Category Archives: Hydroelectric

Digital Bananas

A short look at our bananas:

And part of our hydro system:

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald had an article this morning about the farm closing. The reporter did a good job.

By IVY ASHE Hawaii Tribune-Herald
 

All things considered, farming was easy when Richard Ha first started growing bananas in Kapoho nearly 40 years ago.

“You just had to work hard and you could be OK,” Ha, 71, told the Tribune-Herald on Thursday, a day after announcing on his Hamakua Springs Country Farm blog that the banana operation — the largest on the island — would be closing down.

“The last bananas will be the ones we are bagging now, which will be ready around the end of March, and then that will be it,” Ha wrote on the blog.

The past decades have seen the banana farm grow from 25 acres in Kapoho to 150 acres in its current Pepeekeo location.

The farm survived a Kapoho windstorm that forced a move to Keaau. It survived nematodes in Keaau. It was brought back to life in Pepeekeo after banana bunchy top virus decimated the Keaau crop in 2005.

And it weathered the 2008 oil price peak — an event that imposed extraordinary costs on the farm and would have shuttered the business if Ha’s employees hadn’t proposed a solution: switch from cultivating both apple bananas and Williams (a Cavendish cultivar) to exclusively Williams.

The proposal bought the farm time….

Read the rest

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Yes, We’ll Have No Tomatoes

Richard Ha writes:

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but we have been phasing out production of our tomatoes.

This came about because of what I’ve been saying here for years: The price of oil has raised farming costs substantially. The pluses of growing our hydroponic tomatoes were no longer exceeding the minuses.

When we started growing tomatoes back in 2002, we had been banana growers. Oil prices were low and banana prices were also low; it was hard to make a living that way. We needed to diversify, which is one of the reasons we went into tomatoes. It was a good decision.

But costs have been increasing drastically, and our tomato growing infrastructure is getting old and will start falling apart soon, so we had to make a decision. Do we take it apart and rebuild the tomato houses? Or do we replace them? Replacing them would cost an eye-opening three times what it cost 12 years ago when we put them up.

It’s a real-life consequence of what I keep saying here: The price of oil is four times higher than it was 10 years ago and there are significant consequences. Everything costs so much more now. We are in the middle of major changes and most people don’t even realize it.

We took into account that our customers are under increasing economic pressure, as well—meaning they have less disposable income—and that our tomatoes are a high-end product. We also knew, as we made this decision, that oil and other costs are expected to keep rising.

Our plan had always been to take our tomato farming to the next step, which would have been to leverage our excess hydroelectricity in a controlled environment that allowed us to exclude insects and optimize light and temperature. Unfortunately, it just took too long to get our hydro plant operating.

It’s been a very difficult decision, and one that we’ve been carefully considering and making for quite some time, taking not only all these conditions into account but also our next generation. As hard as it’s been to make this decision, we all agreed it was the right thing to do. It allows us to continue farming. 

We’re definitely not closing up shop; just refocusing our farming efforts based on economic factors.

We will stay in bananas. They do well in our rain and deep soil and other conditions. The banana infrastructure we have in place, such as the coolers and concrete, is good for another 20 years. The pluses exceed the minuses.

I continue to be very interested in producing a cost-effective protein source here on the farm, such as tilapia and other fish. We are currently working on the problems of protein feed and oxygenation of water, which we can do with gravity and electricity. We’re always thinking about where we need to be in 10 or 20 years.

And I’ll let you know what other interesting projects crop up along the way. 

In the meantime, you’ll see our Hamakua Springs Country Farms tomatoes until the end of November; that’s when the last of them will come off the vines, go through our packing houses, and hit the supermarkets.

We thank you for supporting, and enjoying, our tomatoes all these years.

Hamakua Springs tomatoes

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Preparing for Climate Change, The Overview

Richard Ha writes:

I was asked to talk this morning at the Hawai‘i State Association of Counties 2014 Annual Conference, which was held in Waikiki. I spoke on the panel called Preparing for Climate Change. Here’s what I said.

***

Aloha everyone. Thanks for inviting me.

Food security has to do with farmers farming. If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm!

The Hawaiian side of our family is Kamahele, from lower Puna. All the Kamaheles are related. The Okinawa side of our family is Higa. The Korean side of our family is the Ha name. It’s about all of us in Hawaii. Not just a few of us!

I write an ag and energy blog Hahaha.hamakuasprings.com. It stands for three generations of us.

What is the difference between climate and weather? Neil DeGrasse Tyson, on Cosmos, describes it like the guy strolling down the beach with his dog. The dog running back and forth is the weather. The guy walking along the beach is climate.

