No Problems with Pesticides, No Need

Several experts have come out saying many of the recommendations made by a fact-finding group that studied potential pesticide hazards on the west side of Kaua‘i last year are likely not needed.

And then there was an editorial saying just that in yesterday’s Hawaii Star-Advertiser:

Editorial| Our View
Don’t overreact to pesticide study

June 9, 2016

A fact-finding mission to determine whether pesticides used by large agricultural operations on the west side of Kauai cause harm to humans and the environment found no smoking gun. So it would be difficult to justify spending millions of taxpayer dollars to implement all 28 of the panel’s policy recommendations….

Read the rest

And a news story from the Star-Advertiser last week:

State officials, experts question the practicality of group’s pesticide report

By Sophie Cocke, June 5, 2016 

State regulators and experts in the fields of health and environmental science say that many of the recommendations put forward by a joint fact-finding group convened to study the potential hazards of pesticide use by large agricultural operations on the west side of Kauai likely aren’t useful, would cost millions of dollars annually and in some cases exceed state resources and expertise.

The study group, originally composed of nine Kauai residents with diverse backgrounds, and facilitated by mediation specialist Peter Adler of consulting company ACCORD3.0 Network, spent months sifting through scientific research and health data to evaluate whether there is any indication that pesticide use on the west side of Kauai is harming the environment or human health….

Read the rest

The report, released last week, found no evidence that pesticides are making people sick on Kaua‘i or posing any significant environmental risk. However, it put forth 28 recommendations for continued monitoring and studies.

Peter Adler, who spearheaded that fact-finding group last year, spoke to us at the Department of Agriculture on Tuesday and afterwards, people in the audience spoke up. Two of three people who resigned in protest from that fact-finding group were present and said they did not think the fact-finding was fair or justified. They thought it was one-sided, which is why they resigned from the group. They were very persuasive.

Then on Sunday, Bruce Anderson, formerly the director of the Department of Ag and now  administrator for the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Divison of Aquatic Resources, was quoted about this in the above Star-Advertiser article.

He said he does not agree that the huge expense and efforts are needed. He pointed out that the recommended monitoring would likely cost millions of dollars per year. I find Bruce very credible.

“The bottom line was that there were no problems found,” he said, “and it is hard to justify the extraordinary expense involved in long-term monitoring of air, water and other exposures to pesticides. There is nothing really unique about the west side of Kauai. It’s an agricultural area, pretty much the same as other agricultural areas.”

I come to the same conclusions as Bruce.

Last summer, several of us from the Department of Agriculture went to Kaua‘i to see how the seed companies were performing under their voluntary “Good Neighbor” policy. This is a policy where they voluntary refrained from spraying close to hospitals and schools, etc.

We met with some of the large seed companies, and the senior level executives spoke, then the mid-level people, but I didn’t just listen to the bosses. I listened to the folks on the ground who were implementing that policy, and asked them questions, and found that their answers supported what the bosses said.

It seemed to me that the Good Neighbor Policy was very reasonable, and the way they were carrying it out seemed to make a lot of sense from a farmers’ point of view. Frankly, I came to the conclusion that it seemed like a very good program.


Why Are Robots Assembling on Hawaii Island?

For the first time, the State Championship event for Hawai‘i high school VEX robotics will be held on the Big Island.

The championship event in January 2017, which, appropriately for the astronomy-oriented Big Island, is called “Starstruck,” will host 30 to 36 high school VEX robotics teams from throughout the state. Winning teams from the State Championship event will qualify for the World VEX Championship games, to be held in April 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Last year, 31 Hawai‘i robotics teams participated at the World Championship, including eight middle and high school VEX teams. Kohala High School won the Judges Award. Twenty three VEX IQ elementary and middle school teams participated last year, including Kea‘au Elementary School.

Teams are already designing and programming robots to meet the 2017 games challenges. Schools interested in joining VEX VRC or IQ should email Art Kimura, Education Specialist at UH Manoa’s Hawai’i Space Grant Consortium, as soon as possible.

Volunteers are needed for the January 6th championship event. Organizations and individuals are needed for judging, refereeing, scorekeeping, announcing and queuing. To volunteer, contact Art Kimura with your organization affiliation, if any, and t-shirt size. Volunteers receive lunch, drinks and a t-shirt.

To qualify for the State Championships, teams must first qualify in tournaments to be held on Onizuka Science Day (January 28, 2017; volunteers and sponsors are still needed for that day as well). VEX VRC middle and high school qualifying robotics tournaments will be held at Waiakea Intermediate and Kohala High. VEX IQ Crossover elementary and middle school qualifying tournaments will be held at Waiakea Elementary, Kealakehe High School and UH Hilo.

