Hilo, Hawaii — CHERIMOYA, calamansi, rainbow papaya. Puna ricotta, poha berries, lilikoi. Lava salsa, dinosaur kale, Hamakua mushrooms. This is the exotic-food litany on the lips of pilgrims who go to the Hilo Farmers Market, held twice a week on the lush eastern side of the Big Island.
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On a Saturday in mid-December I was in the greedy throng, caressing a cluster of longan, or “dragon eye” fruit; sampling a fresh, made-to-order green papaya salad; sidling up for a whiff of ripe, fragrant mango.
The Big Island, a k a Hawaii, is the biggest agricultural producer in the state. But its farming history is one of immigrant fruit — produce that is itself a pilgrim. Virtually everything that is grown in the Hawaiian islands today is an exotic, brought in from somewhere else by sailors, merchants and contract laborers; pineapple, long seen as Hawaii’s signature fruit, was introduced to the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1813 by Don Francisco de Paula y Marin, a Spanish adviser to King Kamehameha I.
On my December visit I set off in search of unusual agritourism experiences from a recent wave of Big Island farms. Though agricultural production has been geared largely toward industrial export and plantation-scale production over the last century and a half — entire crops of bananas, pineapple, macadamia nuts and sugar cane were shipped overseas, while almost everything else had to be flown in from the mainland — that mindset is shifting.
By C. Keith Haugen
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 17, 2009
News that the last sugar cane fields on Kauai were being harvested makes us realize that it won’t be long before we will see the last of what for more than a century was the single most important product of Hawaii.
It marks the beginning of the end of yet another era in our island home.
And it brings back a lot of memories.
Gay & Robinson’s departure means Hawaii has only one sugar grower left
By Allison Schaefers
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Oct 31, 2009WAIMEA, Kauai » The sugar workers bringing in the last harvest at centuries-old Gay & Robinson had tears in their eyes, but this time it was not from the smoke and burning caramel smell that accompanies cane processing.
Amid a chorus of honking trucks, employees escorted Kauai’s last load of sugar cane from the field to the mill yesterday. Along the way, they paid homage to West Kauai, and the community responded in kind.
The convoy began at Makaweli Post Office and proceeded through Waimea Town, around the West Kauai Technology Center and into Hanapepe before stopping at Kaumakani Mill where the workers rode up the dusty drive like returning war heroes. They are the last of their kind on Kauai, the island that ushered in the state’s centuries-old sugar tradition with the opening of the first successful sugar mill in Koloa in 1835. They are the end of an era.
Jobs, fields at risk in stream water dispute
By CHRIS HAMILTON, Staff Writer
POSTED: October 9, 2009
PUUNENE – They came out on their coffee breaks and at the end of their shifts, in dust-covered shirts and grease-flecked work boots and with rough hands. A circle of soot rimmed their cheeks where their respirators had been minutes before.
About 20 Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. employees held their own news conference Thursday afternoon, along with a few HC&S supervisors, to make their case to the public that 800 full-time Maui jobs with benefits are at stake if the state Water Resource Management Commission rules against them in the Na Wai Eha streams case.
At issue is HC&S’ current practice of diverting up to 70 million gallons a day from Na Wai Eha, or "the four great waters" – Iao, Waihee, Waikapu and Waiehu streams. Water Commission Hearings Officer Dr. Lawrence Miike, who also sits on the independent board, has proposed reducing that amount by half.
HC&S agronomist Mae Nakahata said that if Miike’s proposed decision stands, about 5,500 acres of sugar cane above and below Honoapiilani Highway in Central Maui would be lost forever.
"If this goes against us, it could be a show stopper," said Robert Lu’uwai, HC&S vice president of factory operations. "Our expenses keep going up, and this year was the lowest sugar production we’ve ever had because of the (three-year-old) drought."
The mill typically produces up to 200,000 pounds of sugar, but produced just 127,000 pounds this year, Lu’uwai said.
Thursday September 24, 2009
Yesterday, Gay & Robinson announced that they would cease sugar operations on Kauai this fall, a year earlier than they had previously announced. This will mark the end of sugar production on Kauai.