Background: 35 years farming, more than 100 million pounds of fruits and vegetables. We farm 600 fee-simple acres which the family and 70 workers farm. Not having any money, we started out by trading chicken manure for banana keiki and went on to become the largest banana farm in the U.S. We were green farmers early. In 1992, we were first banana farm in the world certified Eco-OK by the Rainforest Alliance. In 2008, we were one of six national finalists for the Patrick Madden SARE award. We were one of the first farms in Hawai‘i to be food-safety certified.

When we needed to find a solution for a disease problem, we took a class in tissue culture and tried to culture the plants in our back bedroom. But there was too much contamination, from cat hair maybe. So we made our own tissue culture lab. We have our own hydroelectric plant, which provides all our electricity. Our trucks and tractors operate with fuel from Hawai‘i biodiesel.

My pop told me that, “Get a thousand reasons why no can.” I’m only looking for the one reason why CAN.

As we stroll along the climate change beach, there are two things that we notice.

The first is energy. Without energy, work stops. Petroleum products are finite and costs will rise. Farmers’ costs will rise and farmers’ customers’ costs will rise. How can we dodge the bullet?

I attended five Peak Oil conferences. The world has been using twice and three times as much oil as we have been finding. So the price is going to keep on going up. It will increase farmers’ costs and will increase the farmers’ customers’ costs. We need to do something that will help all of us, not just a few of us. Something that can help future generations cope.

That something is hydrogen. The geothermal plant can be curtailed at 70 MW per day. That’s throwing away 70 MW of electricity every night. The new eucalyptus chip plant Hu Honua can be curtailed by 10 MW for ten hours per night. The key to hydrogen is electricity cost. On the mainland it is made from natural gas. Here it can be made from running electricity through water. We are throwing away lots of electricity at night. We know that oil and gas prices will be steadily going up in the future. Hydrogen from our renewable resources will become more and more attractive as oil and gas prices rise. At some point we will have an advantage to the rest of the world. And as a bonus, hydrogen combined with nitrogen in the air will produce nitrogen fertilizer.

You may be interested to know the inside scoop about the lawsuit that Big Island farmers brought against the County.

Why? Clarity: Farmers are law-abiding citizens and we play by the rules. We thought that the Feds and the State had jurisdiction. We want clarity about the rules of the game.

Equal treatment: Only Big Island farmers are prohibited from using biotech solutions that all our competitors can use. How is that equal? It’s discriminatory against local farmers.

When the law was first proposed, they wanted to ban all GMOs. We asked what are papaya farmers supposed to do? They said, we can help them get new jobs, to transition. We were speechless. It was as if they were just another commodity. So farmers and ranchers got together and ran a convoy around the County building in protest. Then they said they would give the Rainbow papaya farmers a break. I was there when the papaya farmers had a vote to accept the grandfather clause for Rainbow papayas. There were a lot of young, second- and third-generation farmers there in the room.

In the end, the papaya farmers said, We are not going to abandon our friends who supported us when we needed help. That is not who we are. Then they voted unanimously to reject the offer. I was there and being a Vietnam vet, where the unspoken rule was we all come back or no one comes back, I could not have been prouder of the papaya farmers. That explains why the Big Island farmers are tight. Old-fashioned values. The rubbah slippah folks absolutely get all of this.

So who are these farmers? I am one. I don’t grow GMOs. It isn’t about me. I’ll make 70 this year and, like almost all the farmers, have never sued anyone. But there comes a time when you have to stand up for what is right.

The group we formed, Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United, grows more than 90 percent of the farm value on the Big Island.

This is about food security. The GMO portion of food security is small. This is not about large corporations. It is about local farmers. It is not about organics; we need everybody. But organics only supply 4 percent of the national food supply and maybe 1 percent of Hawai‘i’s. Our organic farmers are not threatened by modern farming. Hawaii organic farmers are threatened by mainland, industrial-scale organic farms. That is why there are hardly any locally grown organics in the retail stores. It’s about cost of production. Also, on the mainland winter kills off the bad bugs and weeds and the organic farmers can outrun the bugs through the early part of summer. Hawai‘i farmers don’t have winter to help us.

Most importantly, this is about pro-science and anti-science. That is why farmers are stepping up. We know that science is self-correcting. It gives us a solid frame of reference. You don’t end up fooling yourself. In all of Hawai‘i’s history, now is no time to be fooling ourselves.

