AS gardeners stock up on heirloom seeds for spring, Rob Johnston, the chairman of Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow, Me., would like to suggest an accessory. Why not buckle up in a 1936 Oldsmobile coupe?
O.K., so it doesn’t have seat belts. But the swoop of the fenders resembles Joan Crawford’s eyebrows. Better yet, the rest of the Oldsmobile’s curves are all Lana Turner.
And the technology! Where else can today’s driver find such innovations as knee-action wheels and a solid steel “turret top”?
But even with all that a ’36 Olds has going for it, Mr. Johnston, 60, said, “I’m not sure how big of a market there would be” for 75-year-old cars. “It would just be a sentimental business.”
So to return to Mr. Johnston’s own business, vegetable seeds, why is the backyard gardener buying so many 1936-era heirlooms?
Mr. Johnston, it should be noted, is a fan of heirlooms, which, in the broadest sense, are old varieties of “open pollinated” seeds that will grow the same plant again.
But he argues that his typical customers — small market farmers and avid home gardeners — have better choices. Modern seeds, which are generally hybrid crosses, produce a “more vigorous plant, better resistance to diseases,” he said.
And here’s the heirloom heresy: they often taste better, too.
We were poking around upcountry Maui and driving its narrow, twisting roads, but by midafternoon we had to turn around. We had an important date at a lower elevation.
Forget meeting friends for mai-tais or heading to Lahaina for the sunset. We were going to herd the animals at Surfing Goat Dairy.
Herding anything may be the last activity one considers for a Maui vacation. But the dairy is one of several island farms that have opened for public tours over the last few years. They offer the chance to explore the island’s back roads, meet the growers and learn something about the exotic fruits, vegetables and cheeses you’ll encounter and enjoy on Maui.
“It’s a growing national trend,” says Maui resident Charlene Kauhane, a board member of the Hawaii Agri-Tourism Association. “Visitors are looking for authentic experiences, for opportunities where they can meet locals and buy local.”
And sometimes, you just want a break from the beach. So let’s go down on the farm on Maui.
Alii Kula Lavender Farm
Even before you arrive, you’ll detect Alii Kula Lavender Farm from the lovely fragrance wafting over Upcountry. It comes from 45 lavender varieties planted over 10 acres in Haleakala’s foothills. You can meander over paths on your own, or join one of the walking tours. You’ll learn about lavender’s culinary uses and healthful benefits, as well as the farm’s dedication to practicing agriculture in a sustainable way.
Alii Lavender also offers workshops in wreath making and container gardens, and other special events.
One of the most popular root vegetables is beets, the root of a plant whose greens are edible and delicious, too. Plentiful at this time of year, especially on the mainland when root vegetables are abundant, beets have been elevated from boiled and canned status to gourmet with new cooking techniques and varieties.
Salads of roasted red beets with goat cheese come to mind as the epitome of beet preparations of recent years. Golden or yellow beets have made their appearance as well as chioggia beets, the two-toned striped beets of Italian origin. Pickled, roasted, steamed, pureed or raw, beets are part of our contemporary tables.
When buying beets, it’s better to buy them with their tops so you can see how fresh it is — droopy greens indicate age. But beets hold up well when stored in the refrigerator. There’s no way to tell whether a beet is sweet except to eat it; knowing your beet grower can help you get fresh, sweet and firm beets.
The fate of 10 farmers in Hawaii Kai looks like it will be in the hands of three arbitrators after a recent breakdown in negotiations over rent with landowner Kamehameha Schools.
The roughly $8 billion private charitable trust recently called off negotiations in favor of arbitration to settle the issue of resetting rents for the last 15 years on the farmers’ leases that cover their farms and homes spread over 87 acres in Kamilo Nui Valley.
For both sides, the matter is particularly aggravating because many of the farmers are in their 80s and can’t farm too actively. But rents haven’t changed since they were established in the early 1970s.
Kamilo Nui farmers, who lease parcels from three to 10 acres, pay an average $185 an acre per year, which Kamehameha Schools seeks to raise to $5,200 — a 28-fold increase.
Kamehameha Schools believes the farmers should have prepared for the hike knowing that adjusting rents to present market rates would happen this year. The trust, which benefits Hawaiian children and has a fiduciary duty to maximize the revenue from its assets, also emphasizes that it is committed to farming uses of the land for the next 15 years.
The farmers, who were relocated to the valley to make way for industrialist Henry J. Kaiser developing Hawaii Kai, say they are willing to pay more but not beyond what they reasonably can afford from farming. Jacking up rents to market rates, they say, would put them out of business.
