Farmer’s Market in Hilo, Hawaii
This past weekend, P and I flew to Hilo, Hawaii (located on the Big Island – hey, Hawaiian Airlines was having really cheap airfare, so we took advantage!). I wanted to visit a tea farm, but they weren’t available for any private tours that day. Then I wanted to visit a honey farm, but alas, they weren’t open on Saturdays. So with no definite plan in sight, we set off as soon as we got out of the airport. I was ecstatic to go to the Hilo Farmer’s Market – they had so much variety and things I’d never seen before, like dragon kale, wild pineapple (the flesh is white and tart – we purchased a bag to eat while on the road and they were awesome), and lehua raw honey (I could only buy a couple 3 oz jars because of carry-on flight restrictions). After we loaded up on some breakfast eats (homemade chicken tamales with cilantro salsa from the friendly nana in the above picture), we started driving.
Twenty minutes into our car ride, we both saw the sign, “Farm tour.” Now read the next two lines in unison:
(Me): “Ahhh!!!! TURN RIGHT!!!!”
(P): “I’M TURNING RIGHT!!!!!”
So we swerved right. We followed a few signs into a local residence, a peach-colored, three-story house with some Shire horses hanging out on the property. Kind of didn’t know what to do at that point, because we didn’t know if we should have knocked on the front door, or go on an impromptu horseback ride, but then we spotted two women up a small hill. We walked up to meet them, and one of the women was the dynamic, red-haired Susanne Friend, one of the owners of the property and the farm.
“Welcome to Friendly Aquaponics!” she said.
Susanne showing us her sprouts rafts
A variety of lettuces and taro plants (8 different varieties of taro!)
Randomly and by sheer luck, we drove by right at 10am on a Saturday, which turned out to be exactly the time that Susanne held farm tours each week. She and her husband attended an aquaponics seminar in 2007 in the Virgin Islands, and came back to Hilo, armed with tons of info and set out to start their aquaponics farm. It was all very interesting and inspiring. Susanne and Tim combine “aquaculture (raising fish in tanks) and hydroponics (growing plants in water), so that both grow better.”
An approved USDA-certified organic method of farming, aquaponics uses a smidgen (2%!) of the water needed to grow a conventional farm, and with just a fraction of the land, will produce ten times the amount of produce that the same plot of land would provide were you to do in-ground farming. Additionally, it uses 70% less energy than conventional farming. The energy needed to farm is electrical, and I think it’s just so cool that they’re trying to go off-the-grid and build a windmill to generate the energy needed for their farm one day.
Just check out their website – they do an amazing job of explaining how everything works, and even provide seminars if you were interested in starting your own aquaponics system. Here it is in a nutshell: You have water tanks that are healthy pond environments, with tilapia growing in them (sorry, my pics for the fish tanks didn’t turn out so well, but you can see on their website). They’re not fed fish pellets with growth hormones, and aren’t chemically induced to have sex changes like other farm-raised fish are (typically, male fish are considered “better” due to their larger size). The plants are fed water that has been bio-filtered from the fish tanks and are full of nutrients (that’s why they grow fast and abundant). There’s no pesticides, fertilizers, or any other chemical enhancers involved – totally organic! In fact, since their operation, Susanne proudly states that the entire system has been completely free of disease, and the thriving farm has secured them an account at Costco, where they sell their organic lettuce on the Big Island.
What inspires me is that Susanne is completely devoted to sustainable agriculture. She doesn’t want to supply all other Costco stores inter-island; she firmly believes in providing food security for the community. Not only does lettuce grow on the farm – they’ve got wildly growing taro patches, and if you check out her website, you’ll see other plants like tomatoes, edible flowers, and more.
I asked Susanne what her background was. She told me it was biology, but really, she and Tim were not farmers before they started. They had a drafting business, and killed every houseplant they had. “Really?!” P and I said incredulously. Anyone can contribute their part toward the slow food movement by supporting sustainable agriculture, buying local foods, and increasing their awareness of fair trade practices from around the world. I’ll explore more with you on these topics in future posts.
Thanks again, Susanne, for an awesome farm tour!