Wedged between the road from Honoka'a to Waipio Valley in front, and the Hamakua Ditch in back, Taro Patch Farm is one busy little farm.
Edith (Edie) Bikle started her first garden when she was 15 years old and has been farming one way or another ever since. She bought the present 1,000 foot elevation 1½ acre property 7 years ago and immediately started adding an edible garden and fruit trees to the already established macadamia tree orchard.
Jimmy Chan went into business after graduating from college in 2000. After two important learning experiences with businesses that did not take off, Chan found success in his chip company, which is now 20 employees strong with distribution throughout Hawai‘i. As his business grew, he found that focusing on product quality was the key to success in selling to bigger and better accounts. Every new account challenged him to continue maintaining quality, while a track record of high quality led to additional accounts.
The GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) controversy continues to dominate the news for our local agriculture's future. Hawai'i Island's farmers, both small and large, are actively engaged in this debate, as are our County Council, the University of Hawai'i, biotech companies, and some wholesalers and retailers of our entire local food system.
How well do you understand the issues? How much do you know, and how much is guesswork or knee-jerk reaction? Are you applying your critical thinking skills to the arguments from both sides, or are your feet more-or-less mindlessly planted in the concrete of your fellow-travelers?
Kunia Country Farms started operations in 2010, transforming former pineapple land in Kunia into a lettuce farm. The farm utilizes an aquaponics system, where crops are grown in containers that float on water. Fish (which are excluded from the crop area) provide a source of fertilizer. “Aquaponics is 6–8 times more productive than ground cropping,” estimates co-owner Jason Brand, “which can save costs on land, materials, and labor, allowing us to be competitive with mainland lettuce while delivering a product with a much longer shelf life.” The company’s growing, harvesting, and packaging operations are continually being refined. “Our number one cost is labor. Mainland producers achieve a cost-effective economy of scale due to large land areas and mechanization. With our relatively small-scale operation, we have to develop other efficiencies in our growing, harvesting, and packaging methods, which we have done.”
Homesteading is overwhelming, and all the more so if you have high ideals about living lightly and are trying to do things in new ways. Let's see, since coming to Hawai'i we have studied up on and/or are trying to: make fish fertilizer and vermicompost, raise soldier fly larvae, make biochar and Natural Farming amendments, start up aquaponics for fish and greens, install solar and hydropower, create forest gardens and permaculture, grow chicken forage, raise rabbits without purchased feed, and raise as much of our own fruits and vegetables as possible. Maybe we are doing too much at once? Two lessons I have recently learned from other small farmers have reinforced the importance of taking small steps.