‘Aina Ahiu Farm
Farm Location: South and North Kona
Year Established: 1972
HUC Member Since: 2018
Farming practices used: Agroforestry
Philosophy around farming: Low impact farming using traditional methods.
Meet Clarence Medeiros of ‘Aina Ahiu Farm, a Co-op member since 2018 who recently hauled in a 50 pound kalo (lehua variety) to our Honalo processing facility. After farming and ranching in Kona with his wife Nellie for over 50 years, this may be a new world record. We asked Clarence what his secret was and he said that it was grown naturally with no fertilizer, only depending on rainwater, and by allowing selective plants to grow naturally, which are mostly kupukupu ferns and awapuhi ginger. The other secret to success is to beat the sun. By starting his work day right before daylight breaks over Mauna Loa, Clarence who is now in his 70’s is able to work like he is still in his 30’s.
“It’s important to grow the right variety of kalo to handle the heat,” he added. This is especially true on the sunny Kona side where the sun shines strong and the rocky landscape can absorb a lot of heat. Clarence’s 50 pound kalo was grown at 1600 feet elevation where it is slightly cooler than at sea level. The ferns and ginger on his farm are not edible but help to hold a lot of moisture in the ground and collect the morning dew.
“You have to look for the black dirt.” He explained.
“When I was young, I would go help my father and my grand uncle in their kīhāpai (small farm).They didn’t talk much and you didn’t ask how or why, and they didn't tell you. Only when they saw the black dirt, they would show it to me, and this is what stuck in my head.”
In 1972 Clarence purchased his first parcel of land that included 5 head of cattle and a horse in South Kona from his uncle, Albert Medeiros. His father, Clarence A. Medeiros Senior, was a rancher and a mahiʻai and so was his grand uncle, Freddie Iona, and uncle, Henry Deniz. All who Clarence says were influential people in his life with deep knowledge of kalo.
Clarence's agricultural roots run deep as he is the fifth generation descendant of Don Francisco de Paula Marin who is credited for bringing the first coffee plant to Hawaii in 1813.
When Clarence built his home in 1973 his father left a big bag of huli on his doorstep. Clarence left it sitting there for a couple of weeks until they were growing out of the bag. After planting the kalo on his farm, he was surprised to see two feet of growth just a month later. He became more and more interested and started to maintain the areas around his plants and a few months later they grew to over 5 feet. He saw the taro leaves flapping in the wind and they looked like elephant ears. This is when he decided he would apply everything he learned from his father to grow his family’s kalo.
Clarences’ approach to growing kalo is very low impact and requires minimal effort. He utilizes the edges of his walkways and pastures and even the wild pigs and cattle overlook his plantings. By intuitively knowing where the fertility accumulates on the ʻāina and being in tune with the movement of the sun and patterns of the rains, Clarence is able to consistently grow corms that can weigh 20 to 30 pounds.
“We had some good rains the past couple of seasons,” he said. Giving credit to the rains for his 50 pound kalo, this year he harvested 8 keiki weighing around 8 to 15 pounds apiece from that single parent – a combined weight of over 100 lbs of food from just one kalo plant.
Throughout the years Clarence and Nellie have diversified into macadamia nuts, coffee and avocados, expanding their farming operation to eleven parcels, most several acres in size. Their premium Kona coffee is sold under the label Maoli Heritage Coffee. They also grow lemons, oranges, bananas and have a dozen or so mature ‘ulu trees that are harvested and delivered to the Hawai‘i ‘Ulu Co-op for processing.
Clarence loves eating his ‘ulu like a potato salad. When it comes to kalo, his grandparents loved to just steam, slice, and fry in a pan sprinkled with some salt. He says that he can eat kalo like this every day. Towards the end of the year Clarence and his family will make about 400 lbs of kulolo to share with friends, family, and neighbors.
“Everyone is waiting for December to share the kulolo at Christmas and New Year parties.” He says.
“I just wish that local kids eat more kalo and ‘ulu. I noticed at our family gatherings the older folks eat it, but the younger folks don’t. There are plenty of ‘ono kinds and they just have to try it to see which ones are their favorite.”
Clarence’s son, Jacob, also maintains his own kīhāpai when he has time off working as an excavating and land clearing contractor. Jacob's son, Jaimin, a sophomore at Konawaena High School, also has his own kīhāpai of kalo, and makes his own poi. Clarence’s other grandson Lincoln, an arborist now in his 30’s, also planted his own kīhāpai and often helps Clarence work on the farm when he has time.
Connected with the land, his family and the ʻUlu Co-op, Clarence helps sustain our food system by putting kalo and ʻulu on dinner tables across Hawaiʻi today.