Category Archives: Tomatoes

Community Members Ask If We Would Consider Tomato House Fundraiser

Richard Ha writes:

The response we've been getting from the community since we stopped producing tomatoes has been absolutely overwhelming. We did not expect it.

We knew people liked our Hamakua Springs tomatoes, but none of us anticipated the extent or amount of comments we've been getting. It's really been unbelievable. 

I recently got a note about our tomatoes from a couple in Kailua, on O‘ahu, and I wanted to share it with you. I'm posting it here with their permission:

Dear Richard and June Ha,
I read with great dismay that you will no longer be growing tomatoes due to the age of your hydroponic equipment. I don’t know how others feel about this, but my husband and I adored your tomatoes and will be very sad to be without them in the future.
I have a suggestion that you may not have considered. I know that I would be more than willing to donate money towards a new system. I imagine that there are others who feel the same way we do and would do likewise.

Is it worth your time to make a plea to the public for funds, stating the goal and having a chart indicating how close you are to that goal? Would the newspaper support your goal and put the information in a box on the front page, keeping track of the progress as well as keeping the public aware of your need?  If there was a bank account or some such place to send funds, you might just receive enough to update your equipment and be back in the tomato business.
It is so sad to see HI become more dependent on imported food rather than less, as should be the goal. Anyhow, this has been on my mind since the article was published. I contacted the reporter who said he would pass along the information, but I just had to see if you were even considering the idea. 
Thank you for listening. 

That was very nice of them. I had to tell them that we've passed the point of no return at this point. The problem is that costs have gone up, but the energy that drives tomato production – the sun – has not gone up. 


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


Kids Learn How to Create a Tomato

By Leslie Lang 

Richard recently contributed tomato flowers for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day at the Pacific Basin Agriculture Research Center (PBARC) in Hilo.

The cocktail tomato flowers were for a hands-on demo where kids learned about putting a tomato flower in sterile culture and growing their own tomato. They practiced removing flower petals with their fingers, and then saw how the scientists prepare the flowers under sterile conditions using forceps to remove the petals. The scientists put the flowers into a tissue culture and let the kids take them home and observe them developing into green tomatoes and then ripening.


It was the Ms. Foundation for Women (with support from foundation founder Gloria Steinem) who started “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” back in 1992; it started out as “Take Our Daughters to Work Day.” Sons were added in 2003. More than 37 million people participate every year at more than 3.5 million workplaces in the U.S., and there are more participants in over 200 other countries. Pretty impressive numbers!

From the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Foundation:

Exposing girls and boys to what a parent or mentor in their lives does during the work day is important, but showing them the value of their education, helping them discover the power and possibilities associated with a balanced work and family life, providing them an opportunity to share how they envision the future, and allowing them to begin steps toward their end goals in a hands-on and interactive environment is key to their achieving success.

PBARC participates once every three years, inviting employees to bring their children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren. Each child, too, can bring a friend.


Scientists set up displays and demos, usually hands-on, to demonstrate aspects of research and agriculture. Some of this year’s sessions had kids learning how to extract purple pigment from “red” cabbage, how to detect whether papaya seeds were genetically modified for ring spot virus, and drafting hibiscus cuttings. There was a short “genomic number cruncher” session, too.

“For the most part they are very engaged,” said research horticulturalist Tracie Matsumoto. “We keep the displays short, less than 30 minutes, and hands-on. One year we had a dead baby pig that we set up outside three weeks before the event, so the kids got to see the maggots and decaying carcass. That same entomologist who did that also set up a colony of sweet potato weevils one year, where the kids could put their arms in and let them crawl on their arms. Another year, we were extracting banana DNA and the kids got to take home DNA in a test tube.”

Because the facility recognizes that not every child wants to be a scientist, they also show the kids around all the other PBARC departments, so they see the various jobs that keep the facility going. They hear what the duties are for employees in administration, computer networking, janitorial and landscaping, payroll and purchasing. They learn that it takes more than just scientists to keep that operation going.

