Tropical Farmgirl

The last time I wrote I was preparing to leave on a family vacation to Hawaii!  We have returned to Alaska, but I’d love for you to join me for a trip down memory lane to three weeks ago….

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A walk through paradise. Those are mahogany trees framing the left. They were planted when the farmer started this farm a few decades ago.

We were in a veritable paradise-Kauai. Aahhh,  I can feel my tension loosen up just typing it out. We camped.  It was affordable and incredible!  We spent the equivalent of one night’s stay at a decent hotel over one week.  We rented camping supplies (the whole shebang: tent, kitchen, bedding, towels, beach toys, chairs, stove, boogie board, fins and snorkel, tarp, etc) and purchased permits.   While we did end up staying at a resort for a few nights and ate out a lot, those weren’t the best parts of our trip by any means. We camped at Anini Beach on the north shore and at Koke’e State Park near Waimea Canyon.  One campsite on the beach and one in the mountains.  Both tropical paradises.

It might not be glamping (I was actually told that it was not allowed in Kauai county parks!), but camping was the highlight of our trip.

It might not be glamping (I was actually told that it was not allowed in Kauai county parks!), but camping was the highlight of our trip.

Farmgirls do what they gotta do.  This is our makeshift clothesline at our Koke'e campsite.

Farmgirls do what they gotta do. This is our makeshift clothesline at our Koke’e campsite…right over the kitchen!  Reminds me of yurt living!

I could also write on and on about Hawaii, but I’ll save that for a slideshow that I will subject my friends and family to!  However, I did have the great opportunity to visit and take a tour of the only certified organic farm on Kauai—Moloa’a Organica’a.  My college friend, Alli, works this paradisiacal land with a handful of other farmers growing four acres of fruit, herbs and vegetables and 24 acres of orchard.

Tropical Farmgirl Alli in her element--showing us a taro top.  This will help grow more taro--it will soak in water to encourage the root to grow and then will be planted.  A new root (the edible part of the plant) will regrow.  Pretty neat!

Tropical Farmgirl Alli in her element–showing us a taro root top. This will help grow more taro–it will soak in water to encourage the root to grow and then will be planted. A new root (the edible part of the plant) will regrow. Pretty neat!

The farm sits well off the main road at the end of series of long dirt roads.  The dirt is rusty red and sticks to everything.  It gets its color from oxidized iron and lends to an amazing contrast between the green foliage of the plants and the red of the soil.  Apparently it yields incredible produce, as well.

Recently sown greens pop against the red soil of Anahola.

Recently sown greens pop against the red soil of Anahola.

Everyone on the farm lives in tent structures on platforms with plenty of shade.  Each has a simple water source and camp stove for preparing meals from the abundance of food.

Austere, simple, living a farm girl dream!

Austere, simple, living a farm girl dream!

 

Coming from a place with a 100 day growing season, tons of season extension measures and a fast and furious summer—I was floored by pretty much everything I saw.  The farm sells at at least four markets per week, so I expected a certain sense of urgency around the property.  However, everyone was pretty laid back.  They were working, of course, but at a fairly leisurely and mindful pace.  Barefoot and flip flops seemed to be the normal footwear; shorts, crop tops and no shirts the uniform.  I guess when you plant, grow, prune, harvest, clean, and sell nearly all year long, then the pace of work must be a bit calmer.  Burnout isn’t an option when there isn’t a real off season.

Slow and steady

Slow and steady

A farm worker calmly harvesting kumquats, barefoot; and with a vintage cherry picking bag!

A farm worker calmly harvesting kumquats, barefoot; and with a vintage cherry picking bag!

Of course, there are problems that the farm faces—there isn’t an off season for pests, weeds and diseases, either.  While there are times of the year with lulls and booms, there isn’t the long winter’s chill to help kill off the destroyers.  Birds pluck off the figs before they are ripened, fungus overtakes the basil, feral chickens peck at melons and cabbage, and insects create lace out of brassica leaves.  The heat is so consistent that the greenhouses suffer from overheating, and elephant grass constantly threatens to encroach on fields.

