Crops and Plants

The anthurium is a native of Colombia first brought to Hawai‘i from London in 1889. It is highly sought for its vibrant colors and its ability to maintain its flowers for an extended period throughout the year.

By Damon Adamson.


Admired for their beautiful coloration, intricate and petite or bold and substantial appearance, as well as their incredible diversity expressed in form, the anthurium (Araceae andraeanum) is often overlooked as a crop or commercially viable alternative to traditional fruit or vegetable production models. The anthurium boasts over 100 genera and about 1,500 separate species common names include tail flower and flamingo flower.

Mikey Peirron’s Hilo UrbFarm is a small composting and food garden operation, located at the East Hawai‘i Cultural Center.

By Edward Bufil.

Mikey Pierron stands in garden.
Mikey Pierron gives a tour of Hilo UrbFarm to Ag 24 students.
Garden with raised beds, flats, area covered overhead with tarp.
Hilo UrbFarm, a small composting and food garden operation, is located at the East Hawai‘i Cultural Center.

Looking at a package of basil from Maui, a revelation hit Mikey Pierron: why is Hawai‘i island not food sustainable? This revelation gave rise to Hilo UrbFarm, a small composting and food garden operation, located at the East Hawai‘i Cultural Center.

Composting is a key practice in island sustainability. Hilo UrbFarm develops compost from paper wastes, mulch (from the County Greenwaste facility), and food scraps from local vendors including the Locavore store, Conscious Culture Café, Hilo Sharks Coffee, and Loved by the Sun. By taking greenwaste that would otherwise be added to the near-capacity landfill, Hilo UrbFarm produces compost that will aid the growth of a variety of food crops.

Hilo UrbFarm also grows a variety of herbs and food crops.

In order to be competitive one needs to be farming at an economy of scale and price point differentials that work, particularly when the competition is imported from continent based mega-farms.

By Bruce Mathews.

Bruce Mathews
Bruce Mathews

While there have been calls for at least 50 years for the state of Hawaiʻi to improve its food self-sufficiency and hence food security, the progress to reduce dependence on imports has been painfully slow. This being said, community interest in increasing locally grown food is rapidly expanding. However, interest alone will not be sufficient to turn the dial substantially without major changes in consumer behavior or extreme market distortions.

Economies of scale

In order to be competitive one needs to be farming at an economy of scale and price point differentials that work, particularly when the competition is imported from continent based mega-farms. Even in Hawaiʻi the entrepreneurial produce farmer success stories that are most often mentioned tend to be on the larger side. It takes a unique mix of entrepreneurial skills, hard work, and capital access to make a decent middle class living let alone a small fortune as a family farmer. Locally grown produce may become more competitive as continental growers deal with increasing water costs and climate change.

William H. Purvis, the young manager of the Pacific Sugar Mill at Kukuihaele on Hawaiʻi Island, planted the first mac nuts in 1882 at Kapulena.

By Damon Adamson.

Rows of trees in mac nut orchard.
Macadamia Nut Orchard (Macadamia integrifolia) ssp. Makai 800. Photo by Damon Adamson, click to enlarge.

Hailing from southern Queensland and northern New South Wales on the continent of Australia and belonging to the Proteaceae family, the macadamia nut (Macadamia integrifolia) was first imported into Hawaiʻi in 1882 by William H. Purvis. Purvis, the young manager of the Pacific Sugar Mill at Kukuihaele on the Big Island, planted seeds that year at Kapulena.

Over 60 varieties of dry land kalo have been cultivated by farmers on the Big Island.

By Rory Akau.

TaroWhile kalo (taro; Colocasia esculenta) is a common staple crop found throughout the South Pacific, Hawaiians were the only Pacific Islanders to produce pa‘i‘ai, or poi, from the kalo corm. Rather than spoil, poi ferments and was sometimes stashed alongside trails for hungry travelers.

To make poi traditionally, steamed or boiled taro corms are pounded between papa ku‘ i‘ai (wood board) and ku‘ i‘ai pohaku (poi pounder) with a small amount of water until the mixture forms a thick paste. This pulverizing action removes most of the air from the starch to extend shelf life.

BRF tek is a fast method of growing your own mushrooms, with the whole process taking just two to three months.

By Matthew Roderick.

Book cover "Mushrooms," with photo of mushrooms.
Mushrooms: Cultivation, Nutritional Value, Medicinal Effect, and Environmental Impact (2004) by Philip G. Miles and Shu-Ting Chang is a good source for information on growing your own edible mushrooms.

Mushroom cultivation at home may be simpler than you think. As a hobby, for profit, or as a viable means for developing food security, growing mushrooms has become an increasingly popular practice for those who enjoy the healthy and flavorful benefits of mushrooms. These would be edible varieties such as shiitake, portobello, oyster, lions mane, and pioppino, to name just a few.

Mushrooms have been renowned for thousands of years for their therapeutic effects, medicinal nature, and highly nutritious quality. In addition to containing a good source of protein, many mushrooms, especially gourmet varieties, are shown to have antiviral, anticancer, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as immune strengthening and cardio protective  compounds.

A move to Organic and Organic Plus strategies in food production is how Hawai‘i food producers take back the power of the Hawai‘i brand.

By Joshua Willing, Student, AG100, Introduction to Agricultural Sciences.

Rows of lettuce.
A field of certified organic lettuce grows at Robb Farms in Waimea, Hawai‘i Island. Photo courtesy of The Kohala Center.

Food production in Hawai‘i sits in the middle of a great paradox, at once a lush natural paradise with a perfect climate for growing things, yet isolated, leading to inflated costs for Hawaii’s producers. The future of the Hawai‘i food industry will depend on producers’ ability to navigate a way that respects these inherent costs while utilizing the many benefits of the islands. Producers must decide on a model that best suits the economy.

My argument here is that this model already exists, and by using branding–in this case the brand of Hawai‘i itself–we will mitigate many unavoidable costs while at the same time enhancing the desirability of Hawai‘i’s food products. This will rely heavily on the Hawai‘i food industry as a whole moving toward an “Organic Plus” strategy (going beyond current organic standards), the goals of which coincide nicely with the natural boons of Hawai‘i’s food production.