“We know students over the course of their lives are going to have multiple jobs and bosses and maybe careers, too, so we like to expand their expectations of what careers could be,” said Suzanne Sanxter, a biological laboratory technician and coordinator of the Daughters and Sons program.

Over the years, about 175 children between the ages of 7 and 18 have attended a PBARC Daughters and Sons event. This year there were 20 more, and all were asked to fill out surveys at the end of the day. PBARC must have really done something right, because each demo was listed as more than one students’ favorite, and reviews were glowing. A sampling:

How was your day at PBARC?

  • Awesome and super fun, because we got to do a lot of things.
  • It was the best and I wish there was more but I can’t wait for the next time I get to go.
  • Amazing!

What did you like the best?

  • I liked all of it, it was really fun the one that I liked the most was the tomatoe one and the calerpiler.
  • All the subjects
  • Going upstairs to see the wires.

What did you like the least?

  • I loved all of it.  All of them was really fun. I do not have any dislikes.
  • Nothing
  • Nothing

What experiment would you like to do next year?

  • The experiment that I would want to do is the calipilier one, the tomatoe and the planting one in the patiow.
  • Anything.
  • Looking in the microscope.

What would you like to learn more about – plants or insects?

  • What I would want to learn more is witch plant or fruit and inscect is the most endangered.
  • How many years does a lemitoad (nematode ?!) stay alive.
  • Insects.



‘So God Made A Farmer,’ And Now The Hawaii County Council Wants To Make Them Criminals

NOTE: I do not grow any GMO crops, and I do not have any financial or other affiliation to any large seed or other companies that advocate the use of GMOs. My interest in this topic is in finding the right direction for Big Island farming and in being able to feed our future generations.
The Hawai‘i County Council meets again tomorrow regarding the anti-GMO bill.

I sent a letter to the editor of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today asking that we take a sincere look at the big picture.

We need to know what we want for the Big Island, and then formulate a plan to get us there.

We need to leverage our resources so as to provide affordable food to the rubbah slippah folks while also working toward achieving food self-sufficiency for future generations.

We need to identify how we can achieve a competitive advantage over the rest of the world.

We need to realize that the Big Island is young, geologically, compared to the older islands. We do not, therefore, have alluvial plains, which form after many years of erosion. We do not have the conditions that would support industrial-scale agriculture – flat land, a dry climate, strong sun energy, deep soil and irrigation.

The seed companies are not arriving here tomorrow to set up shop. Their tractors make money on the straightaways, and they lose money on the turns. It’s counterintuitive, but in spite of its size, the Big Island is an environment best suited for small farmers, not large one. Let’s not let a fear of industrialization cause us to make decisions that kill off our small farmers.

Margaret Wille has now suggested we do an ad hoc study group as part of the Bill 113 discussion. This is an excellent place to begin. Let’s place Bill 113 on hold while we do a fair and impartial study of how we will get from here to there. Who is right is not as important as what is right.

Kumu Lehua Veincent always asks: “What about the rest?” and that is the key question. How do we come to a solution that takes care of the rubbah slippah folks as well as everybody else?

There are a thousand reasons why, No can. We must find the one reason why, CAN!!

Some of my thoughts about all this:

Q. How is farmers’ morale now that Bill 113 is out there?

A. Big Island farmers are demoralized. Paul Harvey narrated a commercial during the last Super Bowl that said, “And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a caretaker.” So God made a farmer.

It’s less than a year later, and now Big Island farmers are at risk of being criminalized.

Q. What do farmers think of Bill 113?

A. They feel it is unfair. They feel that they would not be able to use biotech solutions for insect and disease problems in the future, as will their counterparts on the other islands. They feel they would not be able to compete.

Farmers want to be good stewards of the land, and they are very distressed that they might be forced to use more pesticides than the rest of the state’s farmers.