There are thousands of feral chickens on Kauai.

There are thousands of feral chickens on Kauai.

Everywhere.  Those baby toes must look like yummy chubby worms.

Everywhere. Those baby toes must look like yummy chubby worms.

Mama Nature reclaims whatever is in her wake!

Mama Nature reclaims whatever is in her wake!

Another issue the farm faces is inputs.  As a farm on a fairly remote island, their reliance on amendments from the mainland has become an undesirable necessity.  To combat this, the folks at Moloa’a have decided to embark on a Korean method of organic farm management called JADAM.  At its most basic, it involves creating all of the amendments and other inputs the growing operation needs on site using field waste and resources that can be grown or created on the farm.  For example, they grow comfrey plants and ferment the leaves in huge tanks to create a mineral rich foliar spray.  “Humanure” (If you don’t know what that is, I’ll let you look it up on your own) is used in the orchard.  Compost piles are turned and worked in various locations around the property, and they are implementing ways to source local materials to help round out their amendment schedule.

Stands of bamboo provide materials for simple structures and tools.

Stands of bamboo provide materials for simple structures and tools.

Fruit and herbs from Moloa'a Organica'a--some grown with the nutrients from humanure!

Fruit and herbs from Moloa’a Organica’a–some grown with the nutrients from humanure!

As we move along our tour of the farm we start in the tilled beds—roots like taro, ginger and turmeric grow with beautiful tropical fronds; the largest eggplant bushes I’ve ever seen dangle dozens of fruits; baby pineapples grow in a perfect row; and melon vines crawl into aisles.  Thick, gnarly tomato vines are strung up in the greenhouse, planted alongside comfrey, basil and cucumbers.  A couple fig trees are in here as well.  Hopefully they will mature in the space and provide fruit that ripens without being stolen.   Bright red okra pods are maturing on the plant, waiting to be harvested for seed saving, and some dragon fruit plants show evidence of a large recent harvest.   These gardens are bordered by papaya, banana and dwarf coconut trees as well as rows of hardwoods like mahogany and iron wood.

Cacao pod.  Am I dreaming?!?

Cacao pod. Am I dreaming?!?

Eggplants bob in the sun on their huge (4' tall!) plants/bushes.

Eggplants bob in the sun on their huge (4′ tall!) plants/bushes.

Beautiful baby pineapple

Beautiful baby pineapple

Red Okra left on the plant for seed saving.

Red Okra left on the plant for seed saving.

We move into the orchard and are welcomed by everything delicious: avocado, mango, guava, and grapefruit trees.  A few bushes provide kumquats, some kind of amazing cherry and our new favorite fruit: soursop.  There are starfruit, cacao, and jackfruit and plenty more.

White guava

White guava

 

Beautiful, huge avocado.  The farm grows more than 15 varieties!

Beautiful, huge avocado. The farm grows more than 15 varieties!

One of my favorite fruits: Mangos!

One of my favorite fruits: Mangos!

My mouth waters looking at this photo of soursop.  I was continuously surprised by the way these plants grow--these fruits seem to grow from the trunk and branches as well as on new growth.  Fascinating!

My mouth waters looking at this photo of soursop. I was continuously surprised by the way these plants grow–these fruits seem to grow from the trunk and branches as well as on new growth. Fascinating!

Ava loves kumquats.

Ava loves kumquats (clearly).

We spend some time at the end of our tour chatting in the driveway when a young mom comes strolling up with her 18 month old boy, totally naked, healthily tanned and gnawing on fresh coconut flesh.  They both have orange stained feet and glowing smiles.  After some goodbyes and hugs we are off to set up at our first campsite, but it turns out that this first stop on our trip ends up being one of our favorites.

Super Fresh tropical produce on a turquoise beach with my family? Yes please! I want to go baaaccckkk.....

