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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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