Tag Archives: Papaya

Papaya Families Hit Hard by Iselle

Richard Ha writes:

There's an article in today's Hawaii Tribune-Herald called Ag Crops Sustained Extensive Damage From Iselle.


Everyone is busy gathering data as to the extent of damage. We just had a meeting of the Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United and a preliminary discussion with the USDA Farm Services Agency, as well as the Board of Ag chair by phone. The outcome was that we needed to get clear data from which the various agencies could start to work. We are busy getting this done.


Ollie English from WH Shipman, Ltd., was up in a helicopter to get an aerial view and the various industry representatives gave a report. 



We were interviewed by John Burnett of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. 


In addition to just numbers, those of us in the room heard a papaya farmer family describe how hard the last few cycles have been. A mom described how 10 acres of her family papaya farm had been cut down by vandals a little bit ago. Beside paying all the clearing, fertilizer and pest control costs, the crop that had been cut down represented the income to help one son to go to college. They were very discouraged and wanted to quit. Two of her sons told her it would be poho (wasteful) to not use the equipment that they already had. So the two decided that they would continue on. They had a strong outbreak of a fungus about a year ago. And that put extreme pressure on the family. But they persevered.

A year later, now, the new plantings were just ready to start harvesting. The fruit column was full and heavy. They were looking forward to two years of harvest where they hoped to recover the cash out and make some money. But Hurricane Iselle came through and snapped off all the heavily laden trees at the point where the most mature fruit were.


We in the room were quiet. We all know the despair that she, her husband, and two sons felt. This is representative of all the papaya farmers who had wind damage. 

One of the independent papaya processors told of being in church and seeing a papaya farmer and his family. He told us that it brought tears to his eyes and that he couldn't look at the farmer. The overall sense of despair was very hard to take. 

Colleen Hanabusa has met with farmers here more times than any county council member or any other politician for that manner, and that's why farmers really know and trust her. It's nice that she was on the island.




Helping the Papaya Farmers

Richard Ha writes:

Today, Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United are meeting to figure out how we can help the Big Island papaya farmers who had such devastating losses in Hurricane Iselle. We are going to support them in any way we can. That is absolute first priority.

My son Brian has been making ice at our tomato packing house. He did that Saturday, Sunday and again today (using our hydroelectric, powered by the river) and then taking it down to Hawaiian Beaches where they don't have electricity.

He and his friends made 400 quarts of ice and took it down there with a sign, "Mauna Kea Banana Ice," and he said it was gone in five minutes.

We are planning to take bananas down to the papaya packing house, where the papaya farmers are packing up whatever they can, and distribute the bananas to the farmers there. The rest will go with Brian to distribute wherever he ends up in Puna. 

The most important thing is how we can help the rest of the farmers.



‘Teaching People To Fish’ Through Biotechnology

Richard Ha writes:

Dennis Gonsalves and I had lunch at Zippys awhile back with Lawrence Kent of the Gates Foundation. Lawrence told us the Gates Foundation is sponsoring GM plant research to help the poorest of the poor. It’s a significant project, though just a small percent of the whole Gates Foundation effort.

I asked him about commercial banana research. He said they don’t do anything with commercial projects. Oh shucks, I thought.

But Dennis Gonsalves is working with Lawrence on a virus-resistant cassava project for Africa. Can you imagine: Local Kohala boy Dennis Gonsalves working with the Gates Foundation to help save lives of the poorest of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa? Wow.

I wrote about Hillary Clinton talking about the State Department moving from emergency feeding of the poor to GM plants that provide people with solutions they need to sustain themselves. Replacing emergency feeding programs with GM solutions gives farmers biotech tools to enhance their food production and vitamin content and more.

It’s kind of like the old saying: Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.

Golden rice is an example of this kind of humanitarian effort. Another is the vitamin A-enhanced banana developed in north Queensland, Australia that was recently announced.

From ABC.net.au:
By Louisa Rebgetz

Updated Sun 15 Jun 2014, 8:56am AEST
Genetically modified bananas grown in far north Queensland and bound for Africa are about to undergo human trials in the United States

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers have engineered the fruit to increase the amount of beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body.