Q. What biotech solutions are being developed for bananas?

A. Resistance to Race 4 Fusarium wilt, the biggest threat right now to banana farming worldwide, and resistance to Banana Bunchy Top virus. Both are taking place at the University of Hawai‘i right now.

Q. What biotech solutions are being developed for tomatoes right now?

A. Resistance to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus, which could devastate a tomato farm.

Q. As a relatively large farmer, do you think the big seed companies will come to the Big Island?

A. No. They’d lose money, which is why they are not already here. They need flat land, low humidity, high sunlight, deep soil and irrigation. Because the Big Island is so young geologically, these conditions are very rare here. Big tractors make money on the straightaways and lose money on the turns.

Q. Will Bill 113 increase our island’s food self-sufficiency?

A. No. Food self-sufficiency involves farmers farming. If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm. Bill 113 would make Big Island farmers less competitive. So it would result in less food self-sufficiency.

Q. Would Bill 113 result in less pesticide applications?

A. No. It’s biotech solutions that result in fewer pesticide applications. Big Island farmers would have to use more pesticides as compared to the rest of the State.

Q. What do farmers think of registering GMO farms?

A. They worry that this would make it easy for ecoterrorists to locate them.

Q. Hector Valenzuela suggested that organic farmers seek high-end markets. Would that help provide food for the masses?

A. It won’t. That solution anticipates a niche production for people who can afford high prices.

Q. Can organics provide sufficient affordable food for the masses?

A. No. There is no winter here to kill off bugs and provide an automatic reset. There isn’t sufficient manure for compost to provide the nitrogen fertilizer, which is the basic building block for protein.

Q. How can biotech solutions give Hawai‘i farmers a competitive advantage over the rest of the world?

A. They leverage our Hawaiian sunshine, which allows us to grow food year round. Also, reducing the cost of controlling insects and diseases that thrive in the humid subtropics gives Hawai‘i farmers a competitive advantage over the rest of the world.

Q. Do you think GMOs are safe?

A. Yes. Every major scientific organization in the world has endorsed the use of GMOs. Two trillion meals have been served with no harm done. Hawai‘i seniors have the longest life expectancy in the nation.

Q. Do you think RoundUp is safe?

A. Yes.

Q. Why do you think RoundUp is safe?

A. We know that the herbicides we used 25 years ago were much more toxic. Today, we have the ability to detect minute amounts of chemicals, and we must put things into perspective. One could take a sample of sea water and detect gold. But that doesn’t mean we would invest money in a business to mine gold from the ocean. We farmers have been taught, over and over, that the dose makes the poison. We need to use common sense.

Q. In your 35 years of farming, what do you consider to be the most important trend that will affect our future?

A. The price of oil has quadrupled in the last 10 years, which has caused farmers’ costs to rise. Farmers cannot pass on their costs as efficiently as others can. Farmers are price takers, rather than price makers. Because it is a finite resource, the oil price will steadily rise and food price will steadily rise as well.

But we can leverage our sun resource with new biotech solutions. We can take advantage of our year-round growing season and lower our cost to control pests and diseases and therefore lower the cost of food production. This will increase our Big Island residents’ discretionary spending, which makes up two-thirds of our economy. By doing this, we take care of all of us, not just a few of us.

Q. What do you suggest?

A. Defer Bill 113 and form a committee of stakeholders and experts to focus on Big Island solutions to future food security. It should not be political. It should be a solution that takes care of all of us, not just a few of us.


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.


What Is That Circle Around Us?

Richard Ha writes:

A bunch of things are happening right now. They look very different, but see if you notice what they all have in common.

We are just seeing the tomatoes start to produce more in spite of the dark, wet weather. It’s the third week of February; and last year, too, our tomatoes’ rate of production started climbing in the third week of February. That gives me a good feeling, because I’d been looking around and anticipating this.

All around I see growth. Avocado trees everywhere are choke with flowers right now. The ‘ulu are starting to develop on the tree; the ones I’m watching are about baseball size right now. Everything’s growing and producing around us.

