Social Encore: On the farm
BY JERMEL-LYNN QUILLOPO / Special to the Star-Advertiser
One of the wonderful things about Hawaii is our environment, with its warm oceans and mostly sunny skies throughout the year. We are also lucky to have local farmers who produce fresh vegetables and fruits.
Out in the heart of Waimanalo is Kanu Farms. Shelle and Gabe Machado run the farm and have more than 30 years of landscaping and agricultural experience. Since the farm was used previously for a potted-plant nursery, the soil was previously sprayed with destructive pesticides. It has taken the couple five years to re-work seven acres of soil with nutrients in order for the land to be suitable for food farming.
The farm currently resides on state agriculture land and the couple recently agreed to a 35-year lease. The couple is solely resposnible for the farm, sometimes receiving help from family members. It took them a year to clean the soil and about three years for their orchard to bear fruit. Even though the couple is thankful for the land, the downfall could be some of the legalities, said Gabe Machado.
“When our lease is up, we don’t have the option to transfer the land to for example, our children,” he said. “We may loose the land either to the state or to the highest bidder.”
The couple wants the farm to become organically certified by the state; they also use techniques like working with worm compost and aquaponics. The worms the break down green waste and create a safe fertilizer for the farm without harmful bacteria like e. coli.
The aquaponics system is very effective, watering their fields before making its way into tanks that hold thousands of tilapia that are grouped by age into separate bins to prevent them from eating one other. The fish feed off ammonia-rich waste from the water along with a rich and high protein diet, while the water from the fish tanks gets recycled back to the produce, helping fertilize the plants.
About 2,000 gallons of water run through the tanks each minute. The fish are not only used for the aquaponics system, but are also sold to local markets. About 140 full grown tilapia can fit in a tank and usually weigh about a 1.25 to two pounds. The fish are ready for the market by the time they are a year old. The Machados said even though aquaponics is a sustainable system for their farm, the electricity to run such a system is expensive and they are trying to find ways to decrease costs.
Gabe Machado is a retired fireman and wanted to help his wife’s dream come true by starting the farm. Although he said it is hard work, it’s also very rewarding.
“Farming is a lot of hard work but it pays it off,” he said. “Everyday I look out of my window and see the crops, it makes it well worth it.”
The Machados wanted to tap into a new market and discovered the fig market was what they wanted to explore. Besides crops such as lychee, mango, papaya, and pineapple on their grounds, the Machados grow more than 20 varieties of figs. They realized by trying different produce such as figs, apples and peaches, bugs that frequent their land are less prone to ruining their crops.
“We also wanted to try something that can be grown here instead of being imported from the mainland,” said Shelle Machado. “Produce like squash, carrots and garlic.”
A recent tour at Kanu Farms was organized by the Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawaii with help from the Oahu Resource Conservation and Development Council (Oahu RC&D). Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawaii, which helps connect Hawaii’s agricultural sector with the general public.
The Oahu RC&D assists local farmers, ranchers and land owners by developing conservation plans specific to their operational needs. The organization makes sure they not comply with environmental regulations but also gives business owners resources to help reduce soil erosion and help protect our water quality. They also offer people an opportunity to visit different farms as well as educate them on how they can be sustainable.
Oahu RC&D intern Amanda Camacho is from New Jersey. The 24-year old Rutgers graduate said others from her generation need opportunities to learn how to be more sustainable. Since Hawaii has the environment for it, the way to spread the word about sustainable options is through education and awareness.
“From what I can tell, Hawaii people are true to their values,” Camacho said. “Preserving the land and being more self-sustainable is something that should be learned now so that it can be passed on to the next generation.”
Sweet Home Waimanalo co-owner Joanne Kapololu was born and raised in Hawaii. She also believes in the power of education and awareness. When you walk through the doors of Sweet Home Waimanalo, not only do they serve food with majority of their ingredients that were produced locally, but they also support local artists and farmers by selling locally-made merchandise.
Kapololu encourages people to buy locally but to also eat healthy. Diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in 2007, she did some research and discovered that by eating healthy, your body starts to heal itself. Wanting to try an alternative, she decided to eat healthy to avoid chemotherapy. Even though she had to get a mastectomy, she said eating healthy contributed to her being cancer-free.
She said even though many are being mindful when it comes to taking care of the environment, people should also be mindful of our neighbors who own local businesses. Kapololu said eating healthy and buying locally is a choice that can be made three times a day, allowing Hawaii residents to be less dependent on mainland imports. Sweet Home Waimanalo also partnered up with up Farmroof, an organization that helps people create small farms or gardens in urban areas.
“We are so isolated and 90% of what we have here is imported,” she said. “If anything happens like some kind of crisis, we won’t be able to survive.”
Because of this experience, I’m inspired to start a little garden of my own. It has also stirred interest in possibly having a small aquaponics system at my mom’s house. I can honestly say that after having an opportunity to visit a local farm, talking to local farmers and eating delicious food from locally grown produce, not only am I more aware of my environment, but I also have a better understanding of how much work these farmers go through to make a living.
Supporting local farmers and business owners is what helps stimulate our economy, but learning to be more sustainable can help us all save money while helping us all make healthier choices.
Jermel-Lynn Quillopo is a multi-faceted, energetic individual with experience in both print and broadcast journalism. “Social Encore” aims to tell diverse stories about Hawaii’s food, events and people; share your tips with Jermel via email or follow her on Twitter.