It’s a beautiful morning in Kihei, Maui. As a Maui girl, I couldn’t be happier waking up across the street from the very beach park that I swam and played at growing up….Kamaole Beach Park III. Lots of good memories with ohana and friends! Well, it’s time to start “Day 3” of our Agricultural Leadership Foundation of Hawaii’s Third Seminar for Class XVI. [Wow, that’s a lot to say!]
We’re off to upcountry Maui to meet Jacob Tavares, the Ranch Manager for Kulolio Ranch and a member of the ALFH’s Class XV. We’re meeting at the old Maui High School. Some of us took the old back roads (fka cane haul roads) thru Makawao, while others stuck to the paved route. I, personally, felt that the back roads were more fun….even though I wasn’t exactly sure if the roads were still open to public traffic. Lol. [Don’t worry, we all made it there safely.]
Jacob has the kuleana of turning thousands of acres of former sugarcane fields into grass-fed pasture for cattle. Most people in Hawaii don’t know that nearly 90% of calves raised in Hawaii are exported to the continent to be finished (i.e., to raise weaned calves until slaughtered) and that 80% of the beef we eat in Hawaii is imported. Kulolio Ranch, in partnership with other ranchers and a local slaughterhouse, is working hard to change those percentages. The goal of this team of ranchers is to raise grass-fed cattle on Maui and to finish them on Maui. Kulolio Ranch’s role? To take weaned calves from other ranches to finish (i.e., from 550 lbs. to approximately 1200 lbs.).
Kulolio Ranch (“KR”) has been in operation for two (2) years and they are hoping that in another three (3) years they’ll be up to 3,500 cows feeding on 5,000 acres of grass. Currently, KR has 3,000 acres of grassy pasture, but that wasn’t how it looked 2 years ago. It’s taken a lot of science (rehabilitating the soils, finding the right grass for the soil and the cattle, controlling the weeds, understanding the rainfall for the area), a lot of farming (clearing the lands, planting the grass seeds, mobile fencing to create padlocks), and a lot of hard work to turn those 3,000 acres into grassy pasture. KR is busy working on transforming the remaining 2,000 acres of sugarcane fields into pasture.
KR’s first “harvest” occurred in June of this year! Yay! We’re excited for Jason, KR and its partners, and are hoping that their vision of reducing Hawaii’s reliance on imported beef becomes a solid reality.
As we leave KR’s pastures, our class splits up heading into two different directions. Group 1 went off to Maui Grown Therapies (“MGT”) and Group 2 headed to the Kula Farmers Market and Aliʻi Kula Lavender Farm.
Although I was with Group 2, I heard from my classmates that the visit/tour of Maui Grown Therapies’ operation was incredible. MGT operates a medical marijuana farming and dispensary operation on Maui. Because of the nature of their business, it’s no wonder that background checks were required and that confidentiality regarding their operations was important. Let me just say that MGT is a well managed, professional and quality operation. We appreciate MGT’s willingness to welcome us “in” and we wish them the very best as they continue to help those in Hawaii who are diagnosed with medical conditions (e.g., ALS, Cancer, HIV/AIDS, Epilepsy, etc.) that allow them to use medical marijuana.
For those of us who went to the Kula Farmers Market, it was an opportunity to relax a bit, grab some coffee, enjoy some tasty treats, to see the mixed displays of fruits, veggies, flowers and plants from nearby upcountry farms, and to see scale-up marketing in true form. The atmosphere was friendly, lively and casual. The Kula air was cool and comfortable. I’m not a coffee drinker, but my classmates are. Instead of coffee, I went and had some lilikoi tapioca. Yummy stuff! Didn’t take a picture of it, but wish I had. Our only concern was the use of the word, “organic”. You need to be very careful when marketing your products as “organic”. Make sure that you check out the law before you create banners.
From the Kula Farmers Market, we headed up Haleakala to Aliʻi Kula Lavender Farms. [FYI, Group 1 was still with MGT and would be meeting us at Ulupalakua Ranch, our next stop.] Aliʻi Kula Lavender Farms (“AKLF”) is an excellent example of a scaled-up agricultural operation. Sitting on 13.5 acres of land, AKLF offers regular tours of their lavendar farm and botanical garden. They have an average of 200-300 tourists visit their farm every day. They grow 20 varieties of lavenders that can be roughly categorized as English, French or Spanish types. They replant the crops every 5-6 years as productivity yields are beginning to decrease from that point on. The lavender grown on their property is then made into a multitude of value-added products, such as soaps, lotions, shaving gel, oils, jellies, candy bars, and seasoning. The farm also has an array of other trees and plants that Aliʻi Chang, the visionary, farmer and gardener who created AKLF, planted to create what is now a “botanical garden filled with the artifacts and collectibles that Aliʻi gathered in his many years of travel and entrepreneurship.” [The quoted phrase was taken from AKLF’s website.] The tour is truly filled with both plants and artifacts that you normally wouldn’t see on a farm tour. As an aside, there are collections of fruit trees spread across the property. When they are harvested, the fruit is shared with employees and others. Some of the fruits end up at the farmers market as jellies and baked goods.
Agri-tourism supports AKLF and its operations, but its true focus is supporting and teaching agriculture. We commend AKLF for taking a chance on lavender, being a leader of value-added products, and creating a unique agri-tourism experience. AKLF’s support of “Sustainable Aloha,” may be something that we should all be committed to. What is “Sustainable Aloha” you ask? AKLF describes it as “a grassroots movement of socially & culturally responsible people who choose to take action (big & small) to sustain and nuture themselves, their family, their community and the planet, through acts of Aloha (love)…..Aloha connects all living things and when acting within its value center, the result is a sustainable and beneficial way of life that creates possibilities and opportunities for everyone.”
