Friday, May 3, 2019

Ka'u Valley Farm Tour

Went on a great farm tour yesterday -- Ka'u Valley Farm. Right in my own neck of the woods, how convenient. The tour was part of our local coffee festival. Normally the farm isn't open for tours. But seeing that the tour was in this year's roster of events, I signed up for it. Good decision on my part, I must say. 

Ka'u Valley Farm was originally part of the Hutchinson Sugar plantation system. But the sugar business died out here many years ago (in the 1990s), and since then the land has been used as cattle pasture. 3-4 years ago a new owner bought the whole thing (several thousand acres) and is now creating a diversified farm. So far the plan looks to be a good one for this area. 

Driving all over the place in an open farm utility vehicle was fun all by itself. Up hills, down gullys, through mud, over rocky dirt farm tracks, through pastures, past, fun! The scenery was grand....vast open grassy pastures, ohia forest, coastline view, the ocean stretching all the way along the background. At the top of the farm one could see all the way from Volcanoes National Park and sunrise point to your left, down 85 miles of coast to South Point, then off in the distance to the sunset point to your right. What a panama. You felt you were on top of the world. Amazingly beautiful. 

Then there's the farm stuff. At the top where the farm has native forest, sits a large collection of  beehives to harvest nectar from the tract of yellow ohia trees. This is probably the only honey in the world that is predominantly yellow lehua honey. 

One of two bee colonies on the farm. 
Coming down in elevation, the land is being farmed with sweet potatoes for now. For now meaning that after two years the sweets will be moved to other areas and coffee and tea planted in its place. About 100 acres at a time will be in sweet potatoes. 

Sweet potato field. What a beautiful place to be hoeing sweets! 
Irrigation for the farm is not needed for some of the crops, but there is water available via the old sugar plantation tunnel system. 3 tunnels have been located and restored. All are located on the farm, private land, which makes them immensely valuable. Private water around here is worth gold! The farm is building a 4 million gallon capacity reservoir to store the water, making it available for the crops lower down the land. Crops will include coffee, tea, a variety of fruit and food trees, and vegetables. 

A view looking down on the nursery and some coffee & tea fields. 
After running all over the farm, we had a pleasant lunch break in open air pavilions with expansive views, while this year's Ka'u Coffee Queen entertained us with ukulele and singing. It was a nice touch. Another nice touch was the we got to plant our own coffee tree. Made us feel like we a part of this farming adventure. 

My own namesake, a coffee tree. 
Everyone planting their trees. 
Next stop -- greenhouses. This is where they grow the young coffee and tea trees, plus an assortment of ornamentals for landscaping the farm. The aim is to not just make the farm functional, but also pleasing to the eye. One greenhouse is used for a hydroponic lettuce.

Hydroponic lettuce set up. 
The farm has already been selling lettuce and other assorted produce for months now. The nursery area is also the site for assorted produce production. I saw bananas, eggplant, papaya, lettuce, radish, peanut, sweet potato, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, and cauliflower. We also got a demonstration of grafting procedures using hibiscus plants. The farm plans to conduct future grafting classes, and I intend to come back for them. 

Grafting demo

Future plans call for a visitor center, hoping to open by the end of the year. And of course expansion of fields of coffee, tea, and fruit trees. 


  1. Are they raising meat or dairy with all pasture-fed? (no grain)

    I heard in '82 when I lived near there that the cane fields were closed because the soil was spent from application of chemicals. Is that so?

    Are they using controlled (rotation) grazing? Do they know how to build soil by using ruminants & fowl? Are they chemical free (organic)?

    1. Parts of the farm are under pasture lease. So there are a couple of ranchers with cattle on that land. All those cattle are being grassfed. And they are primarily cows with young calves. Are the pastures rotated? Yes. Do they build soil via ruminants & fowl? No. Soil building is via mob grazing, thus the trampling of overgrowth grasses. Then the pasture is rested while the grasses regrow, plus the pastures are not grazed down, leaving a deep vegetative mat that protects and acts as a thick mulch. This system has worked for decades successfully.

      The cane fields were abandoned because of the lack of profitable market for the cane sugar in California. The mainland had developed a good sugar beet industry, which the cane sugar could not compete with successfully. Even Maui's sugar (which had its own mainland infrastructure) finally shut down. But it didn't shut down because of spent soil. Actually the soil has been found to be quite fertile still due to the organic material the cane industry incorporated into the soil, plus the residual fertilizer. The sweet potato grower is finding that he needs to use very little fertilizer as compared to his other locations around the island. People had assumed the soil would be depleted, but that has not proven to be the case. A nice surprise,

      Is Ka'u Valley Farm organic? Not yet. It takes years to get prepared and certified. Are they chemical free? Not yet. But they tend to use organic means when feasible. Plus they are using many permacuiture techniques.

  2. Mob grazing, like control/rotation grazing is another name for the attempt to emulate nature using the philosophy of Masanobu Fukuoka. It has been discovered that better results are achieved by using multible species, e.g., 3 ruminants (cows, goats, sheep) followed by chickens, ducks, geese. But with thought even pigs can be pasture-fed.
    I don't trust or respect gov in anything, least of all a worldwide grass-roots movement to reform the production of food fundamentally. Gov is a decease, disguised as a cure.
    I will trust certification when it is done by a private organization.