Category Archives: Hamakua Coast

Hurricane Ignacio Update: Sunday 2:45 p.m.

Update, 8:45 p.m.:

Civil Defense, Young Brothers and everyone lifted the Tropical Storm watch. We dodged the bullet again. Thanks, everyone!

***

It’s been quite a hurricane season already this year!

Right now we are watching Ignacio. At 2:45 p.m. today, Hawaii County Civil Defense announced that Hurricane Ignacio was posing an “anticipated reduced threat.” It’s still a Category 3 hurricane, currently with sustained winds of 115 miles per hour and higher gusts, and right now it’s about 380 miles east of Hilo moving 12 miles per hour to the northwest. They say it’s gradually weakening.

Everything indicates, too, that it’s moving more to the north of the islands now and will move parallel to the Hamakua coast. This is good, but what worries me is the size of the hurricane. As it moves along its path, spinning counterclockwise, its winds affect us on the Hamakua coast first. This is a big coastline up alongside a mountain, so it operates like a valley. The winds come from the north and are forced up against the slopes of the mountain. The energy doesn’t go over the top of the mountain, but runs down the slope and is concentrated along the Hamakua coast from the north to the south.

That’s why we’re still a bit concerned about this one. That’s good news that it’s weakening, but its winds are still 115 miles per hour and it only takes 55 mph winds to flatten a banana tree.

So they can say what they way to say, but at the moment those winds are traveling at 100-something miles per hour, so am I going to go catch a plan to Honolulu because I’m so sure nothing’s going to happen here? I don’t think so!

But we’ve secured everything at the farm that needs to be secured. So we’ll wait and see.

Take care everyone. The update from Hawaii County Civil Defense is here:

This is a Hurricane information update for Sunday August 30th at 2:45PM.

As of 2:00 PM this afternoon Hurricane Ignacio was continuing on a northwest track at 12 miles per hour and remains a category 3 hurricane. Ignacio was located approximately 380 miles east of Hilo and recording sustained winds of 115 miles per hour with higher gusts. Hurricane force winds extend outwards from the center up to 30 miles and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 160 miles.

Although the National Weather Service Tropical Storm Watch for Hawaii Island remains in effect, the present track and gradual weakening of Ignacio is presenting with an anticipated reduced threat to Hawaii Island. Based on the anticipated and improved forecast outlook, evacuation centers will not be opened at this time. The Civil Defense Agency will continue to maintain close communication with the National Weather Service and monitor the system. 

All DOE public schools and private schools will be open tomorrow.

In addition all government offices will be open for normal business. 

The High Surf Warning issued for the east facing shores of Hawaii Island will remain in effect through 6:00PM Tuesday evening. Surf heights are expected to increase today and build to possibly 15 to 20 feet. Residents in low lying coastal areas and boat owners are advised to take necessary precautions. 

Please monitor your local radio broadcast for additional updates.

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Guest Post: First Hilo-Hamakua Meeting on Agr & Food Security

I asked Dr. Bruce Mathews, interim dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management (CAFNRM) at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo (UHH), to write a guest post about speaking at the first of our community meetings on agriculture and food security.

Dr. Mathews writes:

Mahalo for inviting me to present an overview of Hawaii’s soil resource base for agriculture from the pre-European contact era to the present during the first part of HHCDC Symposia Series on Agriculture and Food Security.

I found that the speakers during the first session provided a solid overview of the current realities facing our local agriculture from all perspectives (resources, new precision technologies, economics, policies, etc.). I appreciated the candid discussions regarding the growth constraints faced by many crop sectors as long as there is strong import competition from continental-based operations (CBOs) and heavy dependence on imported energy and nutrient inputs for our farms.

At the end of my talk I shared a bit about my concerns regarding what I called sustainability madness and ecological imperialism. Many people are very concerned about local use of agricultural chemicals (mainly synthetic biocides such as pesticides, herbicides, etc.) and GMOs, yet the majority in Hawaii consume foods every day that are imported from CBOs where synthetic biocides and (or) GMOs were used in their production.