Super Fresh tropical produce on a turquoise beach with my family? Yes, please! I want to go back…..

From Hawaii to Maine and the 5,000 miles between, it’s amazing to see the Farmgirls that reside everywhere.  We all rejoice and curse even if it is for different reasons.  It turns out that this rural Alaskan Farmgirl can’t stop dreaming of the Tropical Farmgirl’s seemingly endless options.  I might miss my Brussels sprouts and endless summer days…but a trade for mangos, avocados and year round flip flops doesn’t sound too shabby.

We could all use a slice of nirvana, right?

Until next time,

Sending peace and love from Alaska,

Alex, The Rural Farmgirl

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A treat for those that read to the end. Mahalo!

Leave a comment 11 Comments

  1. Krista says:

    Kauai is my all time favorite place in Hawaii! It’s so beautiful and peaceful! Your adventure there sounds like so much fun. It’s really cool hearing that they have an organic farm but it’s crazy that they only have one. All the fruit looks so delicious and I can practically taste them just looking at the photos! Nice post. Thanks for sharing your grand adventure.

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Thanks, Krista! It is such a beautiful place. I think many of the farms there have organic growing methods, this is just the only certified organic production. You are right about it being peaceful–it was the healthiest and happiest we have all been in a long time (maybe ever?). Magical place!

  2. Marlene Capelle says:

    As I read this and look at the fabulous pictures we are having our first real snow storm. For a minute there I forgot. Thanks. The final picture – wow.

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Thanks, Marlene! It was pretty wild to go from eighty degree Kauai to SIXTEEN degree Alaska. However, the northern lights greeted us on our landing, so that was pretty special :). Enjoy your snow!

  3. Susabelle says:

    I live along the Front Range in northeast Colorado (east side of the Rockies). My eggplant routinely reach 3-4 feet in height and are massive producers. We have a short season, but not as short as yours in Alaska. But still, they are great producers and remarkable when you realize that enormous bush is an eggplant!

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      So neat! Growing up, eggplants were always on little plants, 1.5 to 2 feet tall. Those huge bushes are amazing! My friend mentioned that the plants were only two or three months old. Incredible!

  4. Karna Sperlin says:

    My husband and I are eating dinner talking about your blog
    My husband and I were in Kauai at the same time as you wee and spent many days walking on Anini Beach
    You don’t happen to be the ” Alaskan Mermaid”??!!!
    Looking at the pics my husband took of you sure look like your pic on your blog!
    If I had known it was you in the sand done up as a mermaid– I would have chatted ! Love your blog and Mary Janes magazine!!

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Hi Karna! That was me! How funny, I remember you very clearly. I so wish we could have made that connection on the beach, but at least we get to make it now. Farmgirls in paradise! Let’s go back…

  5. mariah says:

    I have always considered Mary Jane’s Farm a refuge from the political turmoil going on in our country. Your left-handed reference to your political views are unwelcome, in my opinion. I am not talking about a for or against opinion of the outcome of the election but The fact that this space ought to be a politics free space. Let”s pay attention to our Farmgirl values and goals…please. There is a time and A PLACE for the sharing of politics. I did not think this is the place nor the time.

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      I appreciate your comment, Mariah. I wanted to be clear that this was a moment of escape from the turmoil that was happening in the media, in our relationships and in our communities. A large part of my Farmgirl values and goals is to protect the rights of us and all women. In fact, one of the Farmgirl badges is for community action, so this is not a political desert. Lately, I have questioned why talking politics is such a faux pas…as politics do greatly affect our every day lives. Anyhow..I am a politically active person, so it was on the forefront of my mind while writing my post. I have written about politics in the past in regards to living green/agriculture. I understand why it bothers you, but I tried to make the intro as nonpartisan as possible while keeping my voice. However, I can see your frustration with this intro and I’m happy to change it.

  6. Joan says:

    Oh be still my heart!! what a glorious trip you had and thanks so much for sharing it through words and pictures. My dream trip just came true. God bless.

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