Tag Archives: Hamakua

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

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.


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.


Conversations With My Mom

Richard Ha writes:

I took Mom to Hamakua Springs to get a few tilapia for her dinner.


While we were there, we looked at some of the things we have going on.

Corn field

Corn field
Hamakua Springs bananas
Corn field
Hydroponic lettuce, with special procedures to control slugs

Corn field

Sweet potatoes

Corn field


One thing that strikes me is how much water we have running through our 600-acre farm. We must maximize its usage.


Water Supply will build a new reservoir adjacent to this one and bring electricity right through the farm to the new well, which is right behind this reservoir

I really want to raise tilapia when the price of oil goes so high that bringing it in from Asia is prohibitive.

Tilapia for mom

Tilapia for Mom. These are the small ones, to fry crispy.

And, while doing that, we want to demonstrate how Hawaiians were self-sufficient in ancient days.

Then while we are at it, we want to reforest the streams with ‘ohi‘a, koa, bamboo, kukui, hapu‘u, etc.

  1. Also, how about aquaponics with tilapia and taro?
  2. How about a certified kitchen to make lomi salmon, poi and other things where we and other farmers can add value?
  3. What about classes for at-risk students?
  4. Maybe a permanent imu.
  5. Events set around food?
  6. How about showing how food was produced then and now – ancient and modern?

Mom and I always have these kinds of conversations. I like it.


Sustainability in Hamakua

My worlds collided on Saturday, when I led a tour that included a stop to meet Richard and see Hamakua Springs Country Farms.

Along with Hilo historian and anthropologist Judith Kirkendall, I lead van tours around East Hawai‘i. Right now we are doing a series of five tours that focus on agriculture and sustainability – what people are doing right now to be more sustainable, and how we can support them and also be more sustainable ourselves. The tours operate through Lyman Museum.

Our tour this past Saturday was called “The Garden As Provider,” and we focused on Hamakua. First we met at the Lyman Museum and heard a short talk by Sam Robinson about Let’s Grow Hilo. That’s the program she started that has volunteers planting edibles along downtown Hilo streets and in traffic medians.

“Anyone is free to help themselves to the fruit or vegetables once it’s ripe,” she told us, and she invited anyone interested in the project to come help plant and tend. They meet every last Sunday at the East Hawai‘i Cultural Center at 2 p.m.

Then we visited Barbara and Philip Williams, who live just outside Hilo near Pueopaku. Barbara grew up in Kenya, where they lived 50 miles away from the nearest railroad and so had to be self-sufficient. After she and Philip married, they lived on a plantation in East Africa. Now on the Big Island, they still grow and harvest everything they can. They have animals, including goats, and every fruit and vegetable you can imagine. “We retain the habits of being self-sufficient to the present day,” she told us.

From there we headed to Pepe‘ekeo, where Richard met us at Hamakua Springs.


Richard is such an interesting speaker. He told us the story of how he started in farming (after flunking out of UH and consequently serving in Vietnam, he returned home and helped his father on the family’s chicken farm; then traded chicken manure for banana keiki and started farming bananas). He talked about how they decided to move the farm to Pepe‘ekeo and why (hint: free water; the farm alone has one-third as much water as supports agriculture where 234,000 people live in Leeward O‘ahu). Our tour group was totally engaged.

He told about how he started noticing prices going up (on fertilizer, boxes, all the things they were using on the farm) and how he realized it was due to oil prices and decided to attend Peak Oil conferences to learn what was happening. And how he felt bad and so didn’t tell the others there that he would return to Hawai‘i and wear shorts throughout the winter, and grow his produce throughout the winter; nor how we have geothermal to provide us with energy – which we don’t even fully take advantage of.

He spoke about how he has been positioning themselves for how conditions will be five or 10 years from now, and about the hydroelectric project that is getting going on the farm very shortly, and how since his workers first asked to borrow money for gas to get to work he has started what they call the Family of Farms, working with nearby farmers. And about how they are experimenting with how they can produce protein on the farm by raising tilapia, and giving their workers fish (and produce) every week in lieu of monetary raises they cannot afford to give right now.

There was more, and as editor of this blog for all these years, none of it was new to me, but I, too, listened intently and enjoyed it thoroughly. It was fascinating to hear Richard pull all the pieces he talks about on this blog together into one, interrelated, narrative that tells such a real, on-the-ground story of how things are (and how they are changing). The people on the tour were really interested. We all were. Afterward, I heard people talking about what a great thinker he is, and how much they enjoyed meeting him.

That Richard, he’s all right!

We also went to Hi‘ilani Eco House in Honoka‘a, an amazing house being constructed to be as “green” as it gets. Wow, that’s a fascinating place (they say it should last for 500 years!) and they are very open to groups visiting, if anyone is interested. And we stopped a couple other places as well.