We spent Saturday in Kona at a get-together for Armstrong Produce and its farmers. We stayed there for several hours, talking story with everybody.

I was sitting next to Timothy Choo, a chef from Sodexho, which does food service for UH Hilo. Sodexho is a huge supporter of local products, they go out of their way to buy locally, and we had a big conversation about it. Sodexho is supplied by Suisan, also a big supporter of local products.

I was also talking to Troy Keolanui, manager of OK Farms. Ed Olson owns that farm, 200 acres of many kinds of fruit and other trees, and we help distribute their produce under our Hilo Coast brand.

They are located behind Rainbow Falls, and they have a tent, with chairs in it, where they can sit and look at the falls. They purposely set it up behind some bushes so it doesn’t disrupt the more common view of Rainbow Falls, the one that tourists look at every day.

Then we drove back to this side of the island and went straight
to Puna. Chef Alan Wong was there, and he was throwing a small dinner for the farmers he buys from here.

Alan Wong and I started talking about the Adopt-A-Class project. I
said, “Why don’t we do a broader Adopt-A-Class project this time, in Puna. We’ll take the whole district and go to each of the schools there, including the charter schools. Everywhere there are elementary school kids.”

He’s into it. When we did this in the past, Alan Wong gave a class at Keaukaha Elementary School where he showed the kids how
to use tomatoes, and passed tomatoes around and had some of those kids eating, and loving, tomatoes.

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 3.13.20 PM

Then yesterday, the folks from Zippy’s came by the farm. They’re going to open up a restaurant at Prince Kuhio Plaza soon and we’ll be supplying some of their products. Zippy’s has a strong “support local” program. When you go into any Zippy’s restaurant, you always see signs about which farms they get some of their products from. Zippy’s also uses local beef. It’s a corporate decision to support local growers.

Do you see the common link among all these things? Everybody’s coming at it from a different point-of-view, but the common
denominator is that we are so lucky to live here in Hawai‘i!

It’s all about local food and making ourselves food-secure. Our tomatoes are thriving and plentiful; where else in the country can you grow tomatoes throughout the winter? Other food is growing all around us.

Armstrong Produce distributes the products of many local farmers and producers. So does Suisan. Sodexo buy that local food.

And Alan Wong, too, is very interested in supporting local farmers and teaching local school kids. He’s very aware of the movement to be self-sustaining and is always reaching out to teach kids about where they come from, how their parents used to live and how we can live now. He’s all about helping people be grounded, and he comes at it with the training of a very high-level chef.

People are really helping each other out. Everybody has to make money, but they’re looking after the next person in the chain. If you’re the farmer, you’re hoping that your wholesaler is caring about you and not just the retailers. Everybody is look after everybody else.

It’s the only way I can figure out that we can help our own workers. Because, of everyone, who’s going to protect the workers? I’ve got to do everything I can to protect them.

There’s a big circle of sustainability around us, and it’s one that’s getting bigger and bigger. It’s really incredible, though it’s easy to get caught up in our busy lives and forget to notice.


First Tomatoes

Richard Ha writes:

When I went to pick up Professor Charles A.S. Hall and his wife Myrna at the airport Wednesday, I noticed a plane that looked like Air Force One. It reminded me that President Obama and his family are on O‘ahu for vacation.

Barack and Michelle Obama ate at Alan Wong’s, with friends, on Wednesday.

From the blog Obama Foodorama:

A long day of Hawaiian golf on Wednesday gave President Obama an appetite for dinner at what is regarded as his favorite island fine dining establishment: Alan Wong’s Restaurant in Honolulu. The chef himself told Obama Foodorama last month that he was expecting a visit from the President and First Lady Obama during their Christmas vacation.

“They’re adventurous eaters,” Wong said of the Obamas. The acclaimed chef, who sources locally and sustainably for his modern Hawaiian cuisine, cooked the special APEC Leaders Dinner the President and Mrs. Obama hosted in late November at the Hale Koa Hotel in Honolulu….

