COURTESY MOLOKAI AGRICULTURAL TOUR
The One Alii Fishpond restoration project marks an attempt to raise awareness of a self-sustaining way of life to a younger generation on Molokai.
Molokai tour connects with the land
Growing up in Upcountry Maui, Kim Tempo often visited her grandparents' farm in Pukalani -- a fertile acre of papayas, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, soybeans, star fruit, mangoes, macadamia nuts and more.
Molokai Agricultural Tour
» Pickup: At Kaunakakai Wharf or participants' hotel
» Time: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays
» Cost: $120 per person, $60 for children 6 through 12, and $25 for ages 5 and younger; lunch included
» Call: (808) 553-8284
» E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
» Web site: www.ohanaconcierge.com
"My brothers and I helped weed, water, fertilize and harvest the crops," she recalled. "We ate what my grandparents grew, sometimes right off the plants and trees. My grandfather used to sell his produce door to door. It was all so good! We appreciated the aina (land) and learned how to live off of it."
When Tempo moved to peaceful, rural Molokai 15 years ago, it reminded her of those happy years.
"Being able to raise my two sons here and giving them the kind of childhood I had is priceless," she said. "Molokai is a very special place. Here, more so, I think, than any other island, you can really get connected to the land."
In 2005, Tempo developed an agricultural tour for the Molokai Chamber of Commerce's 2006 and 2007 Food and Business Expos, which spotlighted four farms and an ancient fishpond.
The tours were so successful, they prompted Tempo to launch a similar offering, the Molokai Agricultural Tour, on a regular basis in May.
"I love opening visitors' eyes to the beauty of Molokai and our simple but satisfying way of life," she said. "My tour is educational, has a low impact on the environment and gives (visitors) the chance to personally interact with farmers -- hard-working people who love being outdoors and truly enjoy what they're doing."
Participants make four 45-minute stops on the five-hour tour: One Alii Fishpond, one of about 70 ancient fishponds hugging Molokai's southern coast; Molokai Plumerias, the state's largest supplier of the fragrant frangipani; Coffees of Hawaii, a 500-acre arabica plantation; and Beachboy Ranch, which is cultivating blue-ribbon hydroponic produce.
Tempo weaves tantalizing tidbits of Hawaiian culture and history in her narrative. Dating back 600 to 1,000 years, for example, 27-acre One Alii Fishpond ranks among the best examples of traditional Hawaiian fishponds extant.
A fishpond restoration project was launched in 2004 by the nonprofit organization Ka Honua Momona (The Fertile Land), whose mission is "to be a model of sustainability."
Centuries ago there was a fishpond in every ahupuaa (land division usually extending from the mountains to the sea). After villagers in an ahupuaa cleaned taro for their meals, they threw the scrapings into their pond as food for the fish being raised in it.
Today, mullet, goatfish and shrimp hatched at East Molokai farms are being released in One Alii Fishpond and adjacent Ka Loko Eli Fishpond, where they grow until they're large enough to eat.
"The goal is for the ponds to be self-sustaining one day," said Tempo. "Ka Honua Momona envisions Hawaiians utilizing these ponds as they did long ago, and selling the fish that are raised there to support the restoration project. They've recruited the youth of Molokai to help, realizing that educating the younger generation is key so they can keep the fishponds and the old Hawaiian ways alive."
Community workdays at One Alii and Ka Loko Eli take place the third Saturday of each month, and everyone, including visitors, is welcome to help. Call (808) 553-8353 for details.
"I've had people come on my tour on Friday and been so impressed with what they see, they're back the next day to cut down mangrove trees and dredge, clean and stock the ponds," said Tempo. "Ka Honua Momona is trying to get permission from the state to rebuild the ponds' rock walls right now, and when that happens, visitors will be able to help with that, too."
COURTESY MOLOKAI AGRICULTURAL TOUR
AT MOLOKAI PLUMERIAS, owned and operated by Dick and Aome Wheeler, tour-goers discover the fragrant blossoms that have become synonymous with Hawaii are actually native to Central America.
Most of the several thousand trees in the company's 10-acre orchard are Celadine, the ubiquitous yellow plumeria used to brighten table arrangements and string the lei participants receive when the Wheelers greet them.
The midday stop at Coffees of Hawaii proves Kona isn't the only place in the islands producing exceptional coffee. Participants hop onto a mule-drawn wagon for an information-packed tour that passes rows of arabica trees, 350,000 in all. It's currently peak season for harvesting ripe red coffee "cherries."
Their visit concludes with a picnic lunch at a pavilion atop Kualapuu Hill, which offers a magnificent view of the coffee plantation, Moomomi Beach and neighboring districts of Hoolehua, Kualapuu and Kalae.
From there it's on to Beachboy Ranch, where Janie and Kealoha Peltier are experimenting with innovative cultivation techniques such as "vertigrow." Instead of soil, they're growing their crops in vertical hydroponic systems set up in three 1,800-square-foot greenhouses.
"This allows them to maximize their growing space with minimal water usage," said Tempo.
"They're growing lettuce, tomatoes, herbs and bok choy in this manner, and everything looks and tastes great!"
IN THE SIX months since she started the Molokai Agricultural Tour, Tempo has seen numerous benefits. Visitors love the opportunity to meet farmers and get a behind-the-scenes look at their operations.
The farmers receive another source of income, and the money generated from the tour supports the local economy. If their ventures are successful, land on Molokai can remain committed to agriculture instead of falling prey to mass development as have countless acres on other islands.
"I'm trying to bring responsible tourism to Molokai and to boost businesses that are already established," said Tempo. "We don't need to reinvent the wheel; we just need to find a new way of using it. We need to make a livelihood while we try to keep Molokai as it is: a close-knit community with strong ties to the traditions of our Hawaiian ancestors."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.