Sunday, November 18, 2007

Growing Local at Hamakua Springs

I joined the Hawaii Island Master Gardeners recently for a tour of Hamakua Springs farms with our gracious and dynamic host, owner Richard Ha. Richard shared his vision of the future of sustainable farming in Hawaii while we were guided through a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at one of the biggest operations of locally grown produce here in the islands.

Interesting facts about Hamakua Springs:
  • Tomatoes are grown hydroponically, with roots growing in coconut coir.
  • Fruit fly trapping is utilized to reduce the need for spraying tomatoes.
  • Bananas are the mainstay of the farm, mostly Williams bananas which must be gassed to ripen.
  • Other hydroponic crops include green onions and watercress.
Richard talked about the reality of peak oil and moving away from petroleum-based agriculture. To that end, he believes that hydro-electricity is one possible way to power his farm in the coming decades.

To support sustainability and to meet the demands of discerning foodies, he is also growing heirloom varieties of tomatoes. Bursting with flavor and delightful to the eye, heirloom varieties are gaining greater popularity with consumers as well as gardeners who prize taste above keepability. Traditionally, heirloom seeds are ones that gardeners save from a good crop to grow the next. Over generations, these plants can become adapted to the conditions where they are grown. Whether Hamakua Springs is seed saving or buying heirlooms, I’m not certain. I personally enjoy saving seeds now and then and sharing them. Learn how to save your own tomato seeds here.

At Hamakua Springs, much of the produce other than bananas is packaged in clear plastic “clamshells." While these are recyclable, their use seems to be counter to reducing dependence on petroleum-based packaging, as one master gardener pointed out. Richard says the demand for this type of packaging comes from the retailers who want longer shelf life.

So, now that you are bringing your own reusable bags to the market – you are, right? – maybe it’s time to take on the next challenge. Shouldn't we be asking retailers to stock produce that uses less packaging? What do you think?

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