It was a neat day (the upcoming tours are listed here if you’re interested), and Richard’s information really made it so good. We were all wowed. Thanks, Richard!


Drop-In Biofuels; A Model That Could Work For Farmers

Mahalo to Senator Inouye for having the foresight to fund Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center (PBARC). This might be the game changer for food and energy security for Hawai‘i.


I wrote before that PBARC has been working on a “zero waste” program for the Hamakua Coast.

It’s an impactful and multifaceted program that ultimately ends up supporting both food security and energy security for Hawai‘i. Food security involves farmers farming, and if farmers make money, farmers will farm.

I support this program because utilizing waste products helps farmers make money.

Here I’m writing here about the biofuel (energy) component, which has support from the Department of Defense. One of the fundamentals of making biofuel involves acquiring appropriately priced feedstock. In this model, the feedstock comes from farm waste that is now thrown away. Or it comes from a process such as crop rotation, which enhances primary farming operations.

In the Hamakua Zero Waste Program’s demonstration model, the farm waste will be papaya. Papaya farmers sell 65 percent of what they deliver to the processer, and 35 percent is thrown away. The other product is sweet sorghum, which is used in rotation with a primary crop such as sweet potato.

A very significant part of this program is the use of oil-producing microbes. BioTork LLC specializes in breeding microorganisms that make oil.

Kate1Evolved algae, from BioTork LLC, having just arrived at PBARC in the mail. This is Kate Nishijima, a PBARC researcher.

Eudes de Crecy, the CEO of BioTork, states:

A variety of different microorganisms—such as heterotrophic, fungi and bacteria—are capable of converting sugars and other organic compounds into triglycerides oils suitable for conversion to advanced drop-in fuels like green diesel, gasoline and jet fuel. Since these oil-producing microorganisms are heterotrophic, they can be grown inside large fermentors or bioreactors in any climate 24/7 and do not require significant amounts of water for growth. Moreover, oil-producing heterotrophs can produce significantly more triglycerides than phototrophic microorganisms—up to 70% of the dry weight. To date, few enterprises use oil-producing microorganisms like to produce biofuel because the carbon sources necessary for robust growth are more expensive (e.g., glucose, fructose) than the resulting biofuel.

However, BioTork has used experimental evolution to produce proprietary oil-producing microorganisms that are capable of growing on low cost streams of organic material. Indeed, we have already adapted oil-producing microorganisms to grow on low value by-products and even noxious wastes that are derived from agricultural or industrial processes.

Kate2Transferring algae to growing media

Hawai‘i-grown papaya was sent to BioTork prior to Christmas 2010, and first generation, oil-producing strains that grow on papaya puree and sweet sorghum juice have already been developed and sent for testing in PBARC’s labs. In addition, preliminary results for the development of an oil-producing microbe that can grow on the less accessible carbon sources in sweet sorghum bagasse looks promising.

DennisDennis Gonsalves, PBARC Director, examining a vial of specialized, oil-producing algae

The demonstration project is designed to show whether this will or won’t work within 12 months in a cost effective manner in real world conditions. As a farmer, I believe that if this works cost effectively, it can work on a sustainable basis because it will help farmers make money. And as we all know, if the farmers make money, the farmers will farm.

Rivertop Solutions, LLC, whose CEO is David Rus and whose president and chief media officer is Amy Fernandez, is an important partner of the Hamakua Zero Waste project. Rivertop Solutions works alongside communities and organizations to assist with the planning, systems design, and implementation of economically and socially viable development programs based on maximizing the potential of indigenous resources. The company is moving its headquarters from Reston Virginia to Hilo in the summer of 2011.

Together with PBARC’s other programs that support and enhance farming operations, we can build a resilient food security system for Hawai‘i.


Rainy Season at the Farm

It feels like the seasons are starting to change. This, the rainy time of year, is when the plastic covers on our growing houses are advantageous. Our crops grow, without interruption, all the way through February. During the shorter days, the ground stays damp because there are less hours of sunlight to dry up the soil.

Finally, in this past week, the stream is starting to increase in volume. We’d been starting to worry about the spring water flow. Coming back from Kona on the Saddle road recently, we noticed the pastures are starting to turn green. It feels like the dry period is over for some parts of the island.


Here are some more pictures from the farm. This is the first kalo crop grown at Hamakua Springs and it looks really healthy. Tom Menezes is the farmer, and he really knows what he is doing. Among other things, he is a taro breeder.


This is the first ‘ulu tree growing at Hamakua Springs. It wants to grow tall and we will have to constantly prune to keep its fruit within reach. We would rather plant a variety that is shorter in stature.


