Tag Archives: PBARC

You’re Invited to a Community Meeting re: Hamakua Agriculture

Richard Ha writes:

Save the dates:

  • Wednesday, October 29
  • Wednesday, November 5
  • Thursday, November 13
  • 6-8 p.m.
  • Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School Bandroom

On these dates, the Hilo Hamakua Community Development Corporation will hold a series of community meetings to discuss agriculture on the Hamakua Coast. All are welcome (and refreshments are free).

We will take a 40,000 foot view of ag and its outside influences, and then look at the resources available to help us, such as the Daniel K. Inouye-Pacific Basin Ag Research Center (PBARC), the College of Tropical Ag and Human Resources (CTAHR), and the College of Ag, Forestry and Natural Resources Management (CAFNRM) at UH Hilo. 

There are many scientists researching various subjects. What do we want them to work on?

Farmers will be at the meeting to share their knowledge and experience.

Are you looking for land to farm? Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate with be there, and the Hamakua Ag Co-op has vacant land.

John Cross, former land manager for C. Brewer/Hilo Coast Processing, will attend. Did you know why all the sugar cane equipment had tracks, rather than rubber tires? Did you know that the plantations frequently planted banyan trees as significant landmarks? 

Jeff Melrose will be at the meetings. He recently did a study that's a snapshot of agriculture on the Big Island. He will talk about on what is grown on the Hamakua coast and why.

Come and talk story with the presenters, learn where you can get additional information, and speak up on what you would like to know more about in the future.

Ag & food security symposia



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.



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.