Educating farmers

West Hawaii Today
Diana Duff

Getting the latest information about natural and sustainable farming practices and specific techniques can be challenging during our current shut down.

Following up on a lead from a friend, I contacted Alex Dant at Kalakupua Farm to find out what he was doing that other farmers or gardeners might find interesting. Alex is in the process of transforming a traditional coffee farm that has been in his family for more than 30 years into a more sustainable operation.

His parents purchased an 8-acre Kamehameha Schools lease in 1988. They were growing coffee and fruit largely to supply Fairwinds, their tour boat business.

Alex’s parents moved off the farm about a year ago and Alex and his family are on the farm now taking advantage of the lull in tourism to focus full time on making the farm less chemical dependent and more crop diverse. His goal is to become a naturally sustainable organic farmer.

Alex was initially inspired to farm more sustainably after reading “The One Straw Revolution” by Masanobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka promotes a farming methodology that requires imitating nature by not tilling the soil and allowing for natural fertilization and pest prevention of your crops. The natural farming methods that he describes as “do nothing farming” appealed to Alex.

To get there Alex knew he needed to do a few things, however. He soon began seeking local information on adapting Fukuoka’s natural methodology to Hawaii

He describes his process saying, “We are going a quarter-acre at a time, planting a diversity of crops and learning to create our own fertility and pest control on site.”

Early in his search for information, he came across the Institute of Natural Farming that was teaching Korean Natural Farming methods. He started taking workshops through the Institute and met the founder, Logan Silsley.

Logan had recently completed his certification as a Korean Natural Farming teacher and was anxious to share KNF techniques with Kona farmers. He began running workshops in 2017. He soon formed the Haile Selassie Institute of Natural Farming and Higher Education offering memberships to local farmers dedicated to learning ways to farm and live more sustainably.

Logan was also inspired by Fukuoka’s book and it became required reading for members of his institute. Beyond farming naturally, Logan found that he agreed with many of Fukuoka’s beliefs. He quoted Fukuoka as the basis of his work with farmers. “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings,”

Through the Institute, Logan hopes to encourage natural farming as part of a lifestyle that considers and involves life beyond the farm including extended families and the community.

As a practicing Rastafarian, Logan also reveres the work and beliefs of the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and shares the Rasta belief that “agriculture is a sacred task.” That belief inspired him to honor Selassie when naming his institute.

Today, the Institute of Natural Farming has adapted its programs to adhere to Hawaii’s current social distancing guidelines. It offers free videos of previous workshops as well as fee-based ongoing workshops with limited enrollment for farmers and farm workers. Videos of previous workshops are available on the Institute of Natural Farming youtube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnf4_VR1AhyEn24JYQrv2eg.

Workshop topics still include Korean Natural Farming practices as well as, Permaculture design, crop diversity, no-till farming and on site soil improvement. Worm composting and compost tea making are often included in the workshops as well. Certified practitioners in their field teach all of the workshops.

When I asked Alex what he had learned through his membership at the Institute of Natural Farming, he was quick to respond. “The Institute has helped me learn new ways to recycle farm and kitchen waste through various composting methods as well as ways to create super soil amendments and effective pesticides using on-farm inputs.”

As part of his study of Korean Natural Farming, Alex collected indigenous microorganisms from a forest floor near him. These often appear as white mycelium growing under the forest leaf litter. He uses these to inoculate a cooked starch like rice and grow out more IMOs. From his mycelium reproduction, he is able to grow a collection of on-farm IMOs that are the basis for creating fertility and pest control for the farm. More information on the creation and use of IMOs can be found at some excellent on line you tube videos, including those offered by the Institute of Natural Farming.

Alex is delighted with his new knowledge. These are all major steps toward his goal of farming naturally and organically while creating a sustainable lifestyle for his family.

To learn more about the Institute’s current offerings and take advantage of the agricultural education it offers, go to their website at www.instituteofnaturalfarming.com or contact them by calling their office at (808)333-2177 or sending them an e-mail at esotericfarming777@gmail.com.

You can also go to their website and sign up to hear from them about upcoming trainings, courses, seminars and farm tours. Logan also invites interested parties to stop by the Institute of Natural Farming during normal business hours at 81-6372 Hawaii Belt Road in Kealakekua.

If you are interesting in expanding your knowledge of natural and sustainable farming practices for Hawaii, do check out the Institute of Natural Farming.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living part time in Kailua-Kona.

Gardening Events

Every Saturday: “Work Day at Amy Greenwell Garden” from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meet at the Garden Visitor Center across from the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook. Come with a mask and be prepared to practice social distancing. Volunteers can help with garden maintenance and are invited to bring a brown bag lunch. Water and snacks provided. Call Peter at 323-3318 for more information.

Farmer Direct Markets – check websites for the latest hours and online markets

Wednesday: “Ho’oulu Farmers Market” at Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay

Saturday: “Keauhou Farmers Market” 8 a.m. to noon at Keauhou Shopping Center

Information on their online market at keauhoufarmersmarket.com/onlinemarket

“Kamuela Farmer’s Market” 7:30 a.m. to noon at Pukalani Stables

“Waimea Town Market” 7:30 a.m. to noon at the Parker School in central Waimea

“Waimea Homestead Farmers Market” from 7:30 a.m. to noon at the Waimea middle and elementary school playground

Sunday: “Pure Kona Green Market” 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook

“Hamakua Harvest” 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hwy 19 and Mamane Street in Honoka’a

Plant Advice Lines

(Check for updates on hours of operation) Anytime: konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu Tuesdays & Thursdays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu – 322-4892

Mon., Tues. & Fri: 9 a.m. to noon at UH CES at Komohana in Hilo 981-5199 or himga@hawaii.edu

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