Coffee leaf rust, small farms, and innovative research initiatives

That was the description of this year’s first educational in-person event sponsored by the Kona Coffee Farmers Association. It sounded like just what we needed. We’ve just returned, and I feel mildly disappointed.

The longer description was: Dr. Jennifer (Vern) Long will join us to talk about the research World Coffee Research is currently doing and how building a shared research agenda that includes Hawaii’s interests with those of global growers and U.S. coffee businesses can unlock increased federal support to address Hawaii’s newest challenge.

Most of the talk seemed to be an infomercial of this organization and the advocacy it does. Very few concrete take-aways. Still, it was worthwhile and interesting to have attended. The key players were there, and it’s always interesting to hear the questions asked. And to hear/feel the angst, “What do we do if Coffee Leaf Rust kills our trees?”

World Coffee Research (WCR) is only a ten year old organization, mostly funded by coffee roasters. They’re trying to get more research money to be used for coffee. In the presentation, she stated that there are 6,640 varieties of strawberries and 111 varieties of coffee (including both Arabica and Robusta within that). They spun that as strawberries have 59x more innovation than coffee. The speaker said that other commodities like soy beans, corn, sorghum, etc. have longstanding investments in R&D, and a pipeline of research. The relative R&D investment in coffee is very small.

My impression was this organization was putting most of their research efforts, pertaining to rust, into evaluating rust-resistant varieties. They say that worldwide, it seems that research into integrated pest management, fungicide, and nutrition are done at a national level; so they don’t research that. One resource WCR offers is their catalog of coffee varieties: https://varieties.worldcoffeeresearch.org/

An audience member asked when some of these varieties will be available for us. It seems like it’s at least three years away just to get seeds. And then if we start planting other rust-resistant varieties, will the flavor profile match what our customers expect out of Kona coffee?

It seems like most of us small farm folk just want to know what our options are for dealing with rust and keeping our trees alive and producing. There are more options coming, but will it be timely?

Peace in my heart, that’s where it starts. With pigs, too?

The coffee and pig news first, then the ramblings.

We finally had the majority of our coffee from the past season dry milled. This was Bea’s Knees Farm’s fourth season. So far, the yield had been improving every year. This past year, we were at 84% of the previous season’s green coffee yield. I attribute it to two very dry months in a row, some picking labor issues, and coffee leaf rust.

Pigs … we had a reliable group of three, not so little, pigs regularly visiting for months. But recently I was commenting to hubby that the pigs are noticeably getting larger; we can see it on the cameras. But hubby later surmised that there’s a new group visiting, and one pig is particularly big. Then he saw two very young, hamster-sized piglets. And one evening we saw nine pigs of various sizes at once. So, steady-state has changed. The pigs are more destructive. Humans are still winning with the kitchen compost Earth Machine. Yay, humans! Last week I woke up in the middle of the night to pig squealing when hubby was apparently awake and throwing rocks from the lānai. His aim is improving with all the practice he gets.

Bea (Mom) must be getting weary of my pig complaints or feels sorry for us. She has even inquired about the cost for an electric fence, generously offering to help pay for it. It’s not the cost (well, we don’t know what that is), but getting over the inertia and taking action. In many situations I reflect on intention, motivation, and implementation. What does it take to just do it? I just saw a 4th grade classroom’s illustrated papers posted outside their room on the theme of procrastination. They mostly wrote about cooking, doing laundry, and pet care. Wow, the kids start young with household chores.

Changing subjects … every once in a while I look on Craigslist for various things like plants and items I don’t mind buying used. Yesterday I noticed that Happy Heart Kona is selling their entire cafe and brand! I’ve always appreciated the creativity and energy the cafe emanates. I laugh at the menu where they say, “Everything on our menu is dairy-free & vegan, except for the meat!” (That’s also on their website.) Their food is good, there’s a great vibe at the place, and they’re nice people who believe in sourcing locally. I was happy when they opened in the middle of COVID; it was such an optimistic action. Now they’re selling (moving to the mainland) less than a year from opening.

There’s another local cafe, HiCO, different vibe, that’s “opening soon” in Kealakekua, across from the Pineapple Park Hostel and CarQuest Auto Parts store. The existing cafe is in Kailua near Umeke’s and the Kona Brewing Company. It appears this new one will have a drive-through lane. I imagine that’ll be popular. I hope the sit-down cafe part will be inviting and thrive. That should help our collective creativity, right? (see last week’s blog post).

A cafe next to the Aloha Theatre in Kainaliu showed signs of activity months ago, and I was hopeful something new would open. New white tables and chairs, a cafe bar, but it seems to have stalled. Decades ago, before streaming, before VCR tapes, I remember going to see Japanese films with English supertitles on the big screen in that theater with my aunty.

Nearby Kaya’s cafe is ever-popular. There’s live music at times and plenty of parking. I still haven’t scored a Sunday cinnamon roll.

I just like to see local businesses do well. Here, and anywhere. They support community, in-person. I think it’s great we have online communities and possibilities to connect and relate, but live, real-time, person-to-person interactions are basic and special.