No doubt there is quite a bit of not in my back yard (NIMBY) ecological imperialism/ecological hypocrisy going on here and this has implications for local society as a whole.

On the other side of the coin, the best genetic manipulations in the world won’t work for long to support economic yields if we cultivate soils depleted of nutrients, organic matter, and beneficial microbial and faunal balance. The problems of climate change such as drought will only be magnified in such soils.

Yesterday I met with a group of current and former UH Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management (CAFNRM) students who had leased some land with relatively good soil to farm but recently gave up the lease after raising several different truck crops. Some of the dilemmas that they mentioned facing were the lack of viable organic options to control certain pests, time and labor needed to control weeds when herbicides were not used, security challenges, etc. Obviously, they could not sell much of what did not grow well without effective pest and weed control.  There is some zealous Garden of Eden like idealism that permeates the thinking of many until they have faced the reality of actually trying to farm in Hawai‘i.

I hope that my talk also brought to light that with increasing population and cropping intensification Native Hawaiians in the pre-European contact era indeed faced challenges and threats to sustainability despite far fewer constraints posed by invasive species.

Finally, I trust human ingenuity and integrated approaches to solve the challenges we currently face. In contrast to the polarized, advocacy-based discussions seen at some recent agricultural meetings, the dialogue at the first session of this symposia was surprisingly well-received, cordial, deep, and meaningful.

The challenges that agriculture faces in Hawaii demand an open and understanding approach based on the best scientific and verifiable on-farm evidence available so that we can best self-correct as a society for a more sustainable future.

I look forward to attending the 2nd and 3rd sessions of the symposia series.

The three-part symposium is being hosted by the Hilo Hamakua Community Development Corporation, and, as Dr. Mathews mentioned, the first one went  well.

The next two meetings are November 5th and November 13th; both are from 6-8 p.m., in the Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School Bandroom.

The meetings are open to the public; please come if you’re interested. Read more here.

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You’re Invited to a Community Meeting re: Hamakua Agriculture

Richard Ha writes:

Save the dates:

  • Wednesday, October 29
  • Wednesday, November 5
  • Thursday, November 13
  • 6-8 p.m.
  • Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School Bandroom

On these dates, the Hilo Hamakua Community Development Corporation will hold a series of community meetings to discuss agriculture on the Hamakua Coast. All are welcome (and refreshments are free).

We will take a 40,000 foot view of ag and its outside influences, and then look at the resources available to help us, such as the Daniel K. Inouye-Pacific Basin Ag Research Center (PBARC), the College of Tropical Ag and Human Resources (CTAHR), and the College of Ag, Forestry and Natural Resources Management (CAFNRM) at UH Hilo. 

There are many scientists researching various subjects. What do we want them to work on?

Farmers will be at the meeting to share their knowledge and experience.

Are you looking for land to farm? Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate with be there, and the Hamakua Ag Co-op has vacant land.

John Cross, former land manager for C. Brewer/Hilo Coast Processing, will attend. Did you know why all the sugar cane equipment had tracks, rather than rubber tires? Did you know that the plantations frequently planted banyan trees as significant landmarks? 

Jeff Melrose will be at the meetings. He recently did a study that's a snapshot of agriculture on the Big Island. He will talk about on what is grown on the Hamakua coast and why.

Come and talk story with the presenters, learn where you can get additional information, and speak up on what you would like to know more about in the future.

Ag & food security symposia

 

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Video: After The Storm

Richard Ha writes:

What a storm! The house shook with intense thunder and lightning last night. This morning, an eleven-mile stretch of Highway 19 was closed, 20 miles north of us, because of the storm.

During the day today we expect no more than 6 mols/meter square of plant-useful sun energy. Ideally, tomatoes need 25 mols/meter square.