When Gay & Robinson first announced its intentions in July 2007, there was anticipation that a partnership with Pacific West Energy LLC would merely shift the sugar cane business from consumable sugar to the production of ethanol. Those plans never met fruition.
With the end of sugar production on Kauai, only Maui’s Alexander & Baldwin’s Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. remains as the only producers of sugar cane in Hawaii. Poor economic conditions and drought conditions on Maui have cast a shadow on the future of sugar on Maui.
It is not beyond comprehension that within a few short years, Hawaii’s two iconic agricultural products, sugar cane and pineapple, may be no more. Currently Maui Land & Pineapple Co. Inc. is the only remaining producer of pineapple in Hawaii. Cheaper sources of pineapple elsewhere in the world and huge financial losses have cast doubt about the future of that operation as well.
Kula housing project gains a little ground
WAILUKU – Maui Planning Commission members were unable to agree where to designate growth boundaries in South Maui, but they did make some progress in Kula.
The Kula Ridge housing project had both supporters and doubters before the planning commission.
Part of the project is supposed to be affordable, but some wondered how to ensure that it really turns out that way.
"Don’t get into a project-review decision-making mode," advised Department of Planning Director Jeff Hunt, adding that downstream reviews of matters such as community plan designations can look at projects in detail.
"This is the beginning of a 125-hurdle process," said Chairman Wayne Hedani.
When it came to a vote, the controversial portion of Kula Ridge cleared its hurdle, with commission member Warren Shibuya dissenting over concerns about water and the adequacy of Lower Kula Road.
However, A&B Properties’ bid to add 80 acres to 63 acres for residential development at Haliimaile failed.
Commission member Kent Hiranaga pointed out that the developer is going to provide water and sewage treatment anyway, so it would be financially helpful to expand the project.
"A&B is an agriculture company and a development company," he said. "If we want to allow them to continue the agricultural sector of their business, you need to allow some development. If you take away development, I believe you are jeopardizing the future of sugar cane.
"Then you will have lots of ag land to use for something."
However, farmers – organic and conventional – opposed taking prime agricultural land out of production, and on a split vote the 80 acres were excluded from the designated growth zone.
That Hiranaga moved to support an A&B proposal was ironic in light of earlier testimony.
WASHINGTON–(Business Wire)– Developing and developed countries across the Pacific Rim are adopting biotech solutions to cut greenhouse gas emissions, efficiently utilize resources, and jumpstart economic growth. The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) today announced the sessions and speaker presentations to be delivered at the 2009 Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy, to be held Nov. 8-11, 2009 in Honolulu.
Continue reading ‘Pacific Rim Summit to Highlight Biotechnology Tools for the Green Economy | Reuters’
Hawaii’s agricultural work force totaled 6,100 in July, according to a new report.
The work force reported for the week of July 12-18 was unchanged compared with the survey week in April, but down 2 percent from last July, the National Agricultural Statistics Service Hawaii Field Office said Monday.
Pineapple and sugar cane workers totaled 900, down 22 percent from the same period a year ago, the result of layoffs at Maui Land & Pineapple and Gay & Robinson on Kauai.
Maui Land & Pineapple laid off 204 workers in July 2008, and Gay & Robinson ended its sugar cane operations in September 2008.
Hawaii’s total farm work force — which includes self-employed farm operators and unpaid workers such as family members and others working 15 hours or more per week — totaled 10,400 workers for the survey week, down 1 percent from a year ago.
The average wage paid to all hired workers during the survey week was estimated at $13.97 per hour, 5 percent higher than a year ago.
Hawaii farms employing one to nine workers paid an average of $12.50 per hour. The combined average wage for field and livestock workers was $11.40 an hour.
HONOLULU – The National Agricultural Statistics Service is forecasting that sugar cane production in Hawaii will slip slightly this year.
It expects the state to produce 1.46 million tons of sugar cane in 2009. That would be a 2 percent decline from the 1.49 million tons produced last year.
The service says Hawaii is expected to harvest 21,700 acres of sugar cane this year. That would be down from 22,800 acres harvested in 2008.
However, yield is forecast to reach 67.2 tons per acre, up 2.6 percent from 65.5 tons per acre last year.
