Former railroad conductor Maurice Smith picks coffee beans on his Maui farm. Growing coffee has become a boutique enterprise for a number of Maui residents.
A Maui association is linking the growing ranks of farmers who raise the caffeine bean
MAKAWAO, Maui » In a gulch under the shade of kukui and other trees, graphic artist Sydney Smith is picking up a new side occupation and finding success by the bag-load on five acres of cultivated land.
Smith and her husband, Maurice, a retired railroad conductor, are among a growing number of landowners on Maui who have become coffee farmers.
"It's very satisfying," Smith said. "It's a different kind of work. You are out there in the trees. It's beautiful."
With gourmet coffee retailing at between $18 and $40 a pound, picking coffee beans from home-grown trees has become a boutique enterprise with people developing their own blends in a fashion similar to that of small wineries and beer breweries.
On Maui some 40 people are members of the Maui Coffee Association.
"You have people that might have six coffee trees up to large coffee growers with 350 acres," said association President Jeff Ferguson.
Ferguson said the association was formed a couple of years ago by a handful of people who were curious about the number of people who had coffee trees.
"What we found is a lot of little people had coffee on their land and didn't know what to do about it," Ferguson said.
Ferguson said the association was an attempt to have growers connect with each other and help each other out.
The members all grow coffee, but the kinds vary widely because of different climates and elevations along Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains.
The Smiths live near a jungle by a stream where they found a hardy Arabica coffee of the Bourbon variety growing on their land.
Kula organic farmer Gerry Ross, who lives in hot, dry conditions at the 2,000-foot level, grows a variety of trees that can survive without much rain if planted under shade trees.
Ross, who has about 500 trees, said there is a demand for boutique, handpicked coffee, and he has been able to sell his coffee at Kupaa Farm for $30 a pound. One tree yields about a pound and a half of coffee a year on his farm, he said.
"You can make some pretty good money off of it," Ross said.
Ferguson, who has been a coffee roaster on the mainland, said coffee plantations are making a comeback as well.
Ferguson has been helping Valley Isle resident Kimo Faulkner market his coffee under the Maui Grown Coffee label and operates a store near the old Pioneer Mill smokestack.
Faulkner has the harvesting rights to some 150 to 350 acres of coffee land in Kaanapali.
David Gridley of Maui Coffee Roasting Co. said the industry has grown since he began his business 10 years ago.
"We probably do about four times more than I used to do," he said.
Smith said that for her, growing coffee is an enjoyable experience, and others apparently are finding it appealing.
"We have more and more people coming to meetings," she said.