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He keiki aloha nā mea kanu.

Beloved children are the plants.

It is said of farmers that their plants are like beloved children, receiving much attention and care.

Several weeks ago I happened to meet the man I believe is the individual responsible for turning a small plot of land, perhaps 10 square feet, into a little edible oasis. A pocket garden. I have watched this little lot on the corner of the public parking lot off of Kuakini, near Kalikala Cuisine and the Fish Hopper, undergo an amazing transformation. It used to be hard, barren dirt, with trash tossed into it, old clothes, an occasional errant slipper, you name it. I don’t even recall when this transformation began. There are now a lot of edibles packed into that pocket garden. There are papaya trees bearing fruit, taro, turmeric, a citrus tree, and probably more edibles, and ornamentals.

I happened to catch the man when he had dug up all his taro, which were piled to the side, and he was replanting them to the center of the lot, as shown in the photo. I still haven’t figured out when the taro produce a sizable root to eat. I asked him what he knew about it. He answered, “Google told me it’s about 200 days.”

We chatted a while with him about how impressed I was with what he had done to that little lot, a little Garden of Eden. If I recall correctly, he brought 20 bags of planting soil from Home Depot. He was very humble and seemed to have a “do what I can” attitude.

I told my friend about meeting him. She seems to know the people and back story on many things here. She said, “That must be Kawika.” I should have asked him his name and asked to take his picture. He might be homeless and living on Niumalu Beach or at that corner. He, his spirit, and his actions inspire me. He’s making the world a better place, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential the gesture. He brings beauty and food where there was barren, disrespected land, and his care and love is so visible.

“He who plants a tree, plants a hope.”― Lucy Larcom

This is a milestone for this farm. We are in the middle of planting a little over 100 young trees. To my knowledge, no one else has planted many trees at once here since the time Grandpa stopped overseeing the farm. These trees are about 8-10 months old and will be in full fruit production in two to three years.

About the word “hope” in this post’s title … planting IS a hope. We hope it’s not wasted effort and money. Coffee leaf rust hasn’t even been in this area a year (luckily, still not seen on our farm). What will its long term presence do here?

COVID is a striking reminder how we just don’t know what the future holds for certain. There are risks, but we don’t know the future with certainty. And here and in other parts, other disasters like flash floods, dry lightning strikes in parched areas, hurricanes can happen and are happening. Like I wrote about last week, here in Kona we’re still experiencing pretty much daily rain since May. Yet north of us is dry. Just this weekend, South Kohala had a brush fire that has already scorched over 2000 acres as of mid-day Sunday. The fire temporarily closed Saddle Road, the main highway connecting the west and east sides of our island, the road you take to get to the road to Mauna Kea. Old Saddle Road (not the big highway) was still closed yesterday. To my knowledge, the fire still isn’t contained.

The brown stuff happens. Yet we humans carry on with at least hints of optimism.

“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”
― Chinese proverb

In January I wrote about some coffee keiki (kids), volunteer seedlings, also called pulapulas (pulled from the ground) that we were going to experiment with. Grandpa would add new trees by using pulapulas which would often sprout up near rock walls, where seeds and water would tend to accumulate.

However, for at least two decades root-knot nematodes have been a serious problem in Kona Typica trees, seriously impacting tree health, viability, and fruit yield. In 2002 the university estimated that 85% of Kona Typica trees were impacted by nematodes. And pulapulas might be one way nematodes are spread. Nowadays, farmers prefer to plant young grafted coffee trees using nematode-resistant root stock.

In the end, we decided not to plant our own pulapulas.

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
― Hermann Hesse

How do you farm with climate change and drought?

First of all, no drought here in Kona. June, as with May, broke monthly rain records, and we’re well above average for year-to-date rainfall. We had about 10 inches of rain in June. Compare that with Waikoloa, a 45 minute drive north, “… 141% of average rainfall during June with 0.89 inches falling during the month” as reported in West Hawaii Today‘s “June Juxtaposition” article. And elsewhere north of our coffee belt, it’s drying out. The Kohala districts are pretty arid, and that’s where the big, fancy resorts are. When people come from the mainland, they usually want reliably nice, sunny weather.

Even the New York Times has reported on Hawaii island’s drought and wildfires in its “How Bad Are U.S. Wildfires? Even Hawaii Is Battling a Surge.

Heavy rains encourage unfettered growth of invasive species, like guinea grass, and dry, hot summers make them highly flammable.

… the authorities in Hawaii also cite other factors that make Hawaii unique. Those include big shifts in rainfall patterns over the archipelago and tourism’s eclipse of large-scale farming in Hawaii’s economy, allowing nonnative plants to overtake idled sugar cane and pineapple plantations.

Not to mention idled coffee farms. I’ll remind you of some of our farm’s before and after photos, which wasn’t even an idled farm, it was just unkempt; someone was still picking coffee. Just imagine if all that growth didn’t get rain for months and baked in 80+ degree temperatures.

Here in the coffee belt, we ARE getting good rain now. But during the last years of the decades-long eruption cycle, there were some drought periods, many associated with El Niño and La Niña weather phases.

I am back to this post, having been lost in the (figurative) weeds trying to gain some type of general understanding about our weather. I got especially confused because the Hawaii weather experts essentially said La Niña weather phases brought MORE rain. Then they said the relationship between La Niña and rainfall changed, now La Niña is associated with LESS than average rainfall. And then things changed after 2018, perhaps because of the end of the eruption. AND, the Kona Coffee Belt is different than the rest of the island and state. So, I don’t really know. We in Kona are experiencing a lot of rain now, though.

