Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Around the Big Island

wwoof hawaii usa
Snorkelin' time
Tane and Maureen have gone out of their way to show us the island. They knew any trip to Hawai'i wouldn't be complete without a day at the beach, so we all went down to Two Step, their favorite nearby snorkeling spot. Contrary to our preconceptions, the Big Island of Hawai'i is not surrounded by tranquil sandy beaches. There are a few, but most of the shoreline is rough, jagged lava rocks with assertive waves.
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Typical Hawaiian beach
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A sea cucumber and sea urchins in a tidal pool
While Two Step isn't a sandy beach, there are two convenient platforms descending into the surf, hence the name. The snorkeling was incredible, the second you were in the water it was like swimming in an aquarium, flying over a coral reef surrounded by parrot fish, angel fish, trumpet fish, and other colorful denizens. It was Holly's first time snorkeling, and as breathing through a tube got a bit tiresome, she went and relaxed on the beach while Randy continued exploring to his heart's content. One potential danger when swimming is sea urchins, which inhabit most crevices and stick their barbed spines into your unsuspecting appendages. We both got stuck at different times, and although it hurts for the first ten minutes, after a while you can't really feel it and the spines dissolve in a few days.
A few days later Tane had heard that two feet of snow had fallen on nearby Mauna Kea, and he wanted to take a look from afar. On the way there he explained that it is not uncommon for people here to drive to higher elevations and see the frozen phenomenon. Some would even pack snow into their pickups and haul it down to the 85 degree coastal towns, where they quickly build out-of-place snowmen and pelt unsuspecting passersby with snowballs. Unfortunately, the cloud cover obscured our view of the snow-capped peak from our roadside lookout. Luckily, by simply turning around and facing the ocean, we were able to see several whales frolicking in the bay.
A zipper spider, named after the
telltale white zigzag in its web
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Edible flowers (dianthes, nasturtium
fuschia, marigolds, pansies)
We also spotted a small herd of goats grazing on the sparse grass in a nearby lava field. Since Hawai'i is an island and relatively young (only 400,000 years), there are no indigenous wild mammals. However, rats, goats, boars, donkeys, and cows have jumped ship or fence over the years, and have fully embraced island life. Rats were stowaways in the days of wooden ships, and having no natural predators, have taken over the local ecosystem. In an attempt to control this outbreak, mongooses were introduced to the island in 1883. However, mongooses, being diurnal, rarely crossed paths with the nocturnal rats (two ships passing in the night, or day, as it were), and now the mongooses have developed into a similar scourge. A more recent example of invasive species to the fragile Hawaiian ecosystem is the coqui frogs (stowaways on potted plants), who now dominate the evening cacophony. Hawai'i's native fauna consists mostly of birds and insects, 90 percent of which are endemic (existing nowhere else in the world). Although they are not native, we have especially enjoyed observing the ever-present geckos as they scamper around (possibly on you if you sit still long enough).
Dragonfruit resembles a cactus-kudzu cross
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Tree tomato
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wwoof hawaii usa adaptations

While Hawaii's island climate can be conducive to invasive species, it's also perfect for cultivating a plethora of tropical fruits. One of our main goals for this world-wide journey is to try as many crazy fruits and vegetables as possible, and Hawaii has risen to the challenge deliciously. So far we have tried rambutan, a spikier version of the unfortunately-out-of-season lychee; jackfruit, a 18" long latexey fruit filled with pockets of juicy-fruit flavored nuggets;
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Harvesting every last loquat
 passionfruit, as delicious as it is sloppy to eat; loquats, which you peel with your teeth and taste like dried pear; dragonfruit, which grows on a rambling cactus vine; tree tomatoes, a delicously sweet perennial member of the nightshade family; and longan, a nut-looking fruit that tasted like a less-sweet rambutan; and while we've tasted them before, nothing compares to papaya and mango fresh off the tree. We also collected one other fruit when we were in town.
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A noni fruit and a fan
When we described the potato-sized yellow-green spotted fruit, Tane and Maureen were unsure of what it was. But, when we mentioned its odor, they both emphatically exclaimed "noni!"
Randy was brave enough to try this rancid cheesy-vomit-smelling fruit, and was able to report back to Holly that it tasted like rancid cheese and vomit.
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Avocado aura
Noni is the newest "superfood," being bottled and sold as a panacea at exorbitant prices, but after one whiff, we agreed we would have to be pretty darn ill to swig the vile juices.
On a more delicious note, the farm has no less than three different varieties of avocado, and we have access to as many "avos" as we can stuff into our faces. We have not yet found the limit, despite having avocados every meal and snack except breakfast (we tried them on oatmeal and in pancakes, but they weren't that great). We have also collected an avocado-based mousse recipe we are looking forward to trying.