My pop told me that there were a thousand reasons why No Can. He said, look for the one reason why Can! He said to look for two solutions to every problem and one more, just in case.

He would pound the dinner table and dishes would bounce in the air and he would point in the air and say, “Not no can. CAN!”

We can have a better world for future generations. It’s all common sense and attitude.

***

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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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A Journey Back

Richard Ha writes:

We had no idea there was a stream running under the green sugar cane in the foreground of this picture. This is near our new hydroelectric plant. 

Cane

Here’s what we saw after we cleared some of the cane. Amazing!

Another great natural resource!

Awhile back I was asked to speak to students in the Hawai‘i Life Styles program at Hawai‘i Community College. The program has three tracks: hula, fishing and farming. Since then, I’ve kept in touch, and recently Keone Chin and Keali‘i Lilly came and helped clear the cane away. Keone is outreach specialist and Keali‘i is mahi‘ai (farming) support for I Ola Haloa, the Hawai‘i Life Styles program.

Though on the one hand we are using our property at the farm in a modern way, as in with the hydroelectric system, on the other hand, we are looking back at how the land was used in the past.

We have decided to plant canoe plants around the hydro area, to get a feel for how Hawaiian sustained themselves and what they used. I’ve also been talking to Gary Eoff, who’s a well-known expert in making traditional cordage, and we’re talking about planting some of those plants. Eventually we’d like to make plant materials available for others who want to use them.

Gary also grows gourds. You know what I think of when I think about gourds and cordage? I think Tupperware. You can use them to carry things around, and store food. Imagine – Hawaiians even had Tupperware back then. They really didn’t lack for much.

Everything comes down to net energy minus the cost of your food. What’s left over determines your lifestyle. It’s a little more complex than that, but it’s valuable in that it gives us a way to compare how people lived in the old days compared to now. If you use your energy efficiently, maybe you can sit around and go surfing a lot.

So we are just starting the process of figuring out how to use the land around the hydro plant, and going through the exercise with the folks from the HCC Hawai‘i Life Styles program. We are going on this journey together. It’s truly exciting.

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The New Ahupuaa, Revisited

Richard Ha writes:

This is a post I wrote back in 2007. I recently reread it and realized it's the same story as what's happening today. It's six years later, and people still don't realize we don't have time to fool around.

I'm going to rerun the post here.

***

October 10, 2007

I spoke at the Hawai‘i Island Food Summit this past weekend, which was attended by Hawaiian cultural people, policy makers, university researchers, farmers, ranchers, and others.

The two-day conference asked the question, “How Can Hawai‘i Feed Itself?”

I felt like a small kid in class with his hand raised: “Call me! Call me!”

I sat on one of the panels, and said that our sustainability philosophy has to do with taking a long-term view of things. We are always moving so we’ll be in the proper position for the environment we anticipate five, 10 and 20 years from now.

I told them I had a nightmare that there would be a big meeting down by the pier one day, where they announce that food supplies were short because the oil supply was short and so we would have to send thousands of people out to discover new land.

I was afraid that they would send all the people with white hair out on the boats to find new land—all the Grandmas and Grandpas and me, but maybe not June.

Grandmas and Grandpas hobbled onto the boats with their canes and their wheelchairs, clutching all their medicines, and everybody gave all of us flower leis, and everyone was saying, “Aloha, Aloha, call us when you find land! Aloha!”

I spoke about where we want to be in five, 10 or 20 years. We know that energy-related costs will be high then. And that we need to provide food for Hawai‘i’s people.

We call our plan “The New Ahupua‘a.”

In old Hawai‘i, the ahupua‘a was a land division that stretched from the uplands to the sea, and it contained the resources necessary to support its human population—from fish and salt to fertile land for farming and, high up, wood for building, as well as much more.

Our “New Ahupua‘a” uses old knowledge along with modern technology to make the best use of our own land system and resources. We will move forward by looking backward.

• We plan to decouple ourselves from fossil fuel costs by developing a hydroelectric plant, which will allow us to grow various crops not normally grown at our location.

• We are moving toward a “village” concept of farming, and starting to include farmers from the area, who grow things we don’t, to farm with us. This way, the people who work on our farm come from the area around our farm. We will help them with food safety, pest control issues and distribution.

• We are developing a farmers market at our property on the highway, where the farmers who work with us can market their products.

• We will utilize as much of our own resources for fertilizer as possible, by developing a system of aquaponics, etc.

This “New Ahupua‘a” is our general framework for the future. It will allow us to produce more food than we can produce by ourselves. It is a safe strategy, in case the worst scenario happens; if it doesn’t, this plan will not hurt us.