The aim is to prevent thousands of children in East Africa from dying or going blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency.
Also, here’s an interesting 2011 New York Times article about Dennis Gonsalves:
Published: September 21, 2011 
PUNA, Hawaii — His shoes crunching through volcanic grit on the Big Island’s eastern shore, Dennis Gonsalves walks into a grove of juvenile papaya trees. The renowned plant pathologist eyes the bulbous green fruit stack up the trees’ trunks. In a few months, harvest will arrive, each tree shedding two or three papayas a week

Working in the shadow of a volcano, farmers in Puna, the heart of Hawaii’s papaya industry, harvest a bounty of healthy fruit each year. It’s a far cry from 15 years ago, when a devastating virus swept through the groves. The trees withered. Their leaves grew to resemble craggy bird claws. The fruit was pockmarked with ring-shaped spots, hallmarks of infection. The island’s papaya tradition seemed at an end.
Today, the trees’ leaves are thick as a giant’s fingers as they dance in the trade winds. The yellow-fleshed papaya will be sold to Los Angeles or San Francisco or fed to Honolulu’s throngs. Stopping at one thriving specimen, Gonsalves cannot conceal his pride.
“This one here,” he said, “you come six months from now, it’ll be loaded with papaya.”
A bit of paternal glow can be allowed. After all, Gonsalves invented the tree….

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.



Bill 113 & The Big Picture

Richard Ha writes:

Yesterday at the Hawai‘i County Council meeting, the anti-GMO Bill 113 got a positive recommendation, meaning it now needs two votes by the Council and the Mayor’s signature to be adopted.

From this morning’s Hawai‘i Tribune Herald:

GMO bill heads to council


Tribune-Herald staff writer

A County Council committee gave a bill that would restrict the use of genetically altered crops a positive recommendation Tuesday, ensuring that the legislation would survive nearly five months after the committee first took on the controversial issue.

The legislation, Bill 113, was moved forward to the council level in a 6-2 vote with Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan voting no and Council Chair J Yoshimoto voting no with reservations. Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi was absent….

Read the rest

At yesterday’s meeting, Councilperson Zendo Kern said the County has spent almost $20,000 on meetings regarding this topic. He said, “We can’t keep doing the same thing over and over and over again expecting a different result. That’s insanity.”

Councilperson Dru Kanuha said, “I think we are completely wasting our time, the committee’s time and taxpayer dollars on something that should have been talked about first and foremost.

Kanuha said a task force should have been formed first, in order to investigate and suggest action, and then a bill written.

But, instead, a bill was written first. And the predictable outcome was people yelling and screaming at each other.

Bill 113 exempts GMO papaya and corn now in cultivation – but outlawing future biotech crops, while giving GMO papayas and corn growers an exemption, de facto criminalizes those papaya
and corn farmers.

The bill’s sponsors say we need to move fast before the big seed companies come to the Big Island. But there are economic reasons they are not here. The Big Island is geologically young and has not eroded enough to develop flat, fertile lands. Tractors make money on the straightaways and lose money on the turns. Where we do have limited areas of flat and fertile lands, there is no irrigation infrastructure.

Maybe now, in picking up the pieces, we can focus on the big picture. We need to have, in the spirit of aloha, a serious discussion about food self-sufficiency for the island. We will need everyone’s contribution to this effort.

  • How can we achieve affordable food self-sufficiency?
  • How can we leverage our year-round growing season?

The downside of the wonderful gift of a year-round growing season is that weeds, insects and diseases thrive here, too.

In the past, we used pesticides almost exclusively to increase production. Now, there are new, biotech options that can help us increase production while decreasing pesticides. We can lower food costs and decrease the pressure on our environment at the same time.

Remember, food self-sufficiency involves farmers farming. If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm.


Mainland GMO Battle, New York Times Arrive In Hilo

Richard Ha writes:

Yesterday, as I sat in on a Hawai‘i County Council discussion of the anti-GMO bill, I realized that I am starting to get a very uncomfortable feeling. It looks like the anti-GMO effort we are seeing here is being organized and run from the Mainland.

A reporter from the New York Times attended yesterday’s Hawai‘i Council Council meeting, too. I think they are tracking the money.

From Genetic Literacy Project (tagline: “Where Science Trumps Ideology”):

Hawaii anti-GMO ‘corruption’ scandal? Genetic Literacy Project investigation underway

Jon Entine | September 3, 2013
| Genetic Literacy Project

It’s shaping up to be an ugly week on Hawaii Island. Beginning in Hilo on Wednesday, September 4, the island Council will again debate controversial measures designed to curtail the growing of genetically modified crops on the island.

The Battle over GMOs on both Hawaii and Kauai has been rancorous, threatening to tear apart the aloha spirit that has defined the Hawaiian Islands for centuries. The ‘public discussion’
took a sharply political turn in May when Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille brought forward Bill 79, which banned GMOs but proposed to exempt the GMO Rainbow papaya crop, which is credited by scientists and independent experts for rescuing the papaya on Hawaii from extinction threatened by the ringspot

Bill 79 was widely regarded as a scientific and political mess, as the independent website Biofortified.org noted in its analysis. The
committee held four days of public comment sessions, with tensions running high and the debate turning personal. Wille withdrew the bill in early August after the hearings and a Council discussion made it clear that it was poorly written.