Cloud cover and rain are most associated with low sun energy. This low sun energy applies to PV systems on people’s roofs, too. Leaves are another kind of solar radiation collector.

But even though the sun energy is down, our new hydro generator is at max production.

So, if the sun is bright, the plants smile and so do we. If it’s rainy, we generate more electricity.

Either way, we are happy.

Here’s information on waterflow in nearby Honoli‘i Stream as of this afternoon. It’s from the USGS (click to enlarge).

Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 8.55.47 PM

Here’s the same information year to date.

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 9.29.51 AM

 

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Energy On The Farm

Richard Ha writes:

We’ve had two days of rain and Wai‘a‘ama Stream is a raging torrent. Incredible amounts of water running down the flume!

In addition to using the water that’s all around us, we utilize the energy of the sun. Because what drives plant growth? Sun energy in a certain range.

Photosynthetically active radiation
From Wikipedia, the free
encyclopedia

Photosynthetically active radiation, often abbreviated PAR, designates the spectral range (wave band) of solar radiation from 400 to 700 nanometers that photosynthetic organisms are able to use in the process of photosynthesis….

 Read the rest

We use a sensor that measures the sun energy per meter squared and gives a number for the total accumulated in a day. We keep track of the total.

The sun energy total was low these last two days. This is something we expected, because the river has been raging.

Farmers routinely use scientific information. This is why I say farmers have common sense.

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Time Travel: Looking Back At Our Land

Richard Ha writes:

We’re planning to landscape the area around our new hydroelectric system with canoe plants, the plants that the first Polynesian settlers brought with them from their previous island homes to help them survive and thrive in their new land.

They were the original organic farmers. They had no oil back
then, of course, so no oil technologies.

And they did not just survive in their oil-free lives, but thrived and supported a large population here well (research suggests it was a
population as large as we have now).

So as we reach the age of Peak Oil, the end of easy and cheap oil and all that came with that, I want to explore how they did it. I
want to learn from them and see what, from those times, we can focus on again to improve our lives now. Our hydroelectric system is another example of what we are doing in these regards.

There are still people, of course, who have always lived
with the old ways, and who continue to do so. I met some people at the Hawai‘i Community College who are perpetuating this culture and who have offered to help me. I’ll write more about that soon.

For now I thought I’d revisit what we know happened on this
land before we started farming it. A lot of this information comes from the Cultural Resources Review of our poperty done by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 2.35.05 PM

Our farm encompasses three ahupua‘a in the district of South Hilo:

1. Ka‘upakuea at the north (bordered at the south by Makea Stream).

We don’t know much about what went on in Ka‘upakuea before the mid-19th century. In the mid-1800s, both Ka‘upakuea and Kahua were government lands, which were lands Kamehameha III gave “to the chiefs and people.” Ka‘upakuea was part of Grant 872. (Read the 1882 document A Brief History of Land Titles in the Hawaiian Kingdom for more on Hawai‘i’s historical land system.)

The area was later part of a sugar plantation, and has unpaved roadways and a west-east flume. Kaupakuea Camp was within the area of what’s presently our farm.

2. Kahua (which is between Makea and Alia Streams).

Kahua is a very narrow ahupua‘a, approximately 600 feet wide. It extends from the coast to about Makea Spring, which is at about the 980 foot elevation.

Kahonu (an ali‘i who was descended from both the I and Mahi
lines of chiefs, and who was in charge of the Fort at Punchbowl ca. 1833-34) was awarded either the whole of Kahua ahupua‘a or just the northern mauka half of it (references differ) as LCA 5663.

When he died in 1851, his relative Abner Paki (father of
Bernice Pauahi and hanai father of Lili‘uokalani) held the lands “under a verbal will from Kahonu” (Barrère 1994:138). When Paki died in 1855, the lands were listed as Bishop Estate lands.

