Winter Storm Pounds Farmers

The heavy rain and ferocious hail in early March left many farms devastated. As I walk the Saturday, March 10, Kaua’i Community Market in Lihu’e, bare tables are evidence of the storm’s impact.

Once home, I unpack a small and costly amount of veggies from the grocery store – peeling stickers off bell peppers and releasing carrots from their plastic bags. I think about the landfill and wonder how Kaua’i’s farmers are doing. I send them, along with some folks in the food industry, an email.

Here is what they had to say.

Jillian Seals, director, Kaua’i Farm Connection: “Four days of heavy rain set us back for sure. We will see some of the effects this week for our CSA harvest and wholesale accounts, but the real effect won’t be seen for a few weeks. It’s hard to know if the seeds we planted last week (carrots, turnips, beans, radish, Swiss chard, mustards, beets) will make it. Many have been washed away. The beans had setting flowers and fruit, and the keiki plants were just transplanted. The plants, jostled in heavy, multidirectional wind, have degraded roots and stem structures resulting in bottom/stem rot. Long-term heavy-feeders such as these take up to three weeks to be ready for transplant, and another three weeks before their first harvest. And just think about all the little critters that are looking for a dry place to shelter. A shade or greenhouse is filled with an abundant food source of freshly planted seeds and sprouts. Nibble nibble.

Then there’s all the extra fungi, not so perfecti, that settle on the leaves and surfaces of the plants in the fields.”

Ryan Wooton, Kaua’i Kunana Dairy: “This rain has been very devastating on us. Not only on the product side, but on the goat part, too. Now we have to worry about diseases that occur with the wet weather, along with hoof rot. They are unable to graze, so we have to supplement with grains and alfalfa. The gardens are a mess. Heavy winds blew small fruit and flowers off our trees. This summer, we may not have mangos.”

Exotic fruit farmers Paul and Jude Huber: “Rambutan loss was due mostly to strong wind gusts up to 40 mph. It broke some tree branches, which were laden with ripe fruit. Additionally, the wind blew much of the fruit off the trees and onto the ground. The pigs are enjoying a little extra treat. Although we have a great deal of land tied up in windbreaks to protect the rambutan trees, the northerly direction caused some wind burn. The amount of rain did not cause significant damage to the fruit itself, but it did make picking, packing and selling arduous, to say the least. Our road is in need of grading due to water runoff, and the packing equipment, packing shed, tarps and ladders are full of mud.”

Lisa Fuller, One Song Farm: “The rain wasn’t the biggest problem. The wind deeply affects the plants as well. Because our bed soil is so rich and luxurious, much of the kale went sideways onto the ground. Since we use mulch, the plant damage was minimal except for the brand new plantings. We had a full complement of veggies at the market and sold out. The other condition that exists is the diminished soil nutrition related to the amount of water that came down. The second we had an opening in the weather we supplemented with plant food, and will hopefully save the coming crops.”

Tim O’Connor, Olana Farm: “We lost one fruit tree (longan) and a number of bananas to the wind. And many veggies are reeling from the wet and wind. This is especially true for the sweet bulbing onions. While they like plenty of water, they prefer it only on their roots, not much on their leaves. The onion beds look as though someone trampled all over them. So that crop, one of our features for the spring months, may be a partial or whole loss. Additionally, we did not go to one usual farmers market (Saturday in Kilauea) due to the weather. We are still unable to work the soil given the saturation, so our weekly planting is delayed. On the balance, it is a joy to live and grow food in such a wonderful place as Kaua’i.”

Caryll Schwabe-Lutton, Akamai Juice Company: “Well, on a positive note, my taxes are now done and the apartment is cleaner than ever. I work out of a commercial kitchen in Hanalei and live in Kilauea. Multiple bridge closures keep me out of Hanalei. A few of my farmer friends live in Anahola, and road closures keep me from getting there. On March 3, the rain washed away one-third of the Hanalei Farmers Market crowd (March 10 the market never opened, March 13 Waipa didn’t open). It costs me a minimum of $400 just to get to the market, and if no one goes, I can’t pay bills. I’m grateful that The Garden Cafe at Common Ground in Kilauea sells my juice. Love my juice company, love Kaua’i, but really have to readjust my sails in tumultuous seas like these.”

Jean-Marie Josselin, Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill: “The weather is always a challenge in Hawaii. Our farmers constantly adjust to rain, pest or heat. This weather is no different. It reminds us to diligently support and develop a network of farmers that will one day make us self-sufficient. Many of our farmers lost crops, and lost the fruit of their labor. What can do? Continue to support them while they catch up.”