 Read the rest

Here’s a fun look at when Alan Wong and his chefs visited the farm and cooked for us one time.

Last Friday, the Obamas dined at Morimoto restaurant in Honolulu.

Before opening his Waikiki Restaurant, “Iron Chef” Masaharu Morimoto had visited us at Hamakua Springs.

Tomatoes from Hamakua Springs are on the menu at both Alan Wong’s and Morimoto. Tomatoes fit for a president!


How Global Warming is Impacting Food Crops

I sent this Wall Street Journal online link to Dr. Bruce Matthews, the Interim Dean of UH Hilo’s College of Ag and Forestry.

Rising carbon-dioxide levels are slightly helping crops compete against weeds.

Two rival designs of plant biochemistry compete to dominate the globe. One, called C3 after the number of carbon atoms in the initial sugars it makes, is old, but still dominant. Rice is a C3 plant. The other, called C4, is newer in evolutionary history, and now has about 21% of the photosynthesis “market.” Corn is a C4 plant. In hot weather, the C3 mechanism becomes inefficient at grabbing carbon dioxide from the air, but in cool weather C4 stops working altogether. So at first glance it seems as if global warming should benefit C4…. Read the rest

He responded:
Thanks for sharing the article. Back in 2002 I spent a day with John Sheehy at IRRI (Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines) when he was just starting his work on trying to make a C4 rice plant.  He is retired now but still serves as a consultant to IRRI on plant physiology and breeding.
“Smart” crop varieties that yield more under higher temperatures and more frequent water stress with fewer inputs are pivotol to the future success of agriculture in the tropics. Result-oriented breeding programs are critically needed.
Bananas are a C4 plant and will do fine under rising temperatures. Tomatoes, a C3 plant, may benefit by breeding them into a C4 heat-tolerant plant.

A Tomato By Any Other Name (Including a Hawaiian One)

We recently shared some tomatoes with the charter school Ke Kula O Nawahiokalaniopu‘u, sometimes known as Nawahi.

Ke Kula ‘O Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu is designed for families, teachers and staff who have chosen to speak Hawaiian as the first and main language of the home, and also those who are in the process of establishing Hawaiian as the dominant language of the home. The goal is to develop, enhance and maintain the Hawaiian language through education in the home and school. The purpose of academics and global learning i.e., foreign languages such as English and Japanese, is to develop skills to be applied in the revitalization of the Hawaiian speaking community through economic interaction with the outside world.



Afterward, I got this nice note from Jenea Respicio at the school:

Aloha e Richard,

Attached please find some pictures from the distribution of the delicious tomatoes that were so kindly donated by your company today.

We had the cases of tomatoes stored in the school’s walk-in refrigerator and had all of the students, faculty, and staff members meet outside of the lumi `aina (cafeteria) before being dismissed at the end of the day. Everyone expressed their gratitude and as you can see from the photos the kids just could not wait to get eat some of the fresh tomatoes!

Several parents also made sure to come up to me and express their gratitude and asked me why did the kids received such a generous gift. This was my response to both the school and parents who approached me:

“Hamakua Springs is a locally owned and operated family business. The proprietor of Hamakua Springs, Richard Ha, believes in his community and its people and feels that due to the strenuous economic times he just wanted to share the fresh tomatoes with the `ohana of Nawahi to enjoy; as we all know that with a stiff economy most families, unfortunately, are not able to purchase as much fresh vegetables as they would want, and Hamakua Springs just wanted to say mahalo to the local community for their support over the years with a token of fresh tomatoes.”

I hope that my response to the school and parents was satisfactory and if I was incorrect in any aspect I apologize as I was “shooting from the hip” when I was approached.

Nawahi will be sending you a leka (letter) but I wanted to send these pictures on my part. Again, mahalo nui for all that you do for our community.

Jenea Respicio



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.”