Now Wille is back with a similar measure. (The
GLP publishes a response to the bill below provided by the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association.) But this time, she has dubious company. South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford has introduced her own “book burning” measure, proposing that all papaya fields be cut down and burned—the position supported
by the more radical anti-GMO activists who have come to dominate the anti side of the debate.

Funding corruption by anti-GMO campaigners? 

Activist leaders opposed to crop biotechnology, such as Walter Ritte, the Molokai-based political activist, have attempted to frame this battle as David vs. Goliath, threadbare grassroots campaigners fighting Big Ag. Although they claim their opposition to the innovative technology is home grown, a Genetic Literacy
Project investigation, still in its infancy, suggests that the opposition is flush with cash, getting hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from mainland anti-GMO organic organizations that have an ideological stake in blocking new farming technologies.

For nearly a decade, an impressionable anti-GMO mob mentality has been carefully cultivated on Hawaii island, but documents reviewed by the GLP suggest this increasingly ugly turn has been nurtured by slick and well financed outsiders….  Read the rest

Not only is outside money possibly dictating our future, but also of note is that Councilperson Brenda Ford arranged for someone named Jeffrey Smith to Skype into the County Council discussion yesterday from the Mainland.

It takes very little research to see that Jeffrey Smith is not credible, but goes around the country scaring people with his unsubstantiated claims that have been widely discredited by the scientific community. He has no scientific credentials and has self-published a book called “Genetic Roulette.”

Here’s what the independent, non-profit organization Academics Review says:

Yogic Flying and GM Foods:The Wild Theories of Jeffrey Smith

…The “scientific studies” that Smith says support his theories are thoroughly contradicted by a vast body of data and scientific
experience; they are wholly irresponsible. In his single-minded campaign against GM crops, Smith has shown an amazing capacity to ignore the scientific literature on almost every topic he discusses.

But, as he showed at that press conference when he explained the role that meditation should play in the “collective consciousness,” Smith is a gifted communicator.

He’s particularly adept at getting his message out via the latest online methods, which he uses to spread his misinformation about
biotechnology, in particular, to an ever-widening audience. In his most recent self-published book, Genetic Roulette, Smith claims to show 65 different “documented health risks” associated with biotech foods. Not one of them has been found to be scientifically valid by Academics Review.

Also from Academics Review, which is “an association of academic professors, researchers, teachers and credentialed authors from around the world who are committed to the unsurpassed value of the peer review in establishing sound science. We stand against falsehoods, half-baked assertions and theories or claims not subjected to this kind of rigorous review:”

Jeffrey Smith: False Claims Unsupported by Science

Jeffrey Smith has gained fame for claiming biotech foods are dangerous, but none of his claims are based on sound science. Smith has no discernible scientific training  yet makes 65 such claims in his book Genetic Roulette. Click here for a point-by-point response based on peer-reviewed science.

Others agree:

Discover magazine blog:

When the definitive history of the GMO debate is written, Jeffrey Smith is going to figure prominently in the section on pseudoscience. He is the equivalent of an anti-vaccine leader,
someone who is quite successful in spreading fear and false information. (AsDavid Gorski at the Science-based Medicine blog has noted, the anti-vaccine and anti-GMO movements are two birdsof the same feather.) 


For whatever reason, Smith hasbecome wildly popular among the antis, and his books—however dubiously written and sourced—are cited as canon by rank and file protestors.

Smith’s own Wikipedia bio: A variety of American organic food companies see Smith “as a champion for their interests,” and Smith’s supporters describe him as “arguably the world’s foremost expert on the topic of genetically modified foods.” Michael Specter,
writing in The New Yorker,
reported that Smith was presented as a “scientist” on The Dr. Oz Show although he lacks any scientific experience or relevant qualifications. Bruce Chassy, a molecular biologist and food scientist, wrote to the show arguing that Smith’s “only professional experience prior to taking up his crusade against biotechnology is as a ballroom-dance teacher, yogic flying instructor, and political candidate for the Maharishi cult’s natural-law party.” The director of the Organic Consumers Association says Smith is “respected as a public educator on GMOs” while “supporters of biotechnology” have described him as “misinformed and misleading” and as “an activist with no scientific or medical background” who is known for his “near-hysterical criticism of biotech foods.”

Per Wikipedia, then, Jeffrey Smith’s professional experience is in ballroom dancing and yogic flying.

Honestly, I don’t think any part of this debate is about us. From my local point of view, this whole mainland-fueled debate is about national organic farming vs. Monsanto.

