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Wouldn’t You Rather Be Riding a Tractor on Moloka‘i?

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 11/14/2012 More stories >>

Class I participant John Freeman inspecting his field of butternut squash in Ho‘olehua.

Class I participant John Freeman inspecting his field of butternut squash in Ho‘olehua.

For a small island, Moloka‘i’s got a lot of arable land ready for farming—over 7,600 acres in Ho‘olehua alone. And there’s no doubt the state needs all the farmers it can get. But farming can be tough and lonely, especially for those just starting out. Now CTAHR’s Moloka‘i Extension office is offering three programs to help hopeful farmers get onto the land and working towards food sustainability.

The Moloka‘i Native Hawaiian Beginning Farmer Program focuses on creating new family farms on Hawaiian Home Lands and also responds to the need for younger farmers to alter the aging farmer demographic. Participants have access to irrigation water and a half-acre of land each, and agents Alton Arakaki, Glenn Teves, and Jennifer Hawkins offer field demonstrations, mentoring, and classes on such topics as windbreaks and plant diseases. The new farmers develop and implement a production map and deliver their product to market each week—everything from bittermelon through eggs and strawberries to wing beans. The program’s getting raves: “Anyone who’s serious about farming should sign up,” says participant John Freeman.

Class I participant Micah Buchanan with parents Moku and Laurie Buchanan planting strawberry plants.

Class I participant Micah Buchanan with parents Moku and Laurie Buchanan planting strawberry plants.

Meanwhile, the Native Hawaiian Beginning Beekeeping Class, initiated by Jennifer Hawkins, teaches farmers growing high-value, pollinator-dependent crops such as melons and squash to establish and maintain their own bee colonies. Moloka‘i doesn’t have the varroa mite that’s been decimating hives on other islands, but the small hive beetle has recently arrived, so growers want to be able to monitor their own hives rather than depending on wild pollinators that might succumb to the pest.

The Moloka‘i Hawaiian Homes Agricultural Program, begun in the ’80s, continues to work on larger-scale infrastructure and other issues identified by the farmers. It includes water delivery improvements, harbor strengthening, a research and demonstration farm, a community processing kitchen for value-added products, a community tractor service, a livestock cooperative, and a community college farm program. The most recent initiatives include other equipment services and the production of fertilizer and compost.

Moloka‘i’s been through some hard times in the past, including deforestation, erosion, and the loss of its water table. But now, with this renewed agricultural activity, people aren’t just growing crops in the island’s red soil; they’re growing hope.