Thieves strike 2 Oahu farms

Oahu growers have been hit by thieves seeking pricey ornamental plants as well as pots, tools and other gear.

Over the weekend, thieves took more than $15,000 worth of farm equipment and a truck from a taro restoration proj­ect in the Heeia wetlands.

Mahealani Cypher, spokes­woman for the nonprofit organization Kako‘o ‘Oiwi, said yesterday that two chain saws, eight weed whackers, two water pumps, tools and a 20-by-20-foot tent were stolen sometime late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

Last week, Glenn’s Flowers and Plants on Moku­lama Street in Wai­ma­nalo lost 70 Raphis indoor palms valued at $14,000.

The nursery lost 37 plants that were growing in 3-gallon pots, nine palms in 5-gallon pots and 24 palms in 7-gallon pots. All of the plants were housed in a greenhouse.

In Kaneohe, workers arriving at the 400-acre site at 11 a.m. Sunday discovered the security gate off Kame­ha­meha Highway was broken, Cypher said. The thieves also used blowtorches to open locked containers. A donated green Chevy pickup truck is also missing, Cypher said.

The 400-acre taro patch is leased for 38 years from the Hawaii Community Development Authority, which is in a partnership with the Nature Conservancy and Ko‘o­lau­poko Hawaiian Civic Club to restore the land. The proj­ect is located a mile past Windward Mall.

Cypher said taro plants ready to be harvested for poi were taken a few weeks ago from the mauka side of the property, which is accessible from Kahe­kili Highway.

“We didn’t report it then,” she added, “because we thought people took it because they needed food.”

Kanekoa Kukea-Shultz, executive director of Kako‘o ‘Oiwi, said, “This is a really tough blow to all of us working on this proj­ect. We have many volunteers who have put in long hours of hard work to clear this acreage and plant taro for the community.”

The restoration project is aimed at repairing environmental damage and replacing alien vegetation with native plants and food crops on the former Kamehameha Schools land once targeted for urban development, Cypher said.

Last month in Waimanalo, one diversified-agriculture farmer lost an avocado crop, while three banana farmers also were hit.

“It’s a chronic problem for our farmers,” said Clifford Migita, president of the Wai­ma­nalo Agricultural Association.

He said the thieves who stole the palm trees “knew what they were looking for,” adding, “They took the fuller and nicer plants.”

He said several banana farmers have suffered at the hands of thieves, and the University of Hawaii experimental station lost aluminum irrigation pipes several months ago.

But identifying stolen items such as fruits, produce and ornamental plants is difficult.

“Even if you mark the pots, thieves can easily switch them,” Migita said. “At one time some farmers were told to mark banana bunches, but that’s not feasible when you have acres of them.”

Police patrol the area, and at one time farmers initiated voluntary security patrols.

“But it ended because the same people were the only ones volunteering,” Migita said.

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