Nass Acreage–Click for all Crops
May 21, 2007
Hawaii: a return to the land, for fuel
By Matt Villano
LAHAINA, Hawaii – Here on the West Side of Maui, where lush mountainsides and the warm waters of the Alalakeiki Channel juxtapose increasingly crowded roadways and a spate of new luxury hotels, the push for renewable energy has found an unlikely advocate: the chief executive of one of the most aggressive developers on the island.
The real estate maven, David Cole, has used his position as head of Maui Land and Pineapple, a land holding and operating company, to promote sustainable development. The effort harks back to Hawaii?s past, with plans to return some farmland to production ? this time for energy rather than food ? after so many years in which the state turned its back on its agricultural history in a headlong rush into tourism and real estate.
Perhaps the most notable effort is Hawaii BioEnergy, an international consortium that includes two other local landowners, Tarpon Investimentos, an investment company in Bermuda, and Brasil Bioenergia, an energy company in S?o Paulo.
The consortium, which also involves the co-founder of America Online, Stephen M. Case, and the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, took form last July with the goal to make Hawaii, which has long had to pay high prices for imported fuel, largely energy-independent.
?As islanders, we?ve had to provide for our own survival for hundreds and hundreds of years,? said Mr. Cole, 55, who was raised on Oahu but spent most of his adult life on the mainland before coming to Maui in 2003.
?Now that the technology exists to turn some of our natural resources into energy, there?s no reason we should be getting energy from anywhere else,? he said.
While companies on the mainland are subsidized to produce ethanol from corn, Hawaiian companies and Hawaii BioEnergy are turning to other materials, particularly sugar cane, which are potentially far more efficient sources of ethanol per input of energy and raw material than corn.
Statistics from the Department of Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association in Washington and evidence from Brazil?s experience indicate that ethanol from sugar cane is considerably cheaper to produce than ethanol from corn, a savings that potentially could trickle down to consumers in the form of lower energy bills.
Even without these numbers, the business case for investing in alternative energy in Hawaii is compelling. The Hawaiian archipelago relies on imported oil for nearly 90 percent of its energy needs, making it one of the most expensive places in the nation to buy gasoline and pay for electricity and heat.
In May 2006, Hawaii passed a bill requiring that 20 percent of all highway fuel demand by 2020 must be provided by renewable fuels like ethanol, biodiesel or hydrogen. Another bill under consideration in the State Legislature would allow biofuel processing centers to be permitted in agriculture districts and would develop a baseline percentage of energy feedstock to be grown in the state.
Charmaine Tavares, mayor of Maui County, which includes the islands of Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe, said the goals were ?admirable,? but noted that more immediate changes were necessary as well.
?Every time we pay our energy bills, we?re all aware of the need for renewable energy,? Ms. Tavares said. ?The year 2020 just seems pretty far away.?
Mr. Cole, whose company is one of the largest landowners on Maui, agreed. Last summer, after an eye-opening trip to Brazil, he took matters into his own hands.
With the help of Mr. Case, whom he met during a stint at America Online in the 1990s, Mr. Cole signed up Hawaiian landowners like Kamehameha Schools, an independent school system and the largest landowner in the state, and the Grove Farm Company, a 22,000-acre sugar cane plantation in eastern Kauai that is owned by Mr. Case.
The pair also enlisted help from companies overseas, and recruited Mr. Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems in 1982 who has become one of the biggest backers of renewable energy in the world. Hawaii BioEnergy was born.
Since then, these founding partners and Maui Land and Pineapple have invested nearly $1 million in cash and put a number of full-time employees to work running the business. They expect other investors to help raise an additional $50 million to $80 million to get the operation off the ground.
?When you consider the tropical weather and all the sun Hawaii gets, it is a perfect place to prove that fuels made from biomass can be cost-competitive,? Mr. Khosla said of the project.
Still, the real heart of this consortium is land. The three landowners own about 10 percent of the arable soil in the state: 450,000 acres in all.
Though most of this soil is fallow today, Mr. Case wrote in a recent e-mail exchange that the partners plan to combine contiguous parcels, coordinate planting, harvesting and processing operations, and maximize economies of scale.
