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Preparing for the future

The Hirabaras are successfully creating their own high-quality compost. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
The Hirabaras are successfully creating their own high-quality compost. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
(PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
(PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
(PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
(PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
(PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
(PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
(PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
(PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
(PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)
(PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| NHN)

In 2012, the Hawaii Rural Development Council and filmmaker Danny Miller released the movie “Seeds of Hope,” a documentary that focuses on innovative farmers and educators who are finding solutions to make Hawaii less dependent on food imports. The producer’s goal was to inspire more people to support local food production and the preservation of Hawaii’s remaining agricultural lands.

A couple here in North Hawaii is actively pursuing a solution that goes one step further – having 100 percent sustainability on their farm.

“It was done many many years ago very successfully,” says Kurt Hirabara, a first-generation farmer with a background in soil science. He and his wife, Pam, produce the highest quality baby lettuces on their small, three-acre, commercial farm in Waimea called Hirabara Farms.

“I think Hawaiians were very intelligent to understand nature and their place in it,” he said.

The Hirabaras are a primary source for four- and five-diamond resorts and restaurants across the state who use their greens in high-end salad dishes. The only problem was that after 20 years producing greens, they found that their costs had increased while their prices remained the same. Like many farmers, the Hirabaras had to import compost from the mainland, which added to their production costs.

Kurt had an idea. Why not make the compost themselves? They could do it for less money and make a better quality product using only local sustainable materials.

In 2011, they devoted a quarter-acre of their farm and funded their own project to study which local sustainable resources they could use instead of importing them. By 2013, they were producing their own high-quality compost – decayed organic material used as a plant fertilizer – by combining mulch and leftover lettuce in just eight to 10 weeks per batch. They are now growing strawberries and tomatoes, producing mulch and soil and can use their own compost in their productive beds and to make potting soil.

“Our sustainability project is an attempt to produce all of our own ‘inputs’ – mulch, compost, fertilizer, soil amendments, fungicides and vermicompost – using only materials that are readily available on Hawaii Island,” Pam Hirabara said. “The project is totally ‘off the grid’ so to speak, with power supplied by solar panels and water supplied by catchment.”

Their project is moving faster than they anticipated and has been more promising than they originally thought. Their immediate goal is to be 80 percent sustainable by the end of 2014.

Their ultimate goal is to help others make Hawai’i Island fully sustainable.

“We’re willing to share our story,” Kurt Hirabara said. “People ask, aren’t other people doing this and how come nobody knows about it? If it can be done on our small farm, then it can be done at any farm on our island. I know there are others who want to do this. For anyone who wants to lessen dependence on outside input there’s a way.”

“By thinking and planning ahead, should the time come that it is no longer viable to import food, people will have the ability to feed themselves and revolutionize how produce is grown here at a high-quality level in the future,” Pam added.

“Sustainability is a pathway to more prosperity. If there’s a will, there’s a way,” Kurt said.