It is a simple strategy. And we are committed to it.

My assessment of how we came to be here and where we need to be in the future is this: In the beginning, one hundred percent of the energy for food came from the sun. The mastodons ate leaves, the saber tooth tiger ate the mastodon and we ate the tiger and everything else.

The earth’s population was related to the amount of food we could gather or catch. And sometimes the food caught and ate us. So there were only so many of us roaming around.

Then some of us started to use horses and mules to help us grow food. As well as the sun, now animals provided some of the energy for cultivating food. We were able to grow more food, and so there were more of us.

About 150 years ago, we discovered oil. With oil we could utilize millions of horsepower to grow food—and we didn’t even need horses. Oil was plentiful and cheap; only about $3/barrel. We used oil to manufacture fertilizer, chemicals and for packaging and transportation.

Food became very, very plentiful and we started going to supermarkets to harvest and hunt for our food. Hunting for our food at the supermarkets was very good—the food did not eat us and now there are many, many, many of us.

But now we are approaching another change to the status quo—a situation being called “Peak Oil.” That’s when half of all the oil in existence is used up. Half the oil will still be left, but it will be increasingly hard to tap. At some point, the demand for oil—by billions and billions of people who cannot wait to get in their car and drive to McDonalds—will exceed the ability to pump that oil.

Food was cheap in the past because oil was cheap. Five years ago, oil was $30/barrel but now it’s over $80/barrel. Now that oil is becoming more and more expensive, food is also going to become much more expensive.

In the beginning the sun provided a hundred percent of the energy and it was free. Today oil is becoming very expensive, but sun energy is still free.  The wind, the waves, the water—they are all free here in Hawaii. It’s the oil that is expensive.

For Hamakua Springs, the situation is not complicated at all. We need to use an alternate form of energy to help us grow food!

With alternate energy, we should be able to continue growing food—and maybe local food can be grown cheaper than food that is shipped here from far away.

I told the Food Summit attendees that we farmers need to grow plenty of food so that others can do what they do and so we continue to have a vibrant society. If we don’t plan ahead to provide enough food, and as a consequence every family has to return to farming to feed themselves, it would be a much more limited society. People would not be able to pursue the arts, write books, explore space. We would have way fewer choices – maybe only, “What color malo should I wear today?”

There was a feeling going through the Food Summit’s crowd that we were a part of something very important and very special. What I found different about this conference is that people left feeling that this was just the beginning.

We are going to take action.

***

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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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Water, Water Everywhere

Richard Ha writes:

We have so much water flowing to our new hydroelectric system. On average, more than two billion gallons of rain falls out of the sky and onto our farm each year.

We have one area with four acres of overgrown cane so thick you cannot touch the ground unless you hack your way through. The plantations put in a culvert there, at the lowest part of that field, and periodically a significant amount of water flows there.

Patchofcane

There is the sound of rushing water coming from somewhere in this patch of cane. This happens every time it rains upslope.

There’s no water flowing at the top of that field, where we have bananas planted. The water is coming from somewhere within that overgrown cane, and we notice that the more rain we have upslope, the louder the sound of the water.

But I just hacked my way 20 feet into that top part of the parcel and I heard the sound of water there, too. I’ll find out what that is in a few days.

Bamboo

I wonder what that looks like? What can we use this land for?

I plan to plant bamboo to line the south side of the water source, which will throw a shadow on the stream and help us access the water.

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Huffington & Omidyar Visit Hamakua Springs

By Leslie Lang, blog editor

Thursday was such an interesting day. Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post, and Pierre Omidyar, founder of Honolulu’s online newspaper Civil Beat (and founder of eBay), spent some time at Hamakua Springs Country Farms.

The background is that Huffington Post and Civil Beat have teamed up to start HuffPost Hawaii (and they asked Richard to blog for the new online news organization. Here’s his first HuffPost Hawaii post, by the way.)

So this week, Arianna and Pierre were making the rounds in Hawai‘i for the big HuffPost Hawaii launch. They spent Thursday on the Big Island, where they were welcomed with a big reception at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.

The only other Big Island stop they made was to Richard’s farm. They had asked if they could come and meet Richard and learn about what he’s doing. So that happened Thursday afternoon, and Richard invited me to join them there.

What a completely fascinating day. There’s something about being around really smart people who are doing big and really interesting things, making things happen and making a difference. Richard is completely like that, too, as you know if you’ve been reading this blog. It’s invigorating to be around that kind of energy.