We transplanted this ‘ulu at the farm a few weeks ago. Instead of fertilizer, we used the spent coconut media that we use for our hydroponic tomato crops. The tomato plant is a volunteer that germinated from the coconut media. There is one flower cluster, and the plant is very healthy even though we did not give it any conventional fertilizer.


We found this kalo growing in the river and we are growing it on the hydroponic solution we use for green onions. To my great surprise, it has thrown out runners. I wonder what Jerry Konanui will say?



Putting the Bamboo in the Ground

A couple days ago I got a note from Henry Curtis saying he was on the Big Island for a few days of rest and relaxation, and that he wanted to drop by and talk story. Henry is executive director of the environmental group Life of the Land.

Since I had planned to plant bamboo, I figured we could talk story and do that at the same time. So I picked up Henry and his partner Kat Brady and took them riding in one of our Woods 4x4s.

As we drove, I pointed out the three ahupua‘a that run through our farm and the characteristics of each. Then we drove to the top of the ridge line that is the prominent feature of Kahua ahupua’a. From there we could see most of the farm and I pointed out the main features of each hupua’a. We could see the streams by the trees that grow alongside. I explained that I am interested in reclaiming the stream banks from invasive trees and grasses.

We talked about food security, energy security and community and after awhile we talked in shorthand because it was apparent that we all understood what is happening with oil and the direction the world is moving in. They absolutely understand farming —that it is not easy or automatic. I was happy to know that about them.

On the old sugar plantation field maps, sugar cane field acreages were written on the maps. The sugar companies raised sugar cane right to the riverbanks, so they used most of the land. But since then, invasive trees have started growing on the stream banks and now they are everywhere and moving into productive agricultural lands. We want to reclaim the productive land and plant bamboo in the non-productive land. In that way, we will maximize the productivity of our land area.

I told Henry and Kat that I want to use bamboo as a way to reclaim the streams and put the non-productive stream banks into production. When they are in season, June wants to give bamboo shoots to our workers.  The bamboo provides a primary windbreak for our bananas, and planted on the south side of streams, its shadow falls on the water, keeps it cool and helps to suppress pest trees. Bamboo can even be used for the construction industry.

Jerry Konanui had asked for photos of the kalo plants I recently found in Makea stream. So I asked Henry folks to help me get some plants. Here are a couple of them. In a couple of hours they were all wilted, so I gave them to Grandma to replant in the nursery. We want to make sure we do not lose the species. When they’re stronger, we’ll give them to Jerry for identification.

Henry curtis

Next we went up to the site of our hydroelectric project. I pointed out how lucky we were to have this great amount of water constantly flowing. On our property alone we have about 1/3 of the total amount of water that comes across the Waiahole Ditch on the way to Central Honolulu. Once I counted 35 streams between Hilo and Honoka‘a.

We had a very fun visit. Kat told me she loved the smell of dirt on her hands.


Kahua Ahupua‘a

The last few days, I’ve been focusing on Kahua Ahupua‘a. Of the three ahupua‘a that comprise Hamakua Springs Country Farms, I find this one the most interesting.

Within 600 feet there are two streams: Makea on the north boundary, and Ali‘a on the south. Between the streams is a ridgeline, maybe 75 to 100 feet from stream level, and running on the ridgeline from mauka to makai is a cane haul road.

It has a clear view of both Mauna Kea and the ocean, as well as of the greenhouses in the valley facing north, toward Honoka’a, and the banana fields facing south, toward Hilo. June and I plan to eventually build a house there. We just submitted a plan to the County in order to subdivide.

Yesterday I spent several hours on the bulldozer, reopening old roads and clearing access to the streams. Today I spent time knocking down many, many 20-foot albizia trees, and making sure the roots were completely pulled out of the ground. There’s one giant albizia tree that is even larger than the ones in this picture. The base is at least 10 feet around and the tree is easily 100 feet tall with many giant side branches. That’s where the seeds for the others are coming from.

I wonder how I’ll get rid of it. Cutting it down is just unimaginable. Here is how they cut a tree down at Lyons Arboretum.

Here is an easier way, with a drill and injecting.

The whole time on the bulldozer, I was thinking about how I can situate some hydroponic hoop houses that would allow us to capture fertilizer runoff, grow algae and raise tilapia. I would get the water further upstream, at a higher elevation, and then run it to the hydroponic hoop houses and use the excess fertilizer to grow algae and then, further downstream, send it to the tilapia. Gravity and free water are our friends.

I am going to grow algae for fuel. Not for cars, but to grow tilapia. Food fuel. The hydroelectric project is close by.

I’m also thinking of making a place to just sit and listen to the stream. I wonder where I can get hapu‘u? Where would kukui nut trees go? Lauhala? Ulu? Hmmm.

This is going to be a big, long project. I’ll write about it as I go along.