I read this article about the history of coffee cake, which included a recipe. Instead of filing the recipe away, intending to make it some day (possibly never), this is an example of what weird thing it takes for me to implement an intention. (1) The recipe called for buttermilk and we actually have buttermilk, and (2) I had a group of people I could share the cake with. The coffee cake was good enough, but didn’t meet my expectations from the article. I did skip the coffee glaze, however, since the cake already seemed sweet enough without it. I brought it to share after weekly temple cleaning. The food sharing ended during COVID but finally restarted just in April, although it has morphed into a simpler affair. People joke that they clean the temple for the food. Ah, community.

A peace ceremony was held Saturday at Daifukuji Temple, to dedicate the new peace pole (donated by the Rotary Club of Kona Sunrise), plaque, and cranes and pray for peace in our families, in our communities, and in our world.

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see

— Gilbert K. Chesterton

I heard on the radio today that visitor arrivals are back to pre-pandemic levels. I tried to find a website that substantiates that, but the relevant governmental website isn’t coming up today for some reason. More and more it feels like life is getting closer to “normal,” pre-COVID. Masks are no longer mandated indoors, outdoors, or even on most planes (suddenly), and the Hawai’i Safe Travels program has ended.

It’s an unusual situation to live in a place that regularly has a lot of tourists. You always see visitors from elsewhere. Most tend to be concentrated at certain places and sights. Locals enjoy many of those places, too. I try to enjoy popular places, here and in places where I’m a vacationing visitor, at “off” times — maybe off-season or non-peak times like dawn or dusk. It feels really special to be the only ones on a trail at Volcanoes National Park at dawn, hearing only bird song and wind blowing through the trees. Hawai’i also has (human) winter birds, people who live here during the cold months of wherever else they live. There are people with second homes here who regularly visit, frequently enough that they’re assumed to be local.

Hubby and I ate at a restaurant in Waikoloa one time, and when the server brought us our check she said, “Enjoy your vacation.” There are certain places where we’re regularly asked where we’re from. Now? Where we last lived? Or where we were born and raised? Someone sees you, hears your accent, and quickly wants to make broad generalizations/conclusions about you. At a shave ice place I happened to be wearing my Kamehameha Schools t-shirt that has “Ho’ōmāka’ika’i” in big font, so the lady assumed we qualified for the kamaʻāina (Hawaii residents) discount. I didn’t even know they offered one. My cousin felt miffed since she has shopped at Waikoloa many times over many years, and one time was offered a kamaʻāina discount, whereupon she realized some stores were even offering such a thing. Had she been missing out up to then?

We all make assumptions. We have to. Take something neutral, like citrus here in Hawai’i. There are green skinned citrus that are lemons, not limes. There are yellow-skinned limes. There are orange-skinned lemons. Numerous times I’ve cut a citrus expecting one thing and smelling another. If we remember it’s human nature to jump to conclusions, when we find ourselves experiencing negative feelings about others, maybe we can cut them some slack.

An article I read a while ago says “unplanned interactions with close friends, casual acquaintances and complete strangers” can be a catalyst for creative thinking. “Not Spending Time at Coffee Shops Can Drain Our Collective Creativity.” For various non-COVID-related reasons, we haven’t been hanging out at any cafes lately. Maybe that’s why I’m not creative. Ha ha.

I’m not as creative as I’d like to be, but I’m appreciative of others’ creativity. One friend, a regular customer, got into making latte art at home during the pandemic, and now his wife is experimenting, too. They shared some of their recent creations made with our coffee and whole milk just for this post. Thank you! Maybe it’s something you’d be inspired to do. There’s a longer history to latte art than I realized.

I love unplanned interactions, but I’m not always putting myself in situations to increase that likelihood. Time for us all to poke our heads out of our snail and honu shells and get out there. And be a traveler, not a tourist.

Mid-April photo update

We happily received over six inches of rain in March and almost three so far in April, and the trees have responded. (Of course, so have the weeds.) It has been enough rain for the trees to come out with fresh, new growth. I see hardly any signs of rust, which makes me hopeful the trees will survive. There haven’t been any decisive blossoming rounds, and it’s getting late to hope for another one, let alone a good one. I’m very curious just how much lower the yield will be.

The next tasks are to fertilize and to weed more regularly. Spanish needles are sprouting up and sticking to us when we walk the land, and the vines are back, ready to seize their moment and spread all over and spiral up when possible.

The stumps are leafing out, but not as vigorously as three years ago, the last cycle this block was stumped.

Below are some other scenes from the farm today.

Bread, booze, liqueur, and the microwave

Today, I’m just sharing links of topics I found interesting. Coincidentally, these are all from Perfect Daily Grind.

Do you enjoy toast with your morning coffee? Artisan bread complements specialty coffee in various ways. This article addresses How are artisan bread and specialty coffee linked?

Then there’s bread and cheese paired with wine. In the specialty coffee world, we often compare growing coffee to concepts people might be familiar with from the wine world. This article fleshes that out, including whiskey, too. Comparing coffee and alcohol production.

If wine or whiskey aren’t your thing, maybe making your own coffee liqueur appeals to your creativity. Make your own coffee liqueur at home.

Maybe none of that is interesting. Do you tend to get busy after making your cup of coffee and then you microwave it to warm it up? Maybe you feel like going into the weeds on the topic, Should you microwave coffee? (You can go to the end for the summary).