Family roots run deep in fertile Kula soil
Beyond the sliding glass doors in Casey Shim's living room, a magnificent panorama stretches from the West Maui Mountains and Maalaea Bay to the sun-splashed resort areas of Kihei, Wailea and Makena.
Shim Coffee, Protea and Botanical Farm Tour
Address: 625 Middle Road in Kula, Maui. You'll receive directions when you book your tour.
Tours: Available daily from Feb. 1 through July 31 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. by appointment only
Cost: $7 per person and $5 for children 7 through 17 and seniors 55 and older
Web site: shimfarmtour.com
Notes: Wear casual clothes, sunscreen, a hat or visor, and good walking shoes. In addition to coffee, Shim usually has fruits, flowers and vegetables for sale (items vary, depending on what's in season).
"I tell visitors, 'Welcome to Utopia,'" says the genial 75-year-old Shim. "That's a million-dollar view, and I'm really lucky to see it every day."
Shim's property meanders over five lush acres in Kula at the 3,500-foot level of Haleakala -- about a third of the way to the volcano's summit.
Coffee and a host of other trees, plants and flowers flourish on an acre of Shim's fertile land. "Throw seeds anywhere and they'll grow," he claims. "That's how rich the soil is here."
Shim describes himself as a "pupule" (crazy) farmer, noting his one-man coffee and botanical farm "keeps me busy 25/8, not 24/7. There's never a time when there's a lack of work, but I enjoy it. You have to enjoy it to keep doing it, because planting, pruning, watering and weeding is hard work."
He inherited his Kula oasis from his paternal grandparents, who built their home on the site in the late 1800s. Although it's in a state of disrepair, their old farmhouse still stands on verdant pastureland beside a grove of persimmon trees.
Shim's grandfather died in 1927, before he was born. His grandmother died in 1976 at the ripe old age of 104. Although he grew up in Haiku, on the north coast of Maui, Shim remembers visiting her quite often -- the splendor of her pastoral homestead making a big impression on him even as a young child.
When he was a sophomore in high school, his family moved to Honolulu. "My parents were going to retire in Kula, but my mom got ill and passed away in 1979," he says. "My dad decided to stay in Honolulu with the rest of the family."
COURTESY OF PAUL DYSON
At 75, Casey Shim still tends the farm started by his paternal grandparents.
Shim graduated from Farrington High School in 1948 and the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1952 (he earned a degree in psychology and completed the ROTC program). He then headed to Fort Benning in Georgia for six months of infantry training.
He got married and was assigned to Fort Ord in California where he spent a year training troops during the Korean War. The first of his four children was born in Fort Ord's hospital.
Shim's next duty station was the Wisconsin Military District in Milwaukee where he screened young men for military eligibility as the personnel psychologist in charge of the mental testing department.
After he was discharged from the Army in 1956, he received his teaching credentials at UH-Manoa. He landed a job with the Long Beach Unified School District that paid an annual salary of $4,400 -- twice what he could earn in Hawaii -- so he moved his family to California, which has since been his primary home.
Armed with a master's degree in administration from California State University-Long Beach, Shim enjoyed a 33-year career as a teacher, counselor, vice principal and principal before retiring in 1990. Now a part-time instructor at Long Beach City College, he goes back and forth between homes in Huntington Beach and Kula.
Which brings us to his foray into coffee. There were only a few plum and avocado trees on the Kula property when Shim first started doing extended stays there 16 years ago. Today, it's an expansive Eden, full of color and wonderful aromas.
"I went to a lot of nurseries and orchards, and talked to many farmers and friends," Shim says. "Every year, I planted new things."
Initially, he was going to concentrate on protea; he had seen a magazine article about the flower and thought it was beautiful and exotic. But then his wife's sister visited his farm with a few of her friends, one of whom noted how successful he had been with coffee he had planted. Shim decided to try growing it, too.
Compared with the Big Island's famed Kona farms, which range in size from three to a few hundred acres, Shim's operation is small. The largest crop he has ever harvested was 2,400 pounds last year, which yielded 350 pounds of roasted beans. A 60-acre Kona farm will harvest 500,000 pounds of coffee, which produces 80,000 pounds of roasted coffee.
Except for roasting, which is done by professionals in Paia and Kahului, Shim does all the processing himself. This includes everything from hand-picking the red coffee "cherries," pulping (removing the red skin to retrieve the beans) and fermenting the beans to rinsing, sun-drying, hulling and winnowing them (cleaning all the parchment and debris).
It's a time-consuming process; for instance, when Shim finishes picking cherries from the last of his 3,000 trees, it's time to start doing it again with the first tree. "I'm constantly picking from January until the end of July," he says. "I probably pick cherries about a dozen times from each tree every year."
COURTESY OF PAUL DYSON
Protea was a natural first choice to raise on Casey Shim's Kula oasis, but he has turned his focus on coffee.
According to Shim, only about 15 percent of the coffee that's harvested is ultimately roasted. "During every step of the processing, the coffee loses weight," he explains. "You take off the pulp, it loses weight; you dry it, it loses weight; you remove the hull, it loses weight; you roast it, it loses weight."
Because production is limited, 4- and 8-ounce packages of Shim Pure Kula Coffee are available at just a few retail outlets on Maui, including Tedeschi Winery and Pauwela Café. Shim also sells his coffee direct to customers.
"People call ahead and order," he says. "They drive to my house, honk their horn, I'll come out to the road and we do the transaction right there."
Although the mellow, full-bodied flavor of Shim Coffee has won accolades from connoisseurs across the country, he is most proud of the fact that the packaging was designed in 2000 by three of his granddaughters -- Loryn, Marissa and Alexandra Kanemaru, who were 12, 10 and 7, respectively, at the time.
"I instructed them to create a logo that incorporated a rainbow, Haleakala, coffee trees and horses," Shim says. "The horses have nothing to do with the coffee, but I think of myself as a cowboy who's farming as a hobby. I have three horses -- Akamai, Twenty and Montana -- that I ride every day, and a miniature horse named Black Bart who's my PR guy."
On a 60- to 90-minute tour of Shim's farm, you'll meet his horses, see his processing equipment and get close-up looks at all of his prized plants and trees. In addition to protea, which he also sells commercially on a limited basis, Shim grows dozens of other flowers, fruits and vegetables for personal use, including oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines, grapefruit, figs, guavas, strawberries, peaches, bananas, mint, onions, beans, dry-land taro, cherry tomatoes, mangoes, gardenias, bromeliads, calendula and ilima.
It's clear Shim sports a green thumb. "I love this work," he says. "The farm is a beautiful, peaceful place. Being among plants is very relaxing and healing. It makes you feel good. If you're around nature a lot, you won't ever need a psychiatrist."
COURTESY OF PAUL DYSON
Shim Pure Kula Coffee represents a hand-to-cup labor of love.
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.