VEX VRC and IQ robotics are the fastest growing robotics programs in the world with more than 16,000 teams. Last year Hawai‘i had 238 teams, and it’s projected to have least 300 in the near future, representing more than 30 percent of the state’s schools. This is due to an infusion of state labor work force development funds, says Kimura, who thanks Representative Mark Nakashima.

“Robotics would not be possible in Hawai‘i without the generous support of the community and the hundreds of volunteers, including team mentors,” says Kimura.

“On the Big Island, the early and continuous support of the Thirty Meter Telescope and Sandra Dawson has increased schools’ and communities’ access to scholastic robotics. Statewide, the Hawaiian Electric Companies and the aio Foundation have generously provided support where we have experienced a 300 percent growth in VEX IQ robotics in just two years. We are one of only ten states to show a +50 team increase in one year, and on a per capita basis, we lead the nation in participation.”

This October, an international robotics competition called the Pan Pacific Championship will be held on O‘ahu. It will include more than 20 teams from China, Taiwan, Korea, New Zealand and Canada as well as Hawai‘i.

“We thank the generous support of the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Hawaiian Electric Companies, the County of Hawai‘i (Research and Development), and Kea‘au High School, to make it possible for the Big Island to host the Starstruck State Championship tournament,” says Kimura.

Kimura says if the Mauna Kea Outreach Committee, UH Hilo, or any other Big Island organizations would like to help support the State Championship tournament, they can email him at Sponsors’ logos will be on the volunteer t-shirts and the championship banners awarded to winning teams. Sponsors are also provided with a sponsor table at the tournament.


Where Kauai Utility and NextEra Stand

Richard Borreca wrote an editorial for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “On Politics” column Sunday. It’s called “Compared to NextEra, Kauai’s Utility Looks Good.”

He notes that all the talk about Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI) merging with NextEra Energy comes when Hawaii is, more and more, being recognized for its moves into alternative energy. “HECO,” he writes, “with its flickering support for solar programs, has caused consumers to vote with the checkbook as they scramble to go solar and leave the grid. Unfortunately, the public utility getting much of the praise is not HECO, but the tiny Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.”

Compared to NextEra, Kauai’s utility looks good

It has been a year-and-a-half since Hawaiian Electric Industries announced it was set to merge with Florida-based NextEra Energy Inc. in a deal worth $4.3 billion.

If talk were watts, the still-not-approved purchase could power the state. Everyone has an opinion on the publicly traded local company.

The talk may be up as the companies have set a June 3 time limit for consummating the deal, which also needs a decision by the state’s Public Utilities Commission to approve, reject or modify the merger…

Read the rest (behind Honolulu Star-Advertiser paywall)


Dispensary Scores Released: ‘We Try Harder’

The State Department of Health released information yesterday on the eight of us selected to Medical Marijuana Dispensary licenses, and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser wrote about it.

Marijuana businesses told to pick up licenses

By Kristen Consillio
May 20, 2016

The state Department of Health issued licenses Thursday to the eight businesses chosen to begin selling medical cannabis legally for the first time in Hawaii.

DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the companies selected to open the state’s first medical marijuana dispensaries were given the green light to pick up their licenses and officially begin work to open retail outlets as early as July 15….

Read the rest

The State also released information about the number of points each of the 8 applicants earned in the application processes.

How do I feel about coming in second on the Big Island? I’m grateful we were selected!

City & County of Honolulu


Aloha Green Holdings Inc.


Manoa Botanicals LLC


TCG Retro Market 1, LLC dba Cure Oahu


Hawaii County


Hawaiian Ethos LLC


Lau Ola LLC


Maui County


Maui Wellness Group, LLC


Pono Life Sciences Maui, LLC


Kauai County


Green Aloha, Ltd.



Pacific Biodiesel: Is Keaau Plant Actually Sustainable?

Pacific Biodiesel in Kea‘au has just been certified sustainable – the first biodiesel plant in the U.S. to be granted such a certificate – and that’s significant.

The plant opened using primarily waste cooking oil, and that cooking oil has been financing the plant. Now, it’s built. We don’t have to grow, say, palm trees and try to utilize the palm oil to build a plant and make that work out. The plant is already up and running.

All we need to do now is supply a product, whatever it may be. This gives us the opportunity to bring in other products and try them out as biofuels.

This is great news.

From the New York Times:

Biofuels Plant in Hawaii Is First to Be Certified as Sustainable

KEAAU, Hawaii — The trucks roll in and out of the plant at a business park nestled near papaya farms and a forest preserve on the Big Island here, an operation that transforms waste cooking oils, animal fats, fruit and seeds into biodiesel fuel, nearly 13,000 gallons a day.

Owned by Pacific Biodiesel, an industry pioneer, the plant was designed with an eye toward conserving water and energy and avoiding environmental harm.