?These efforts are not without risk, but anything important has risks,? he wrote of the Hawaii BioEnergy plan. ?Hawaii?s first act was agriculture, and the second act was tourism. Now it is time for the third act, Hawaii 3.0.?
By some accounts, this new era is already under way. From a conference room at the understated Maui Land and Pineapple headquarters in Kahalui, Mr. Cole recently reviewed a new Hawaii BioEnergy feasibility study for producing ethanol from sugar cane on Maui, noting that the consortium could begin plant construction as soon as 2010.
Ultimately, he said, the plant would produce 27 million to 28 million gallons of ethanol a year, and would use the fuel to defray its own energy costs and to sell elsewhere in the state. He added that the group has explored other potential sources for ethanol, including soybeans, switch grass and a type of elephant grass called miscanthus.
Mr. Cole noted that the consortium also looked into producing ethanol from potential ?co-products? of the fuel-making process, including electricity from bagasse (the residue produced after crushing sugar cane), biodiesel from algae nourished by carbon dioxide off-take in the distillation process and animal feeds from the residual algae stream. All together, burning this additional ethanol could add another 25 to 30 megawatts of sustainable power capacity, Mr. Cole said.
?Part of our conception is that we get the most out of the project by making all waste streams into food streams for something else,? Mr. Cole explained. ?Before we invest in a particular technology, we want to be sure we?re investing in the technology that will give us the biggest and broadest return.?
To be sure, Hawaii BioEnergy is not the only partnership interested in renewable energy; elsewhere, the state?s two remaining sugar cane companies are exploring renewable energy efforts of their own.
On Kauai, for example, the cane producer Gay & Robinson recently received a state permit to build a $36 million ethanol plant in the town of Pakala as part of a joint venture with a local energy company. The other concern, the Maui-based Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar, is also investigating renewable fuels.
Because these companies currently combine to harvest 270,000 tons of sugar cane each year, they may be closer to actually producing renewable energy than Hawaii BioEnergy is. Alan Kennett, president and general manager of Gay & Robinson, suggested that his company could begin ethanol production as early as next year.
David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agricultural sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., said the fact that there would soon be various options for renewable energy in Hawaii was a step in the right direction.
?Any investment in renewable energy is a good investment,? he said. ?Beyond that, Hawaii should be practicing general conservation with smaller cars, less air-conditioning and decreased consumption over all.?
If anybody understands the need for conservation in Hawaii, Mr. Cole does. A stocky man with a graying goatee, he grew up in Kailua, a suburb of Honolulu, hiking through tropical forests and hanging out on beaches with friends. His first job on the island was delivering copies of The Honolulu Advertiser. He attended the University of Hawaii as an undergraduate.
Mr. Cole left Maui for law school on the mainland in the 1970s. Though he spent almost 30 years there before returning to head Maui Land and Pineapple in 2003, his love for the local environment still runs deep; he regularly rhapsodizes about the beauty of dawn, the sweet sounds of birds and the annual migration of humpback whales.
He also serves as chairman of the Hawaii Nature Conservancy.
Mr. Cole has extended these pro-environment ideals to many of his business decisions. This year, when construction crews dismantled the former Kapalua Bay Hotel, which is owned by a subsidiary of Maui Land and Pineapple, Mr. Cole required them to reuse 97 percent of the material in the company?s new offices.
Instead of recycling, he called the process ?upcycling,? and noted that his desk was a door in its former life.
Planning the next development ? an upscale neighborhood on the slopes of Mount Haleakala called Haliimaile (pronounced hah-lee-ee-my-lee) ? Mr. Cole has commissioned architects to design the enclave to minimize vehicle use, create a natural water filtration system, and incorporate solar and wind energy so residents generate more power than they consume.
Though the neighborhood is still in the permitting process and probably years away, Mr. Cole said he hoped this kind of forward thinking, together with the efforts of Hawaii BioEnergy, would eventually inspire outsiders to look to Hawaii for ideas about responsible and sustainable development.
?The whole world is looking for models,? he said. ?Years from now, when people think about renewable energy, I want them to look here and say, ?If it worked for Hawaii, it can work for us.? ?
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
Source: New York Times