HRI to launch taro project in Laie

[Story and photo by Mike Foley: Originally published in KALEO, January 29, 1998]

Hawaii Reserves, Inc. (HRI) plans to bring taro farming back to Laie on a scale that hasn’t been seen in Ko’olauloa for decades.

On Saturday, Feb. 7, 1998, at 3 pm, with appropriate Hawaiian protocol and representation from other Polynesian islanders, HRI will begin planting its first water-filled patches or lo’i on agricultural land mauka of Po’ohaili St. In several years the project may yield an estimated 100,000 pounds of taro per year.

HRI taro farmKupuna, community leaders, representatives from BYU?Hawaii’s Hawaiian Studies program and the Polynesian Cultural Center, invited guests and others will help to plant the initial taro slips or huli after the ceremony.

“Taro or kalo was undoubtedly one of the first plants brought to Hawaii by the ancient Polynesians,” Ditto continued. “But unlike other islands, it’s amazing how the Hawaiians devised a complex system of adjoining lo’i with ‘auwai irrigation systems that provided enough fresh water that the kalo didn’t rot in the ground but not so much that the flow eroded the dirt around the plants. [Those pictured at left are (left-right): Malia Solomon, Leonard Peters, Martha Kalama, Kela Miller, Ahi Logan and Mickey Kuhia.]

“Even though we’ve used equipment to prepare our lo’i, planting the huli and eventually harvesting the ‘oha must be done by hand, just as the ancient Hawaiians did for centuries,” Ditto said.

Ditto added that even though poi wholesalers have already asked to purchase the entire crop, HRI has decided to make the taro available to the community and see if there’s sufficient demand in Laie and surrounding communities.

“This is an exciting day for us,” said Daniel T. Ditto, HRI President &?CEO. “Taro has such a rich significance in Polynesian culture that its return to Laie makes all of us in the community proud to be a part of this effort.

Leonard Peters, HRI Director of Property Operations, explained that HRI construction and farm crews have cleared an initial two acres of land formerly used for aquafarming. Following the ceremonies on Feb. 7, HRI?farm crews will take approximately six months to completely plant the first phase, with other planting phases to follow. “Eventually, we hope to harvest a quarter to a half-acre of taro per month. A year from now we’ll probably start another six acres,” he said.

“We also plan to plant dryland taro which can be sold for luau leaves and table use,” Peters added.

Bert Pestana, HRI’s farm manager, explained that most wetland taro in Hawaii is of the lehua variety, which is good for making poi. “We can grow from 16,000–20,000 huli per acre when each huli is planted about 18 inches apart,” said Pestana, who earned a degree in a horticulture from UH Mänoa in 1976 and was a commercial farmer in Kunia, Laie and Hauula before joining HRI.

“Some taro matures at about 8–12 months,”?Pestana continued, “and some takes 12–15 months. The taro grows year round, but the harvest is usually slower during the winter and summer months.”

“The whole farm crew is excited about this,” he said. “We realize there’s a spiritual significance to this because taro is such an integral part of the Hawaiian diet.”

Pestana said that as the initial taro crop flourishes and, given the pristine quality of the water in Laie, it might become another valuable source of seed huli for other growers. He noted that the huli from certain taro-growing areas throughout the state cannot be exported because of plant diseases and other problems. He added that HRI purchased its start-up huli from Buzz Ka’ohi, a third-generation taro farmer from Waimea, Kauai, and that each huli was inspected by the State before being shipped to Laie.

Peters, meanwhile, said that he has met with Hawaiian kupuna, nearby kuleana owners and others to begin discussions on programs where community members or groups might also participate in taro growing. He added that HRI also hopes to grow other Polynesian crops such as sweet potato and yams on land adjoining the lo’i. “This would allow us to recycle the water from the lo’i and also provide a source of reasonably priced, fresh produce that’s in demand in our community.”

Speak Your Mind