It’s an uncommon dining experience: you turn mauka off the highway in Kilauea, there are no advertisements, no string of cars looking for parking, no delivery trucks dropping off packaged food. No, it feels more like you have stumbled upon a 60-acre farm that happens to have a tranquil, open-air restaurant, where bananas and coconuts hang from the doors. A few feet beyond the tables are herb gardens. Beyond that is a massive garden, with rows and rows of vegetables. “You can sit down and look at where your food is coming from,” said Jay Sklar, chef and food-services director.
The Garden restaurant at Common Ground — a resource center for the community with many projects focused on sustainability — is leading the way to show what is possible for restaurants who embrace the “farm-to-fork” concept. When Common Ground — formerly Guava Kai Plantation — began the farming process over two years ago, the old guava trees, which were no longer able to produce fruit, were cut and chipped into a nitrogen-rich compost to make the soil healthy. They now continue to make their own compost with various materials on site, and mix it with oxygenated water in order to make a “tea” they spray on the crops. Sklar said they use no petro chemicals, and the practice of permaculture is used, meaning the landscaping is edible and plants are strategically placed in order to naturally benefit each other.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ruled that more work needs to be done on an environmental assessment for a produce irradiator that’s proposed for a location near Honolulu International Airport.
The commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board issued a ruling last week saying the NRC staff needs to consider alternate technology and sites in producing the assessment. The board’s decision said it expects the staff to give meaningful consideration to transportation accidents in preparing a final environmental assessment.
The ruling came after almost three years of discussion at the NRC, which has been considering Pa’ina Hawaii LLC’s request to build an irradiator that would use up to a million curries of cobalt-60 to treat local fruits such as papayas, vegetables and other items so they can be shipped to the Mainland insect-free.
This is a terrible time to start importing foreign bananas due to the proposed layoffs of agricultural inspectors. The domestic crop could easily be devastated by invasive pests including banana rasp snail, red palm mite, two-spotted mite, banana root borer, banana aphid and the mealybug.
Manila may agree to Washington’s proposal to allow the entry of cold climate vegetables in exchange for the export of Philippine bananas in the US.
Agriculture officials said this may be the only way to secure the approval of the US Department of Agriculture for the Philippines’ formal request to penetrate the lucrative US market for fresh bananas.
“They are asking us if they can export temperate vegetables to the Philippines. We haven’t responded yet, but the arguments will always lead to a counter-trade arrangement," said Bureau of Plant Industry director Joel Rudinas.
The US government, Rudinas said, has expressed its interest to export temperate vegetables such as broccoli and asparagus.
He said the Philippines must submit its position on the findings of the import risk assessment (IRA) conducted by the US government on Philippine bananas as a protocol in the processing of requests for fruit exports.
In its IRA last month, the USDA said Philippine bananas may be allowed entry into the US market if mitigating measures be undertaken to address the issue of the danger of potential pests.
An IRA reviews existing quarantine policy on the import of animals, plants and their products, identifies and classifies potential quarantine risks and develop policies to manage them.
Positions targeted to balance state budget
By ILIMA LOOMIS, Staff Writer
POSTED: August 30, 2009
PUKALANI – Plant quarantine officials said last week that laying off more than half the state’s agricultural inspectors would create such a logjam at Hawaii ports that it could cause shortages similar to those seen during shipping strikes.
Carol Okada, manager of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture’s Plant Quarantine Branch, said she has not been able to develop a plan for how her department will continue its core functions after it loses 52 employees, 50 of them inspectors, to layoffs planned for November.
She said food shipments to Maui and the other Neighbor Islands, which because of staff shortages would now have to be routed through Honolulu for inspection, would have to sit on the docks until the state’s remaining inspectors could look at them, with the risk that some food could spoil in the unchilled containers.
State land use panel rejects plan for 12,000 homes on Ewa farms
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 29, 2009
In a rare move, the state Land Use Commission rejected yesterday a developer’s push to urbanize 1,500 acres of prime agricultural land in Ewa to create a new community of nearly 12,000 homes.
The commission voted 5-3 to declare the petition by D.R. Horton-Schuler Division "deficient," saying the developer had not followed the rules by spelling out an incremental development plan for its Ho’opili project. But it said Horton could fix its petition and try again.
"Hallelujah!" Kioni Dudley, president of Friends of Makakilo and leader of the opposition, declared after the vote. "It’s a great victory. It’s a victory for the aina. I hope the setback to the developer is permanent."
Dudley had some powerful support at yesterday’s hearing, including the state Office of Planning, which argued forcefully against the project, and the heads of the state Transportation and Agriculture departments. The commissioners also heard hours of testimony from members of the public, most of them pleading to keep the land growing fruits and vegetables for local consumption.