3. Makahanaloa at its southern edge (bordered by Alia and Wai‘a‘ama Streams).

The ahupua‘a of Makahanaloa (Maka-hana-loa) runs from the coast about 3.5 miles up to the 6600-foot elevation. Kapue Stream flows from the base of Pu‘u Kahinahina down through Makahanaloa. Magnetic Hill is at the southwestern corner at the top of the ahupua‘a, which is a little over a mile wide and meets the North Hilo district boundary.

In the Great Mahele of 1848, 7600 acres of Makahanaloa and
Pepe‘ekeo were awarded to William Charles Lunalilo (an ali‘i who later became king, from 1873 until his death in 1874). Upon his death, his personal property went to his father Charles Kana‘ina.

Here are a couple of interesting facts about Makahanaloa
ahupua‘a: Somewhere within this area, though the exact location is unknown, there was (is?) an “ancient leaping place for souls.”

And according to historian Mary Kawena Pūku‘i, a sacred bamboo grove called Hōmaika‘ohe was planted at Makahanaloa by the god Kane. “Bamboo knifes used for circumcision came from this grove,” she wrote.

Sugar Plantation History

Sugar cane was one of the canoe plants; it came with the early Polynesians to Hawai‘i and they used it as food and sweetener, and chewed it to strengthen their teeth and gums.

The farm sits on land that was formerly part of a sugar plantation that had its origins in 1857, when Theophilus Metcalf started Metcalf Plantation. After his death in 1874, the 1500-acre plantation was purchased by Mr. Afong and Mr. Achuck and its name changed to Pepeekeo Sugar Company. In 1879, they also acquired the 7600-acre Makahaula Plantation. By 1882, both were combined as Pepeekeo Sugar Mill & Plantation. In 1889, Afong returned to China, leaving the plantation in the hands of his friend Samuel M. Damon.

Over the years, it changed hands several more times. C. Brewer
& Co. bought the plantation in 1904, added a plantation hospital and improved housing. By 1910, plantation fields were connected by good dirt roads and harvested cane was delivered to the mill by railroad cars and stationary flumes.

Post-1923, the plantation improved its soil every year by adding coral sand (from Wai‘anae), bone meal and guano. “The sand was bagged and hauled into the fields by mules to be spread” (Dorrance & Morgan 2000:101). Eucalyptus trees were planted as windbreaks, protecting the fields near the ‘ōhi‘a forests.

Water came from Wai‘a‘ama Stream and Kauku Hill.
 Plowing was
done to 18 to 20 inches. After 1932, tractors with caterpillar tracks were used for plowing. From 1941, trucks hauled harvested cane to the mill.

In the early 1950s, lots and houses on the plantation were sold to residents.

Under C. Brewer, there were several mergers: Honomu Sugar Company in 1946; Hakalau Sugar Company in 1963; consolidation of Wainaku, Hakalau, Pepeekeo, and Papaikou sugar companies in 1971, and a final merger in 1973 with Mauna Kea Sugar (once 5 separate plantations: Honomu, Hakalau, Pepeekeo, Onomea and Hilo Sugar Company) to form Mauna Kea Sugar Company, the state’s largest with 18,000 acres of cane (Dorrance & Morgan 2000:104).

Prior to the final merger, Mauna Kea Sugar Company had formed
a non-profit corporation with the United Cane Planters’ Cooperative, the Hilo Coast Processing Company, to harvest and grind sugarcane.

The Hilo Coast Processing Company and the Mauna Kea Sugar
Company (at that point called Mauna Kea Agribusiness Company) mill shut down in 1994.

We started farming on this land in 1994.

I’m very interested in knowing more history about this place. If you or your family know old stories about this area, I would love to hear them.

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Room With a View

Richard Ha writes:

This is the view from my “office” window.

