Our community is celebrating Hāmākua Harvest’s Second Annual Farm Festival this Sunday, so I sat down with Michael Gibson, founder and Development Director, to review HH’s progress since the market opened on September 6, 2015. In just 20 months, HH has manifested the original concept: a community-based farmer’s market that celebrates the Hāmākua Coast’s rich agricultural heritage. Michael’s vision was a place where people could learn about sustainable, organic, and native agriculture; a place with demonstration gardens; a place where area youth could work and learn by doing; a community gathering place that would knit people together. All of this is happening now.
Education: Every week at the market, people learn from local masters about their practices. There’s been something for everyone with more than 80 talks, workshops, demonstrations and hands-on sessions since the beginning. Some experts have presented several times. The topics just in the past couple months range from backyard composting and growing organic vegetables, to Fermentation 101 (learn to make your own sauerkraut and kimchi!) and getting children involved in food and gardening.
Demonstration plots: Three one-acre plots focused on orcharding are already flourishing with a total of 124 different varieties/species of trees planted so far. An additional 39 orchard trees plus a selection of palms, clumping bamboos and ornamentals will be planted in 2017, as funding permits.
The oldest plot, sitting closest to the Mamane Street entrance to the site, is a traditional Hawaiian agroforestry system. Noa Lincoln from the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) in Oahu, installed 700 kukui seedlings eight months ago. This plot will eventually have four overstory trees (ulu, coconut, mountain apple, and kukui) with 20-25 other native species in the understory. Meanwhile, Noa occasionally brings his students from Oahu to the site to perform analyses and make decisions about next steps as they transform this land from a bacterial-based grassland back to a fungal-based forest.
The second plot, behind the Farmer’s Market windbreak, was planted five months ago. It demonstrates the Korean natural farming approach for fruit-bearing trees. It is a mixed plot of citrus, avocado, and others, all planted along the contours of the land. HH is experimenting with wind protecting several trees in this plot: rambutan, longan, mangosteen, lychee, and soursop.
The third plot between the other two, demonstrates certified organic orcharding. Planted two months ago, it contains all the fruit trees in the state that are viable at this elevation and these conditions, including a sub-section of citrus and avocado trees.
Within it is a triangular plot, planted just last month with spice trees: tamarind, nutmeg, all-spice, clove, kaffir-lime, sudachi, yuzu, moringa, curry leaf, and bay. I can’t wait to see how this demonstration evolves as the trees mature.
Much of the planting is the work of volunteers. And it’s amazing how quickly new ideas can be implemented. Last Saturday, Erin Brown suggested to Michael that a spiral herb garden would make a nice addition to the site. He agreed. Within days, Erin had created a plan and with the help of John Del Rosario, they found and moved rocks from the site for a border, and planted the spiral herb and flower garden.
Youth involvement: Hāmākua Harvest has been partnering with the Hāmākua Youth Center (HYC) since the beginning. The HYC brings students aged seven to seventeen to the HH site twice a week, where they grow native plants such as kalo, ʻuala, maiʻ, ko and kukui. The youth also grow other food plants, and proudly share the produce with their families.
They especially enjoy raising chickens, a large pig, Rosie, and two smaller pigs, a boar and a sow, who were caught in the wild. Mahealani Maikuʻi, Director of the HYC, points out that raising animals and plants together teaches another way to be self-sustaining, and provides an opportunity to share alternative farming methods. In the Needs Assessment HYC conducted last school year with 400+ middle and high school students in Honokaʻa, Agriculture was among the top seven desired activities (out of 74) and within Agriculture, Animal Care was the highest vote getter. There’s clearly a need for this kind of activity for our youth.
Community gathering place: Many people attend the HH Farmer’s Market as a priority, a weekly ritual. People buy bagels and “Kaleo’s Koffee” or Thai and other food on site and gather at the picnic tables to chat with friends and listen to local talent. Food, music, friends, and a chance to learn something new at the Education Tent: what more do you need to make community? And backyard gardeners are invited to sell produce at the Hāmākua Ag Coop booth. This ability for ordinary folk to sell their produce at the Farmer’s Market cements it as Their Market.
So kudos to HH Market Manager, Marielle Hampton, who orchestrates the weekly event. But as the demonstration orchards and keiki garden demonstrate, Hāmākua Harvest is not just the market. There’s more coming. The HH Business Plan shows the expansiveness of the entire strategy for the 70-acre site:
- Besides the Farmer’s Market, they’ll build a separate road-side market, open during the week: about 2-3 years out yet. This will be a 30×40 ft pavilion on two levels, containing a certified kitchen and an agriculture/farming book store. Visitors can buy locally produced refreshments and enjoy them on a lanai with an ocean-view. Local farmers can learn to add value to their products for sale.
- A nursery where visitors can buy plants during the week, will be the next project. Expected timing is within the next three months. Tiffany Cox-Castillo has developed plans for a 12×12 ft sales structure, outdoor platforms to display the plants, and a larger structure for potting and plant preparation.
- A working certified organic orchard (ten acres of fruit trees) and farm is further out, But the current demonstration plots will allow HH to conduct research to optimize the orchard.
- An on-site Learning Center will provide classroom and hand-on training for gardeners and future/existing farmers. Extension materials will be available for free in the agriculture/farming bookstore. All educational activities will enhance or supplement other existing programs, such as the partnership with CTAHR. This center is also some years out. But another learning opportunity, custom tours, will be developed for residents and tourists in the next year, perhaps piloted at the Third Annual Farm Festival.
- A one-acre composting facility will turn HH’s green waste into sellable compost. HH needs a grant for this or it might become part of the for-profit portion of the operation.
It seems ambitious, but Michael, and Hāmākua Harvest Administrative Director, Lori Beach, believe it is doable. And why not? They’ve come so far already since ground-breaking two years ago.
Meanwhile, come and share the fruits of this vision. Join Hāmākua Harvest for the Second Annual Farm Festival, Sunday, May 21. It will feature a 45-vendor farmers’ market and an all-day line-up of entertainment, educational presentations, cooking demonstrations, kid’s activities and a silent auction.
The Festival will take place at Hāmākua Harvest’s farm hub site at the intersection of Highway 19 and Mamane Street in Honoka’a and will be the official kick-off of Honoka’a’s Western Week in a move that brings the district’s vibrant ranching community closer together with the area’s farming community.
For other essays on Hāmākua Harvest, see:
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