But after about $20 million and four years of operation, a central question about the plant, and the industry as a whole, has persisted: Do biofuels ultimately reduce carbon emissions?

“We’re worried that the efforts to ramp up our use of biofuels are actually doing a lot of damage and digging the climate hole deeper,” said Jonathan Lewis, a lawyer focused on climate change at the Clean Air Task Force.

Now, the biodiesel industry’s backers say they have an answer, at least for this modest plant….

Read the rest


We Will Be Producing & Dispensing Medical Cannabis

What a big day. This morning we all stood around our office waiting to learn if our group was one of two Big Island groups granted a medical cannabis dispensary license. We knew they were going to announce it at 11:30 this morning.

Our office isn’t in operation anymore, because we closed down the farm and so of course we aren’t taking any orders. But there we were in the office anyway, watching the press conference on Hawaii News Now on five or six iPhones, two or three iPads and a couple computers. That’s how we found out, same as everybody else.

From the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

Business Breaking  Top News

Hawaii announces 8 medical marijuana license winners

Star-Advertiser staff

April 29, 2016

Updated April 29, 2016 1:03pm

The state Department of Health announced the selection of applicants for eight medical marijuana dispensary licenses today. Prominent Big Island farmer Richard Ha was among the winning applicants, while actor Woody Harrelson was not.

The winning applicants and owners, according to the department, were:


>> Aloha Green Holdings Inc., Thomas Wong;

>> Manoa Botanicals LLC, Brian Goldstein;

>> TCG Retro Market 1 LLC, Tan Yan Chen;

Hawaii island:

>> Hawaiian Ethos LLC, Shelby Floyd;

>> Lau Ola LLC, Richard Ha;


>> Maui Wellness Group LLC, Gregory Park;

>> Pono Life Sciences Maui LLC, William Mitchell Jr.;


>> Green Aloha Ltd., Justin Britt.

Dispensaries can open as soon as July 15.

A four-member panel reviewed nearly 66 applications to open dispensaries based on criteria including companies’ proof of financial stability, ability to comply with security requirements and being able to meet patient needs….

Read the rest

When they announced our group Lau Ola was awarded one of the licenses, it was like we were watching the Super Bowl and somebody scored a touchdown. I was elated, and then I thought, “Holy Smokes.” It’s a huge deal, and I am thinking about the big picture.

As I wrote on my Facebook page, the more I looked into the medical use of cannabis, the more I realized how vast the potential is for really helping people. Here in Hawaii, my inspiration was Jari Sugano and her daughter MJ, who’s six. MJ has an extremely rare disorder that causes children to have uncontrollable seizures. Medical cannabis is one of the only medications that helps her. Read their story here.

There’s also the potential for our UH Hilo School of Pharmacy to lead the way in medical cannabis research, and for our College of Ag to lead the way in production methods. I intend to have a conversation with them both to see how we can make this happen.

Thanks to everyone for all the support. It’s an honor for our company Lau Ola to have been awarded one of the two dispensary licenses on Hawai‘i Island, and it’s also a big responsibility. We will take this responsibility very seriously.


Farming Fantasies

Honolulu Star-Advertiser columnist Lee Cataluna mentioned Hamakua Springs in her column yesterday.

Farming inspires fantasies but requires viable funding

by Lee Cataluna

One artist’s rendition of Maui’s future shows golden fields of watercolor crops stretching from the central plains all the way up to the foothills of the West Maui mountains. The houses and buildings and highways that already exist aren’t quite there in the imagined future, blurred out like an aspirational ad.

That’s an image from the Maui Tomorrow report, which is different from the plan by Community Organic Farmland Initiative. An artist’s rendering for that plan shows blond children climbing fruit trees, a woman in a blue dress cradling a harvest of leaves in her arms, surfboards, happy turtles and a rainbow stretching across a houseless, building-less Central Maui. Next to that childlike image is a depiction of the alternative: farmers in hazmat suits, a helicopter spraying poison over dusty fields, ugly condos and factories looming in the distance.

The fantasies are darling. The reality, though, is that precious little former sugar land in Hawaii has successfully been diversified for other crops, and it’s not for lack of trying….

Read the rest

She writes about how we need funding for farmers and farming. She’s right. Farming is tough. It’s serious business, not for the faint of heart or of dreams of apple pie and haupia all day long.

But if one is determined, uses modern scientific methods and keeps track of the pluses and minuses, it can be very rewarding and even profitable under specific conditions.


Farmers, Friends & Comedians

Have a look at the  new Farmers & Friends magazine. Its tagline is always “Agriculture, natural resources, energy, livelihoods, markets, opportunities and civil society in Hawai‘i.” That pretty much covers everything.

