Sowing destruction


POSTED: Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jerry Punzal's livelihood hinged on the productivity of his Mililani papaya farm, where he had planted more than 500 trees.

But someone armed with a machete hacked off the tops of 397 mostly mature trees sometime Monday night or early yesterday morning, leaving the large green and yellow fruit lying wasted on the ground.

The vandal or vandals also cut all the irrigation lines and left the water running.

A nearby farmer lost an estimated 100 trees in the same manner.

Later yesterday, at about 6 p.m., two people were seen damaging a shed on Punzal's property before they fled, said police.

“;We've been vandalized before,”; he said. “;This is the first time it's the crop. Now I don't have anything for next month's rent, next month's bills, nothing to take to the market.”;

Punzal said the act was “;just pure vandalism, nothing stolen,”; adding, “;We've had people come before to steal.”;

He estimates his losses to run in the thousands of dollars.

Punzal, who farms about 1.5 to 2 acres off Lanikuhana Street, said the losses are much more than the fruit on the trees.

It takes a year to nurture a plant to maturity to produce market-ready fruit, he said. That includes a year's worth of fertilizer and daily watering. The tree then produces for three years before it grows too tall for harvesting and is cut down.

But the biggest loss is losing his markets, Punzal believes. By the time his next crop will be market-ready, the wholesalers he has been selling to will likely have established connections with other farmers.

;[Preview]    Farm vandalism shocks Mililani

Police say vandals broke into a farm overnight and chopped down hundreds of papaya trees.


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“;It's not a good feeling because there's very little profit margin in farming,”; said Punzal, who has been farming for six years. “;We farmers in Hawaii are trying to keep the local farming going. With some imbecile coming in like this, this is another reason for farmers not to keep producing in Hawaii.”;

Neighbor Carroll Cox, whose house overlooks the area, said: “;Somebody had a more evil intent. What it is I don't know, but every farmer should be concerned.

“;For me as a homeowner, I'm worried about what they will do next,”; Cox said. “;It takes a lot of rage.”;

He suspects more than one person was involved given the number of trees and the way the trees were cut by hand.

Cox said his neighbor reported seeing three suspicious males in the area. They appeared to be in their teens or early 20s, he said.

The fence to Punzal's farm was also broken a couple of weeks ago, and someone attempted to steal a generator and a truck, but he does not know whether that incident is related.

Punzal is offering a $2,000 reward to anyone who has information on the vandalism that leads to an arrest, and asks them to call police.

Punzal hopes the perpetrator will be caught and prosecuted.

But this crime will not deter Punzal from farming.

“;No, I'm not giving up,”; he said.