After our visit to AKLF, our tummies were rumbling and we headed up to Ulupalakua to have a great hamburger and salad at Ulupalakua Ranch Store and Grill. Even as I’m writing this blog, my stomach is starting to gurgle again…it really was a great burger! Our classmates from Group 1 joined us there….a bit later than scheduled. So needless to say, Group 2 didn’t wait for them…the smell of the food was too much for us.
The Store and Grill is right across the street from the main office for Ulupalakua Ranch (“UR”) and just left of the showroom for Maui Wine (“MW”).
After our burgers, we met up with Sumner Erdman, President of Ulupalakua Ranch. Sumner was a member of ALFH’s Class XIV. In 2009, UR entered into a land agreement with the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust to preserve 11,300 acres of land as an agricultural easement. These lands, which stretched from sea level to 6000 ft. above sea level, included pasturelands and a dry land forest. By entering into this agreement UR assured the people of Maui and the State of Hawaii that the watershed would be protected, that their lands would be used for agricultural, and that the native wildlife habitat would be preserved. It was a huge commitment on UR’s part.
UR doesn’t have flat lands and their lands start at sea level. They know that climate change is real because they can see the changes happening on their lands (e.g., plants that once only grew at lower elevations are now growing in higher elevations – the temperature is rising). Their records show that rainfall schedules of the past, which were once quite accurate, no longer apply. Sumner shared that with all of these changes, including the increasing cost to do business, a farmer/rancher needs to: (1) be focused and have defined priorities (don’t spread yourself to thin; it’s important to have a quality of life); (2) agriculture will NOT work if you are trying to compete with other farmers/ranchers (working with other farmers/ranchers will more likely result in a win-win situation for everyone); (3) always work on your “drought plan” when you’re pastures are still green and know that when you’re in a drought that you’re one day closer to rainfall; and (4) you have to dabble in new things, and sometimes you just have to keep your eyes open to see what’s happening around you (sheep/goats/elk). Great words of wisdom from Sumner!
UR is an example of the old style ranch trying to make it in today’s time. UR has 23 houses on its properties. These houses are filled with UR workers, both current and retired. Agricultural housing today is tough to come by. How can we, as ag leaders, address the difficult issue of housing?
Sumner also made it clear that climate change is real. How are we, as ag leaders, planning for the potential impacts of climate change on ag? UR is working on it’s “drought plan” for the future, are we, as ag leaders, helping farmers/ranchers do the same?
Tough issues, but issues that we have to work on with other ag leaders. Mahalo, Sumner, for spending a part of your day with us to share with us your manaʻo on what it takes to be a farmer/rancher today. Mahalo to UR for its commitment to agriculture and to preserving our watershed and native habitats. There is a lot that we can learn from a longtime ranching operation like UR.
As we left UR’s main office and we were met by Paula Hegele, President of Maui Wine. Maui Wine’s operation is on UR land. It started off in 1974 as a partnership between UR and Emil Tedeschi, a winemaker from Calistoga, California. 44 years later, various corporate changes having occurred, we find Maui Wine, a flourishing winery and business that grows, processes and produces fine wine for a local and global market.
Paula is a great example of someone who had to learn from scratch about a crop and a business, while she was in the business. It was clear that she experienced some hard knocks….from fruit flies attacking her vineyards, to changes being made to her pineapple supply, to flying around the world to listen to great wine experts, to knowing what equipment to buy and from where, and to finally figuring out what makes a wine taste good. In 2000 she replanted their vineyards with a new crop of grapes. In 2015, they produced their first wine from this new crop. In 2016, Maui Wine made a big leap by rebranding its wines under Maui Wine. That allowed them to start fresh….getting rid of any limitations that people had placed on the wines produced under the Tedeschi Wine label. She now has regular Maui Wine Club members and welcomes, at average, 400 tourists/guests to their showroom. They also hosts large functions such as weddings and business gatherings.
Paula and her son were so welcoming and gracious. Besides telling us her story of Maui Wine, they allowed us to sample their various wines, shared a shortened historical tour of the area, took us to their processing facility, and then made sure that we had a box of goodies before we left. We couldn’t have asked for a better ending to our “Day 3” ag tours. Mahalo nui to Paula, her son, and Maui Wine for your generosity of time, knowledge and gifts. The “aloha” was felt and appreciated!
As we left Ulupalakua and started our long drive down Haleakala, we were graced with expansive views of the island. You could see from Maalaea to Kahului harbor in one single panoramic view….stunning. Where we heading? Back to our condominum to rest after a long day? Absolutely not! We were heading to Makani Olu Ranch in Waikapu to have dinner with alumni from previous ALFH classes. Tonight’s Alumni Dinner was being hosted by Avery Chumbley, a member of ALFH Class III.
Avery was an outstanding host. He took us on an ATV adventure as evening began to set in. He spoke with us about his long-horned cattle operation and stopped to show us the night view of Maui from a Waikapu vantage point. It was just the kind of adventure we all needed to get us going again. Our alumni class had a huge spread of food and drink, and we stayed warm by sitting near a blazing fire and/or by talking story with ALFH classmates (current and past) whose conversations just warmed our hearts.
When we left Waikapu heading to Kihei, I was thinking about just how connected I now am to people doing ag in Hawaii. I can literally pick up the phone and call a long list of current and past ALFH classmates to talk story about ag. I can learn from them and they from me. I’ve seen examples through our different seminars of the fears, challenges and successes of ag life in Hawaii. It has expanded my thinking. As tired as I was from our “Day 3”visits, I was thankful to be a part of this class and for all that I am learning and experiencing.
I wonder what “Day 4” is gonna be like? I ate too much at the Alumni Dinner. Maybe I should fast tomorrow. [That’s not likely to happen! Lol!]