“This is definitely a working progress,” says Judah Lum looking out onto 125 acres of lilikoi*, papaya, apple banana, long eggplant, and taro leaf growing in abundance on Kahuku Farms.
It will be five years in November since Lum and his wife, Kylie Matsuda, a fourth-generation farmer, opened the farm’s gate located in the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii to the public – something that was unheard of before on state-owned leased land.
Lum explained that when Matsuda decided she was going to takeover running the family business along with her sister, Kalyn, she wanted to build the farm into a place of education.
“Her vision and goal is to build the brand so that it bridges the gap between food and people,” he said.
“Today many people are very privileged, and no longer take responsibility for the animals or the plants they eat. Because of this separation, there is a distorted view that food is considered cheap; it’s undervalued.”
Lum went on explaining that it’s particularly costly to be a farmer in Hawaii, a place where it’s sunny all year round.
“In Hawaii people assume that everything will grow because it’s perfect weather. In some sense it’s true but the flipside to having all year round harvest season is you don’t have winter season, which is a natural time when pests dies.
“When you have seasons, or when it’s not spring, you have fewer bugs in the garden, so without that break we have pressure from not only insects, but also fungus and moulds.
“Because of that we have to irrigate…and the water needs to be put on top of the ground but when you put water on the surface other things grow — not just what you plant. So weed control is a huge labour factor, and makes growing food very challenging.”
Today, Kahuku Farms runs tours of the farm to show visitors the real side to farming. It also has its own café on-site serving up meals, drinks, and desserts using ingredients from the farm, as well as neighbouring farms.
“When people start to learn they gain a value, and today a lot of people are interested in organic, where it’s coming from, and this is what allows us to be part of that movement; it shows that food doesn’t come out a machine,” Lum said.
But the essence of farming was spawned when great-grandfather Matsuda moved to Honolulu’s north shore 100 years ago from Japan.
During his early days as a Japanese migrant, he worked in irrigation for the island’s sugar plantation farms.
By the 1970s Matsuda’s grandparents Shinichi and Torie Matsuda were farming capsicum, papaya, watermelon, and banana, and were then eventually joined by their son, Matsuda’s father, Melvin.
For Lum though, joining his wife on the farm was just something he said he “fell into”, admitting that he certainly didn’t grow up around agriculture.
“I was a labour in various construction job and was in the union, managing project, and when I met my wife I was doing my own thing but at that time she was already on her mission, “ he said.
“’She had been working tremendously hard to get the green light from the state of Hawaii — in which we lease the land from — because to do business on agriculture land was unheard of; it took momentous effort.”
Aside from opening up shop on the farm, Kahuku Farms sells to major wholesalers in Hawaii, which distribute the produces to small stores and large supermarkets throughout the state. Lum said for now nothing leaves the state mainly because the business’ production is simply not large enough.
*Lilikoi: Hawaiian word for passionfruit