This article, on the other hand, is an understandable, big picture description of Big Island weather. Maybe you don’t think you’re all that interested in our weather. But I do recommend the useful section in the article answering “What is the best time to visit the Big Island?”

Drought is the big news, though nothing new, for California. I’ve been completely baffled by the recent movement to plant coffee trees in California. Here’s a link to my February post. And here’s a link to the recent New York Times article, “It’s Some of America’s Richest Farmland. But What Is It Without Water?”

“Each time we have a drought you’re seeing a little glimpse into what will happen more frequently in our climate future,” said Morgan Levy, a professor specializing in water science and policy at the University of California, San Diego.

The last story was about a man who took over his father’s farm, switched from cotton to tomatoes, bought a factory to process tomatoes into tomato paste for ketchup, ripped out his highest value crop, almonds, and is now thinking of replacing most of his crops with a solar farm to harvest energy to sell back to the grid. Wow!

We have residential solar panels, but they’re not reaching their potential because we’re under rain and cloud cover so much of the time lately. Electricity is really expensive here, higher than any other US state, about $0.34/kwh. This article addresses just that Hawaii land-use conflict: agriculture vs. renewable energy.

And another loose connection to all of these topics, what about planting coffee in Florida? Makes more sense than in California.

Emerging.

Hubby and I recently finished watching an Icelandic science fiction series, Katla. The Netflix description is, “The catastrophic eruption of subglacial volcano Katla turns a nearby community’s world upside down as mysteries begin to emerge from the ice.” Remember how the real-life 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland (with its small population of 315,000+) wreaked havoc in international, especially European, air travel? The TV series reminds me of Hawaii, Pele, ancient folklore and how “folklore” seems more relevant and not-so-ancient when living in a place with ever-changing, powerful, dramatic Nature. The Katla series opens with a striking visual of a being emerging.

Disruption. Making do, coping, because there’s no alternative. Emerging. Reminds me of this pandemic. Increasingly we’re seeing signs that we as a larger society are emerging out of our isolation from each other, approaching the normalcy of pre-pandemic life. Today I read a news report that the Maui mayor is asking airlines to help bring fewer tourists. This info surprised me:

The Hawaii Tourism Authority said 215,148 visitors came to the island [Maui] in May compared to just 1,054 during the same month last year, when tourism all but shut down amid COVID-19 fears and Hawaii’s requirement that travelers quarantine upon arrival. That’s not far off May 2019, when 251,665 visitors arrived.

In another sign of normalcy, there were some public firework shows this year. On Hawaii island there was one in Hilo and one at the old airport in Kona. This post’s photo was taken 22 minutes before the scheduled show. The evening sky was reflected in Keiki Ponds, just south side of the old airport, near the Kona Aquatic Center, former site of the mass vaccination clinics. To me it projects a feeling of peaceful, quiet solitude at day’s end. It doesn’t look like a holiday or that many people are around.

People were in various places, some on boats, some sitting along the rock wall or the rocks, at the old airport, near the pool. We all awaited the 8pm fireworks show. Or was it 8:30? Could it be 9:00? I heard someone announce his personal ultimatum, “If it doesn’t start by 9:15, I’m giving up.” Gradually people gave up. Once a few left, most did. There didn’t seem to be a way to inform everyone of what was going on. We couldn’t find anything online. A man came out from one of the big houses and offered any adults of drinking age a consolation beer.

I actually had enjoyed watching three women sitting on the arch near the blowhole at Keiki Ponds. The waves were increasingly pounding, and it was strange to see water splash behind AND in front of them (from the blowhole). It felt like a firework show of sorts. Bam!! Poof!! I wouldn’t have been in the dark where I was, and they probably wouldn’t have been where they were without the excuse of a firework show.

This morning I found a website that said the fireworks, due to technical difficulties (a problem with a cable), were rescheduled for tonight. Yes, yet another glitch in post-pandemic life (are we in that stage now?) as we emerge. I don’t know if I care enough to go another night in a row, and what if that cable still doesn’t work? I suspect inertia may win.

In other news, the Hawaii Coffee Association held its statewide cupping competition that got postponed from last year. It wasn’t in person and was done remotely. But cupping was done at the same time and deliberations were done via Zoom. The winning coffee didn’t come from Kona or this island! Read this article in West Hawaii Today to find out from where the winner hails and to learn more about how they conducted the remote competition.

What is your “third place?”

Have you heard that expression? I learned of it in the early 2000’s, and it resonated with me.

According to an article about the third place in the Perfect Daily Grind,

… an informal public gathering place that serves the community …

While home (the first place) is private and work (the second place) offers a structured social experience, third places are more relaxed public environments where people can meet and interact in a range of different ways. 

Note, community, public environment, and relaxed. A place to get together with others. No participant has to host or clean up.

There are the taverns/bars, think Cheers. And the coffeehouses.

The article brought up some interesting points to consider, especially as we emerge out of COVID-19. During COVID, home and work started to blend together, and I think most of us have been sorely missing that third place.

Here’s a Swedish term I recently learned of: fika. Norwegian hubby didn’t know it either. When I described it, he said Norwegians would probably call it kaffepause (coffee break). From this Perfect Daily Grind article, fika seems a bit more than just a coffee break, though. The Danish term hygge comes to mind, too. I found this interesting article on hygge in The New Yorker from December 2016, with interesting social commentary about Scandinavians and Americans.

Pour yourself a cup of Bea’s Knees, get yourself into a hygge state of mind, and read these articles. Then another day, chat about it with your buddies you meet at the cafe, your third place.