Both Arianna and Pierre are very friendly and down-to-earth, and both are interested in issues of sustainability and what Richard is doing.

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Richard told them about his background — flunking out of college the first time around and ending up in Vietnam, coming back and trading manure from his father’s chicken farm for bananas to start what eventually became Hamakua Springs Country Farms — about seeing prices start rising, rising, rising and wondering why; about attending five Peak Oil conferences and starting to learn what was happening. He talked about how he forces the changes needed to get to where he needs to be five or 10 years in the future.

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He talked about the current threat to Big Island farming from anti-GMO bills, and Pierre asked some very salient (and polite) questions about some common GMO fears, such as of:

  • Commercial control of seeds. Richard replied that in many cases, such as with, for instance, the Rainbow papaya, virus-resistant seeds are developed by the university and not controlled by any big business at all. This, he said, is often the case.
  • Cross-pollination, or “pollen drift.” Richard responded that due to numerous studies, we know how much drift there is for different crops. Farmers work together, he says, to plan what is planted where, plant so many lines of “guard rows” and it’s completely manageable.

They asked about Richard’s new hydroelectric system, and we took a dusty, bumpy country road drive out to see where the water runs through an old sugar cane flume, and then through a turbine.

Car

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Arianna and Pierre were very interested in this, and in how, when the switch is thrown very shortly, the farm will be saving perhaps almost half of its monthly electric bill, which now averages $10-11,000.

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Pierre asked about returning excess power to the utility, and was shocked to learn that due to a technicality, Richard will not be paid for the power he feeds to HELCO. Pierre kept returning to that and said, more than once, “That’s just not right.” Richard finally replied, “Well, at least it’s not wasted.”

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Richard Ha, Arianna Huffington, Pierre Omidyar, Leslie Lang, June Ha

Richard talked about how they have converted the farm from growing mostly bananas to being a family of farms, which brings in local farmers who then have a close-to-home place to farm. This, in turn, means the farm produces a more diverse crop.

He told Arianna and Pierre about growing their current experiment growing tilapia, to learn how to add a protein component to the food they produce and also use the waste as fertilizer. Workers can fish for tilapia there and take some home for their families.

Arianna and Pierre both seemed sincerely interested. They paid close attention and asked good questions.

Richard told them about talking with Kumu Lehua Veincent, who was principal of Keaukaha Elementary School back in the early days of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) push. He told them that he asked Kumu Lehua, “What if we ask the TMT for five, full-ride scholarships to the best schools in the nation for your best students?” He told them that Kumu Lehua thought about it for a minute and then quietly asked, “And what about the rest?”

This was a turning point, explained Richard, who said that at the time he could feel his ears turning red. He told Arianna and Pierre that that phrase, What about the rest? gives him an “unfailing moral compass.”

It always brings him back to the rubbah slippah folk, he told them. The “rubbah slippah” folk are in contrast to the “shiny shoes” folk. When he explained this, Pierre looked down at his own shoes.

“I wore my shiny shoes today,” he said, “but I meant to change into my sneakers before coming to the farm.” He mentioned his shiny shoes a couple more times during the visit.

“I felt they absolutely got what I meant when I advocated for the ‘rubbah slippah’ folks,” Richard told me, “and completely support that idea.”

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Richard’s daughter Tracy had laid out a beautiful spread of Hamakua Springs produce back by the office, where there was a tent set up, and Arianna zeroed in on the longan.

“What’s this?” she said, and Tracy explained that it’s a delicious fruit. She handed one to Arianna, along with some wipes (they are juicy and messy), and Arianna loved it.

Arianna gives the impression of being very family-oriented. “At what point did you and June get married in this long process?” she asked, when Richard was explaining how he got started farming 35 years ago. (The answer: 32 years ago, and when June joined the family she took all the farm receipts out of a big banana box and straightened out the accounting.) Arianna asked Tracy if she had siblings. When she was introduced to Richard’s grandson Kapono, she looked at him, and at his parents, and asked, “Now, are you Tracy and Kimo’s son?” (Yes.)

She gave June a copy of her book, On Becoming Fearless.

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Both Arianna and Pierre are such interesting people. One of the things Richard talks about is forcing change, and that is something that both his guests are all about, too: Looking down the road and fixing things, forcing the change instead of letting things bumble along.

It is refreshing to be in the presence of such interesting thinkers and doers. Great day.

This is a video Civil Beat did with Richard recently, before Arianna and Pierre’s visit. It’s really nicely done and you get to hear a bit about some of the topics they discussed yesterday (while seeing gorgeous views of the farm).

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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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