East Hawaii day two: The footsteps of the farmer — and of madam Pele!

Our day began waking up in the Hilo Hawaiian hotel with a beautiful sunrise over the bay. Morning routines ensued including an epic game of ‘jump off the pillar to catch the frisbee and land in the ocean’ by Nick, Will, and Drew at the popular coconut island nearby. Breakfast was finished and coffee was drank as we piled into the van and our cars to head to:

Wailea Agricultural Group, affectionately referred to as WAG by the proprietor Michael ‘Mike’ Crowell. And although Mike explained to us that one of his philosophies was the WAG — Wild A– Guess, all of us in the Ag Leadership Program who attended could plainly see that this very successful operation was much more a result of skillful farming than guess work.

Wailea Ag Group has a notably efficient hearts of palm export business using a pull style framework: product is harvested to order. We saw the processing and packing of the peach palm hearts. We also got a wonderful tour of the other fruit and spice plantings, as well as the mind blowing finger lime.

Mike told us that FSMA has been good for his business as it has increased the perception of cleanliness among his high end buyers, stabilizing sales. Mike also gave us a great quote: The footsteps of the farmer are the best fertilizer on the farm.

Most moving of all, upon our arrival at WAG, Pauline presented Mike with a plaque commemorating his late wife and partner Lesley Hill who founded the operation with him and also brought the first rambutan to Hawaii, a fact which left me somewhat star struck. Tears were shed.

Laden with fresh cloves, cinnamon leaf, and hands holding delicious sticky sweet potato (`uala) slices prepared by in-cohort chef Olelo Pa`a, we piled back in the caravan and headed up the road to `Alae to visit Kamehameha School’s new Post-Harvest facility. The facility was beautiful and brand new and we had a pleasant talk story there with the manager and also our very own Dana Sato who taught us about KS’s decision making matrix, the blended return. It’s easy to remember: three E’s Education, Environment, Economics, plus two C’s Community, and Culture. All commended KS for having built such a facility and are in the hopes that it is in busy use very soon.

Just a short trip up the hill took us to the legendary Hawaiian Crown plantation where Tom Menezes walked us through operation and his storied history in Ag; the Cacao plantation he managed in the 1980’s and encounters with the notorious Jim Walsh, the pink Hawaiian Juice guava strain he worked with that got taken to Malaysia sounding the death knell of the industry here, to the successful partnership with Kamehameha Schools through skillful intercropping of cacao with apple bananas. Tom painted quite a picture with his words. We got to see his cacao fermentation, his drying operation, and best of all, eat his bananas! We all agreed they were some of the best we had tasted.

East Hawaii continued to delight and amaze over our lunch hour as we experienced the largest earthquake in Hilo since 1975, a whopping 6.9 tremor. As usual we farmers were at the whims of nature. After watching the mandatory evacuation of Hilo Elementary — they evacuate regardless of the quake size, and doing a visual inspection of the bay for tsunami signs — there were none, we all finished lunch and headed to Mokupāpapa Discovery Center for our leadership training.

As Ag leaders we need leadership training right? Right, and that’s where Peter Adler, PhD comes in. Peter led us in his training Nimble Leadership and used stories and movie clips to communicate his essential points, reminding us of the usefulness of storytelling in education and communication. Peter asked us thought provoking questions. Who do you work for? Buddy works for the farmer, Sarah works to make a difference, Nick works for the community. Peter asks who do we work for? And we began to articulate a group identity. What are we here to do? What monsters do we face? What unites us? We talked and thought and wrote and listened.

After the earth shook again, a smaller quake, Olelo Pa`a oracled that these quakes were in fact a good omen from madam Pele affirming the seismic nature and positive impact that this Ag Leadership Cohort XVI Will have (Certainly Scott Enright would be happy if we shook up the lege).

We wrote down and filed our predictions for HI Ag in 2030: more value-added HI branding, sales to visitors, increased technology, fewer resources, more regulations, and more specialty crops were among them. We closed with the leadership case study of the Mann Gulch Fire. All agreed it was an epic day and looked forward to the next one, with better friendships, understanding, and earthquake stories than the day before!

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