Kaivao Farm

Kaivao Farm

Farmer Story: 

In 2016, Angela Faʻanunu and her sister Kalisi Mausio won the Mahiʻai Matchup Competition. 

Angela and Kalisi grew up in the Kingdom of Tonga where farming was a big part of life particularly as their father was the director of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries for the country for 18 years.

 “I think we inherited our father’s passion for plants,” Angela said. “We grew up experimenting with planting different crops because our father was constantly looking for different crops that would do well in Tonga.” They hadn't been looking for farmland in Hawaiʻi, which can be too expensive and out of reach for most. One day, Kalisi visited Angela in Hilo and shared the Kamehameha Schools’ Mahiʻai Match-Up Agriculture Business Plan Competition flyer. They applied, won the competition, and began their journey  with Kaivao Farm the following year.

taro patch

"The interest had always been there,” Angela said, referring to farming. “Living in Hawaiʻi is so different from the way we grew up. The capitalistic lifestyle is very different from a subsistence lifestyle. Today, we are highly dependent on stores for food. Most families in Tonga have a bush allotment where families grow food for subsistence. That is changing too though with increasing population and with the convenience of imported foods.”

Kaivao Farm comprises 9.5 acres planned for agroforestry – a farming method the sisters learned growing up in Tonga. ‘Ulu is the primary crop. Other crops include kalo, cassava, pineapple, ʻawa, tī, kukui, bananas, avocados, mamakī for tea and wauke and hala to support the Polynesian arts of kapa making and weaving. ”We experimented with various crops to see which grow well and where at our site. We never had any luck with papaya and ‘uala can get out of control.” 

"We are an ʻulu farm, but the taro is what sustains us because it is a year-round crop. You can stagger your planting to have taro all the time. Taro is like a faithful dog. You take care of the taro and it will take care of you. ʻUlu, to me, is like a cat. The ʻulu only comes around when it wants to every season.”

taro farmer in patch

Angela’s daughter went to a Hawaiian immersion school and the school often had ‘ohana days where family and keiki made poi and harvested taro and lūʻau leaves from lo`i in Waipiʻo Valley. The families would  often meet and make lau lau for school fundraisers and parents advocated to replace pizza with laulau for Friday lunches. This experience with taro grew and the connection deepened over time. After purchasing taro from a farmers market one day, Angela saved the top of the corm and planted it at the farm. The taro they grow now came from those corms. 

"Growing up, we actually didn't plant taro much,” Angela said. “Our father wasn't a taro farmer but I remember planting taro once. When we started planting taro here, we didn't know the variety we were planting from the farmers market. They were huge and tasted really good so we stuck with this variety. We planted mana‘ulu and ‘o‘opukai also but the yield is not as good compared ”

Angela started making laulau at home regularly because her daughter loves it, but also to make the practice a norm.

taro roots

"Taro is such a great plant,” Angela said. “It is so resilient, so easy to work with. It just responds to the inputs you add. You can use it in so many different ways and it multiplies. One mother plant can create ten plants or more. I really understand now why it is Hawaiʻi's crop. I've never had to water our taro once, except when we put them in the ground in the beginning. The average size of our harvest sold to HUC was almost five pounds per taro. The largest taro was 9.6 pounds"

Although productive, Angela admits that the traditional kalo plot can also be extractive after a while. The sisters hope to integrate taro into the agroforestry design and move away from the traditional plot method they started with.  

</span><span>harvested taro</span><span>

“The price of poi is crazy," Angela said, after seeing it rise recently. "Hanalei poi used to be around $5. Now it is selling for almost $12 at KTA.”

“I hope taro can become a household plant, where you drive down the road and everyone is planting taro like grass, since it is so versatile and easy to grow. It’s also really pretty. With the ʻulu co-op buying taro from farmers I think that would really help local farmers as you don't have to sit around the farmers market all day. It is so much easier to plant when you know there is a market for your crop. To me, taro has a greater value than other crops we grow because it is more work than most of the other crops. I also prefer taro because the staple is denser and more filling. I think taro should be sold at a higher price.”

farmer in taro patch

Kalisi looks for ways they can produce more value-added products and experiments with making flour from their farm from ‘ulu and cassava. The sisters also use the farm as a venue for education. With a USDA grant to develop agrotourism in Hawaiʻi, they developed the Hawaiʻi Farm Trails app – an app that connects people to farms, ranches, farm-to-table experiences, farmers markets, CSA opportunities and more. Angela is an assistant professor of Tourism at the University of Hawaiʻi Hilo and regularly takes her students for site visits to the farm. Students enjoy going outside of traditional classroom experiences and the place-based learning is very effective. Students are able to apply what they learn conceptually to real-life scenarios. The sisters have also piloted education programs with Kamehameha Schools and Nāwahīʻokalaniopuʻu.

Farmer Recipe: Kalo with Coconut Cream

See Farmer Recipe

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