Editor Rory Flynn’s column this issue is called “Our Ketchup Bottle Problem.” It’s about Hawai‘i’s outmigration, and it starts:

Not so long ago, ketchup was packaged in clear glass bottles. You could always tell how much ketchup was left in the bottle and that came in handy, especially at restaurants and diners. Customer and waitress alike knew when it was time to bring out a fresh ketchup bottle.

Then ketchup makers switched to squat plastic bottles and, in lieu of visible ketchup, they colored the plastic bottles red. Now you have to give the plastic bottle a squeeze or feel its heft to determine if there‘s any ketchup inside. That pretty much sums up Hawai‘i‘s shaky grasp of population and economic growth these days….

This month’s feature stories include “Study reveals the changing face of agriculture in Hawai‘i,” about the 100-page State Agricultural Land Use Baseline 2015 report. From the article:

The study team was led by Jeff Melrose, a land use planner and a seasoned observer of Hawai‘i‘s agricultural landscape.

Melrose‘s team used a combination of satellite imagery, related geospatial datasets, and on-site farm interviews to produce a new digital GIS layer showing where commercial agricultural crops are grown throughout the State of Hawai‘i. The new baseline dataset updates Hawai‘i‘s previous Agricultural Land Use Map (ALUM, 1980) produced 35 years ago.

Other articles include  “Thoughts on biotechnology,”  “Algae + papaya = biofuel,” by Jan Suszkiw,” and “Growing up with Mort, Mike and Elaine.”

That last one is about the comedians Mort Sahl, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, by the way. Fun stuff.

It’s a great issue and I highly recommend having a look. Here’s a link.


A Full Circle

I’m looking back at the long story of our farm and I see that we have come full circle.

When we started out, the objective was to farm and then, with the proceeds, eventually own land. At the time, we didn’t have any money and there wasn’t any land available, it was before the sugar plantations closed down, but we just kept on going and that was always our objective: to own land.

It’s what made us adapt and make change happen, all along the way, so we’d always be in the position we needed to be in 10 years later. We have always been comfortable with change, and it’s easy for us now. We like it and it’s a part of who we are.

The main reason we shut down the farm is that we saw what was coming. We knew the cost of farming was rising, rising, rising, and that in order to survive, at some point we would have to start cutting our employees’ pay and benefits.

The rise in farming costs was happening for external reasons, not due to any fault of our own. We were doing the best we could for our workers, but as hard as we’d tried over the years, we knew that eventually we’d be looked at as the bad guy for having to make cuts. And we didn’t want that. It just wasn’t an option to let ourselves get into that situation. That had a lot to do with why we closed the farm.

While we were in the process of closing down, this medical marijuana option came up. One of the most important conditions I placed on getting involved in applying for a medical marijuana license was that my workers get first shot at the new jobs.

So now, 30 years later, here we are. We own land, and though we shut down the banana operation, we still have a lot going on. It’s not like one day we closed and rode off into the sunset. It’s not the end, but a transition.

I want to make sure we are using the soil and land in a sustainable way. We have already signed leases with farmers to do some crop rotation. What we want to do is run one crop, then follow it with another crop and then possibly a third, and keep that going.

Once you get into that rotation, it’s sustainable. You’re not decreasing your soil. You rarely see that in Hawai‘i, though, for many reasons. If your business scale isn’t big enough to rotate, and if your market is not large enough, you cannot rotate your crops. But I can do this because we own the land.

If you’re trying to squeeze every last penny out of a deal, it might not be the most efficient move. In the long run it is, though, because it’s sustainable farming.

We did something different for our last banana harvest. Instead of leaving all the tall banana bunches, we used cane knives during the last harvest and chopped them all down. So by the time we got to the very last one, they were all down. We just harvested our last bananas about two or three weeks ago, and we already have the sweet potato farmer in there preparing the land.

We didn’t have to cut down the banana bunches like that. We could have just left them, because the lease says, “as is.” But it allowed us to keep our people employed as long as possible. They wanted to work until the last day, instead of leaving and getting unemployment. Shoot, you want to work? I’ll pay you.

It turns out we did a lot of work we could have left for, and passed onto, the next company, but I did that deliberately. I did it both to employ my workers as long as possible and also because now it’s easier for the new farmers to come in and start their rotation. There’s less material that needs to deteriorate.  It’s about getting to a point so when we transition to the rotating crops, it’s continuous.

Full circle, but not the end.


Free ‘Thank You’ Bananas This Friday

This Friday, we’re giving away 300 boxes of bananas from our final Hamakua Springs banana harvest. We’ll be at the Hilo soccer fields from 10 a.m.

It’s our way of saying thanks for all your support over these past 35 years, which we truly appreciate.

We’ll be at Kumu Street by the soccer fields. Turn off Kamehameha Avenue onto the short Kumu Street (just past Ponahawai St.), and you’ll see us there. Please come and take some bananas, with our sincere mahalo and aloha for all your support over the years!