But fighting this war here means local farmers become collateral damage. All we farmers want is not to get trampled by the elephants. If we on the Big Island cannot use biotech when farmers all around us can, we lose and eventually we Big Island farmers all go out of business. So what if food costs rise for the rubbah slippah folks, right?


Retreating To The 1950s Is Not The Right Strategy

Richard Ha writes:

I attended the anti-GMO Hawai‘i County Council meeting yesterday. I was there from 1:30 p.m., when it started, until the last testimony was heard at 6:30 p.m.

Tomorrow, the County Council begins discussing the two bills at the committee stage. If a bill is passed out by the committee, it would go to the full Council for two affirmative votes before passing into law.

My impressions of yesterday’s meeting:

The atmosphere this time was much more civil than last time around, and there were less than half the numbers of people on both sides. People testifying were more than 2-to-1 on the anti-GMO side.

It was my impression, though, that the people testifying pro-GMO (against the anti-GMO bills) produce 50 times more of the island’s food than do the people testifying against it.

Farmers pointed out that this ban only affects Big Island farmers, and that therefore their competitors would have a cost advantage. They asked how is it possible that farmers would become criminals for farming.

Papaya farmers said they want to see proof that papayas are unsafe. They said an exemption for papaya farmers is meaningless.

The anti-GMO side mostly talked about the safety of eating GMO food. They were also concerned about pesticide usage, large companies and pollen contamination.

As someone who traded chicken manure for banana keiki to start our banana farm 35 years ago, I have a unique view of agriculture. The rules and regulations nowadays make it much harder for new farmers to get started. I have watched business cycles come and
go, and lived with the effects of the key cost drivers.

To me, it is clear that the most important cost driver in our future will be energy cost. The effect of rising energy costs will be unlike anything I have seen in my 35 years of farming.

Relying on our natural resources, though, we can find a solution that will take care of all of us.

Retreating to the 1950s is not the right strategy.

Here is my testimony:

I am against both bills.

In the future, it’s all about energy. Oil price quadrupling over the last 10 years caused farmers’ costs to rise. As we all know, farmers are price takers, not price makers.

We are isolated and one of the least food-secure places in the world. How can we leverage our resources to find a competitive advantage.

We should leverage our sun energy.

Our location in the subtropics is both a plus and a minus. Plus, because we have constant sun, and a minus because weeds, insects and diseases thrive here.

  • Imagine if we could insert the gene that makes sweet potatoes resistant to fungus into Russett potatoes. It would save 15 sprays per crop. And it would be a brand new source of food for the Big Island.
  • What if we could develop crops that generate their own nitrogen from the air?
  • What if we could develop peaches, pears, apples, cherries that can thrive in our climate?
  • What if the crops we grow could repel insects?

These ideas are in various stages of development right now. They would leverage the plusses of our sunshine and decrease the minuses.

Less fertilizer, less pesticide, more food and more discretionary income would benefit organic and conventional farmers. If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm.

The result would be a lower cost of food for the “rubbah slippah” folks.

Two-thirds of our economy is consumer spending. If the rubbah slippah folks had extra money, they would spend and businesses would thrive. That would result in  a better life for all of us; not just some of us.

Both these bills criminalize farmers. If farmers follow federal and state laws, they become criminals.

Criminalizing farmers is a new concept. Farmers were revered in Hawai‘i’s history.

We should not be in a rush. Hawai‘i has the longest life expectancy in the nation for seniors. Let’s take a step back and figure out what kind of society we want for future generations.

Let’s think about this very seriously before we throw our farmers under the bus.

Have a look, too, at this editorial that Big Island Video News ran:

Not all genetically modified foods the same, A blanket ban on
them would be misguided


Visitors To The Farm

Richard Ha writes:

We had a lot of visitors one day last week. All, like us, were very excited about the possibilities surrounding ag and energy at the farm. Agriculture and energy are inextricably intertwined.

The visit was arranged by Matt Hamabata, Chief Executive Officer of the Kohala Center, of which I am a board member. He brought researchers from Cornell University, as well as representatives from UH Hilo and Kamehameha Schools.


From UH Hilo, Cam Muir and consultant Greg Chun. From Cornell, Max Zhang and Robert J. Thomas. Matt Hamabata from Kohala Center. From Kamehameha Schools, Mahealani Matsuzaki, Neil Hannahs, Giorgio Caldarone, Sydney Keliipuleole, Llewelyn Yee and Marissa Harman.

This reservoir supplies all the irrigation water for our vegetables. The water comes down from an intermittent stream. Soon, the water pumps that move the water and pressurize the lines will be electrified from the old plantation flume.