View

I took it from the air-conditioned cab of my bulldozer, where I can even charge my iPhone. I was on a conference call yesterday while I was in the middle of clearing some brush that we are going to replace with something more productive. Not bad, huh?
Bamboo

We’re busy putting our marginal lands into production. While we’re at it, we need to provide safety barriers using dual-use plants and trees. We need to protect the streams by preventing erosion and runoff over the long term. If we can accomplish this with plants that provide food, so much the better.

On the land surrounding the hydro generator, we want to highlight the modern and the ancient. The hydro generator represents the modern, and the plants the Polynesian navigators brought with them in their canoes are of particular interest to me.

Being a banana farmer, I am familiar with the cooking bananas, the mai‘a maoli and the mai‘a popoulu. The mai‘a maoli produced a large, heavy bunch. I remember thinking, I would have put that in the canoe as well. The mai‘a popoulu was probably a backup. It was susceptible to wind and not very strong, relative to competition from grasses, etc.

Anybody have those varieties? I don’t see them aroundanymore. They succumbed to the fusarium wilt, like the Bluefield bananas did in the 50s. That caused the world banana trade to shift to the Cavendish type of banana, which are starting to succumb to another race of the fusarium wilt. That is the biggest threat overhanging the world banana industry today.

More pictures from my bulldozer. That’s bamboo in the distance. It’s less than three years old, and I’m guessing it’s 60-plus feet tall and 5 feet in diameter now. That’s with only two applications of fertilizer.

We have ‘opae in this healthy stream on our farm.

All the rose apple trees on Wai‘a‘ama Stream succumbed to a fungus a short time ago. We are going to plant other trees here, which will keep invasive species down and also help to keep the river cool.

This soil was fallow after a banana crop, and as I was walking along I saw earthworms. Healthy soil.

(I videotaped an earthworm!)

I am fascinated by our Hawaiian ancestors’ ability to survive, well, in a world without draft animals and metals.

I’m planning to write more about all this from a farmer’s point of view.

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Civil Beat & Huffington Post Coverage

Honolulu's Civil Beat came to the Big Island and interviewed Richard for this really good article on energy and Hawai‘i – and then today it was picked up by the Huffington Post. Wow. 

From Civil Beat:

Energy Prices Shock Hawaii Farmers Into Alternatives

by Sophie Cocke  8/15/13

HAMAKUA, BIG ISLAND — Lush green fields rise and dip through the rolling hills that stretch down to the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean. The verdant surroundings and tropical air suggest this farm could be one of countless others. So does the water that flows past leafy, green taro fields, stalks of corn that sway in the breeze and the sweet potato patch.

But the subtle, steady swooshing of the water signals how this farm is different. The water has been diverted from a mountain stream, down a 150-foot slope and into a small, blue shed where it sends blades spinning to generate electricity.

Yes, Hamakua Springs Country Farms has its own hydroelectric plant.

Farmer Richard Ha borrowed money to install the plant as part of a 19th-century solution to a very 21st century problem: sky-high energy rates….

Read the rest here

There's a short video interview with Richard at the end, too.

- posted by Leslie Lang

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Preparing for Tropical Storm Flossie

Richard Ha writes:

We have gone into “hurricane mode” here. Tropical Storm Flossie is due to hit the Big Island around 6 a.m. tomorrow morning.

From Hawaii News Now at 8 p.m. Sunday:

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) –

Tropical Storm Flossie continues to maintain strength as it inches closer to the islands. As of 8 p.m. Sunday, maximum sustained winds were 60 miles per hour, according to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC) in Honolulu.

Forecasters said at 8 p.m., the storm was located about 260 miles east of Hilo, or 465 miles east of Honolulu. It was moving toward the west at 18 miles per hour.  

Winds in excess of 60 mph can knock down banana plants and damage our tomato houses. Our worker safety is top priority.

We’ll see what the 11 p.m. weather report says. I’ll try to post again with an update tomorrow morning, early.

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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.

hydro.jpg

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
electricity.

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
tilapia
, 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.

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