houses to area farmers?

Our idea is that we would each bring certain resources to make the whole more than the sum of the parts. We believe that this will help each of us make more money together than if we operated independently. So it’s in all of our interests to stay together.

•    We would get effective and efficient farmers working with us. Small farmers do not waste anything. And we would get more production than what we could do ourselves
•    We would get more variety than we could do ourselves
•    We would get more young farmers into farming
•    We would bring the water and electricity resource that we have
•    We would bring our technical expertise
•    We would bring our marketing and distribution system
•    We would bring our cooling facilities

We will need to adapt to a new normal. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Facebooktwittermail

Visiting the Corn

We are preparing for a future of decreasing world oil supplies by transitioning from being the only producer on 600 acres of land at Pepe‘ekeo to being a model of multiple family farms.
Sweet potato, to be followed by sweet cornSweet potato, to be followed in rotation by sweet corn

And it’s growing. We now have one of the best sweet potato and ginger growers on the Big Island planting on our land. Following Tai Wan Gu in rotation is Daniel Loeffler, the Big Island’s premier corn grower. We are looking for one more crop to fit into the rotation; maybe some kind of grain to make pelletized animal or fish food.

James B, Daniel & Jennifer LoefflerJames Brewbaker (left), Daniel and Jennifer Loeffler

Last Wednesday, Daniel told me that there was going to be a field day at the Waimanalo Research Station on Saturday. He told me that the famous corn breeder, Dr. James Brewbaker, would give a talk and that there would be a tasting of new corn varieties. So June and I decided to take a break and go to the field day.

Richard & Dr. BRichard (left) and Dr. B. (Photo by another well-known Brewbaker, Richard’s friend Paul Brewbaker, long-time lead economist for the Bank of Hawai‘i and Dr. B.’s son.)

Dr. B. talked about how he bred the Hawaiian sweet corn for many traits. In addition to sweetness, his primary objective was to avoid the use of pesticides. This is a big deal, because it is possible to grow the corn Dr. B. breeds and not have to spray for fungus diseases or for insects. Grass control still needs to be done using a combination of spraying and tilling.

Just imagine not having to spray to control diseases. Dr. B bred the corn so it has tight wrapper leaves. The objective was to make it difficult for the corn ear worm to work its way down the corn ear, because the wrapper leaves prevents this. Again, one would not have to spray for the corn ear worm if one could tolerate the worm just living in the tip of the corn. Most people can live with this. One worm is not a big deal, but avoiding the spraying of pesticides is.

We were told that we could walk into the demonstration plots and harvest corn. Daniel got a few ears to sample. He peeled off the wrapper leaves and offered the raw corn to several of us. It was incredibly sweet. Actually, the best way to eat Hawaiian sweet corn is raw.

We moved over to where the corn tasting was going on and were asked to rate two different varieties. We all agreed that selection B was head and shoulders better than selection A. We did not find out what the name of selection B was. But that is the one to grow. No doubt.

The traffic on O‘ahu on a Saturday was surprisingly dense. It was nice to fly back to slow-moving Hilo.

Facebooktwittermail

For Rent: Farming Opportunities

We are going to rent out seven of our nine hoop houses here at the farm.

Hoop houses

A side view

Side view

They have been in continuous production for nearly two years, and are set up with a hydroponic system of floating rafts.

Here’s our green onion production in the floating rafts.

Green onion prod in floating raft

A bouquet of our green and red lettuces.

Bouquet green and red lettuces

Some of the different lettuces we have grown in the hoop houses.

Different lettuces

Each hoop house is about 100 feet long and has two raceways that are each 10 x 96 feet. Both spring and county water are available. Electricity is available at the site as well. I think that a family unit would be more practical to run this system than a corporate type like us. We are renting each house for $175 per month. Interested parties can reach me on my cell at 960-1057.

As for us, we have been simplifying our operations. We are now concentrating on bananas, tomatoes and Japanese cucumbers. We have leased some of our land to farmers growing sweet potato, apple bananas and for field vegetable crop production. We want to encourage poi taro production, as well.

Our goal is to achieve a balance of our own production with other folks’ production.

We are planning on constructing Value Added Processing so we can help farmers move their number 2 and 3 products, and make poi and other products.

When we finish building our hydroelectric plant, we will be able to refrigerate and consolidate Hamakua area farmers’ crops and ship them together with our products to O‘ahu. This will be mutually beneficial as we try to grow more food for Hawai‘i’s people.

Facebooktwittermail

Good Plant News

I wrote about how we’ve run into some trouble in the plant houses, but today Dr. Scot Nelson told us it’s not a serious problem.

Three of the samples he took tested negative for virus and only one tested positive. He showed me how the positive sample showed dead tissue over the vein of the leaves. The ones that tested negative did not have that feature.

We went into the field to see how many plants are exhibiting that symptom, and it was very few–  maybe less than one percent. Furthermore, Dr. Nelson told us the virus was more likely to have spread by aphids than by mechanical transmission.

This is huge – less than one percent of our plants affected, and the problem not spread by tools or by touch.

Tomorrow is our visit from Pete Bunn, who is an independent consultant on plant nutrition. I wonder what he will say about the
thousands of plant we thought were virus-infected. We have our suspicions, as well as a tentative plan of action, but we’ll wait to hear Pete’s conclusions.

It’s a reminder that farming is more involved than we sometimes think.

Facebooktwittermail

Full Hands at the Farm

We have known that beef, egg and hog producers are in
trouble, largely due to increases in feed and transportation costs.

And now, vegetable crop producers are in trouble as well. For vegetable farmers, it’s mostly about fertilizer and supply costs.

At the farm, we have not been immune to the fertilizer, chemical, packing, cooling and transportation cost escalations, which are all related to the spike in oil prices earlier this year.

Unfortunately we have recently had to lay off some of our employees. And in these tough economic times, that is something we just did not want to do.

We were doing okay at the farm until two things hit us at once. During the summer we started to see a production slow down, and we were slow to react. When you look at something every day, it’s easy to miss changes. But the plants just weren’t doing well.

Then, at the same time, we discovered a virus outbreak. All of a sudden, we had our hands full.

We have been removing all the virus-infected plants, which numbered in the thousands. I feel we have the problem under control now, but there are bald spots in our production houses. It will take us a couple months to work our way out of this.

More serious was a general weakness in plant growth during the summer. A month ago, we tried different fertilizer and water programs and today, it’s looking a lot better. We are still fine tuning.

As a result of this, I have resigned from almost all the boards I belong to. It doesn’t feel appropriate to be concentrating my efforts elsewhere when I am having to lay off my own workers.

We are hopeful all will be back to normal in about two months.  However, something like this makes one stop to think about the future. Such as, where do June and I want to be in 10 years. It’s an interesting question to ponder.

Facebooktwittermail