Biodiesel tank 023

See the blue tanks in the distance? That’s a tilapia experiment, where we oxygenate the water by using falling water rather than electricity. This is another way to leverage the abundant water that falls on the farm: We get 2.3 billion gallons annually on our 600-acre farm.


Construction of the head works: connecting up the old part of the flume with the new part. (Left) James Channels, produce buyer for Foodland Supermarkets and (right) Kimo Pa, farm manager at Hamakua Springs.

We took them up to the head works, where the old part of the flume system joins up with the new. As we looked downslope, someone mentioned how amazing it is to think that the sugar people moved the sugar cane to the mill by portable wooden
flume structures that they moved from field to field. We were standing about three miles upstream of the sugar mill.

Next we went to the hydro turbine shack to see where the water we borrowed 150 feet upslope is returned to the flume after energy is extracted. From there, overhead lines take the electricity to our packing house.

Turbine before

The turbine before

Turbine after

The turbine after
We have a vision of lining the south side of the flume with native trees. Their shadows would fall across the flume and suppress invasive species at the same time.
Back at the packing house, I told them about diversifying our produce mix. A papaya farmer wants to work with us, producing and labeling non-GMO papayas. Also, I visited an organic farmer in Opihikao yesterday. He is interested in getting heat-sterilized coconut coir to use as media for his certified clean ginger seed business. I told him I will keep him in the loop.

Later, Laverne Omori, the new Research and Development Director, came by with County Energy Coordinator Will Rolston. Vincent Kimura, of the INNOVI group, was at the farm helping us install an ozone food sanitation system. The beauty of this system is that we won’t have to use chemicals for sanitation treatment.
The only thing left over will be plain water.

Here’s a “before” picture with some previous visitors, Claire Sullivan and Steve Carey from Whole Foods.


And this short video shows “after.”

We want to use the electricity we get from the river to help area farmers produce more food. The bottom-line, inescapable fact is that if the farmers make money, the farmers will farm.


Scientists With Heart & Common Sense

The scientists at Pacific Basin Agriculture Research Center (PBARC) in Hilo are pursuing their project of “zero waste.” The objective is to utilize all the byproducts of agriculture production in a sensible way.

Their funding had been cut to the bone. But Director Dennis Gonsalves and the scientists there are refusing to give up. They are doing it because they believe in sustainability for Hawai‘i.

This is Marissa Walls, research food technologist at PBARC, and Dennis Gonsalves.

Gonsalves and walls

I wrote previously about their algae-to-oil for waste papaya. They started with a test tube of a specially evolved algae that preferred papaya as its food, and it produced oil.

They started the papaya algae-to-oil trial at a 1-liter scale.

This is a short video clip of the algae on a shaker.

Now they are scaling up the process to a 5-gallon size. I was there to witness the first batch being done. First they took the papaya mixture into a special hood, where filtered air was brought in causing positive air flow out of the front. This prevented unfiltered air to come in from the outside.

1.5 live transf to 5 gal

Just before taking the 5-gallon bucket to the next room, they took a sample of the mixture to test for contamination. If mixture is contaminated by something that grows faster than the algae, they’ll know.

3. taking sample

Here is Dr. Gonsalves transferring the first of the 5-gallon batch. Note that the bucket is a plain plastic bucket. They got it from Home Depot.

Taking to grow room

Because they don’t have funding for a lab, they are using a space under the stairwell of the PBARC building. The algae functions in the dark, so they have black plastic taped to the stairwell to maintain the dark.

Under stairs

There the mixture will be constantly stirred. Instead of a shaker, the 5-gallon bucket mixture is agitated by what looks like a paint mixer.

Dr. Gonsalves tells me that they are getting batches of new evolved algae as they go along, and after a bunch of tweaking by these smart scientists, they have got the oil yield up to 35 percent. After the 5-gallon scale, they will go to 50-gallon and then to 1000 gallons. The mixing, sterilizing and dewatering procedures will change as appropriate for each scale.

I can very easily relate to that. It’s exactly what we did when we scaled up our farm from one acre to 600 acres. These are common sense scientists. I could not be more impressed.

One of the scientists is now looking into the nutritional content of the leftover algae cake. I can’t wait to see if it can be used for fish food. Just imagine, farm waste to oil and then the leftover for fish food. Sounds like common sense to me.

Dr. Gonsalves’ objective is to have real numbers and actual oil for evaluation within a year.

This project is impressive because it focuses on value to society as its end result. Many times, money as an end result goal takes us in a direction we don’t want to go. This project’s focus, and its methods, are simple and practical.

We farmers characterize it as common sense. Nowadays, that is high praise.