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Mac nut cracker
The farm was also home to a smattering of macadamia nut trees. "Mac" nuts are sold at the local health food store for $17/lb, and Tane wanted to explore the possibilities for this delicious nut.
Prior to our arrival, someone had collected the fallen mac nuts from under a few of the trees, totaling about 6 cubic feet. Dehusking and cracking mac nuts is a labor intensive process, but a nearby farm owned industrial machines for these processes, and let us take a crack at it. After a crash course in operating these machines, we got started. The machines were a bit of a mystery, shrouded in blue metal and hiding their mechanical secrets. Handfuls of the whole nut were tossed unceremoniously into the dehusker, which shot the husks out the front, and the shell-covered nut out the side into a tray. The whole process is about as loud as rototilling a rock garden.
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 The racket summoned the farm's two Muscovy ducks, who came running, eager to feast on any mac nut detritus that fell within their reach.
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Oh mac nut-stuffed Muscovies, what sweet livers you must have!
 From the dehusking station, the nuts were then dropped into the cracker hopper. A little conveyor chain shuffled them to the top, where they fell into the cracker. After much zinging and pinging, the machine disgorged naked nuts and shell fragments out its chute, like a generous Las Vegas slot machine. Our 6 cubic feet of freshly gathered nuts turned into about one cubic foot of processed mac nuts. For the next few weeks we enjoyed mac nuts in our oatmeal, our stir fries, and our favorite fare, handfuls and handfuls of the roasted nuts with a little salt.
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The dehusker


Feeling like an elf in a mystical forest up the road

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Constructing a hydro table

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the bok choi cycle

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Goodbye mainland, Aloha farming!

Welcome to the Big Island
While WWOOFing around the country in 2012, we always heard that Hawaii was a great place to WWOOF , and it seemed like a good jumping-off point to begin our world tour. Six weeks ahead of our planned arrival in Hawaii we started the now-familiar process of sending out WWOOFing inquiries. Our previous success rate when looking for farms was about one positive response for every 5-6 requests we sent out. But, this was not so in Hawaii. Dozens of emails later, we still had only received a few responses, all negative. A few farms couldn't take us because we would only be staying one month, but most were simply full. Another hurdle we encountered is that Hawaii has its own WWOOF program in addition to being in the WWOOF-USA directory. But, since we would only be in Hawaii for a month, we decided it wasn't worth the $25 fee.
Originally, a WWOOF membership connected volunteers to an international directory of participating farms. As the organization grew, individual countries began creating their own WWOOF groups, and now, it seems states are doing the same thing. Although this demonstrates a growing consciousness of the importance of sustainable food movements, it has become prohibitively expensive for traveling WWOOFers to obtain all the memberships they need.
Looks like we've arrived
With five days to go before we left and over 40 unsuccessful emails queried and rejected, our search was becoming increasingly frantic. Fortuitously, we received an unexpected email from a friend of a friend of a previous WWOOF host. We both heaved a sigh of relief when Tane, after reviewing our application, invited us to come and help out for a week at his farm, Adaptations.
After brief layovers in San Francisco and Honolulu, we arrived in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. Being used to tight security, we both marveled at the open-air airport. Tane greeted us with leis, in traditional Hawaiian fashion, and took us straight to the kava bar to enjoy a traditional Hawaiian drink. Kava is made from pounding the root of the kava plant and mixing it with cold water, and tastes either like a fresh leaf (Randy's opinion) or a stick (Holly's). After relaxing with a couple of coconut shells of kava and getting to know each other a bit, we headed out. Twenty five miles and one long and bumpy road later, we arrived at the farm.
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Raised beds on a volcanic slope (ocean in background)
Tane and Maureen have a seven-acre farm nestled in the foothills of Mauna Loa. Being on the side of a volcano, their volcanic stone soil makes New England's ground look like potting mix; so, the bulk of the farming is done on a system of raised beds, hydroponics, and "dirt bags" (large cloth pots). The farm's principal production is microgreens, edible flowers, greens, turnips, radishes, lemons, cinnamon, avocados, and herbs. Together with a network of other local farmers, they supply resorts, restaurants, and a 70 member CSA.
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Three days a week farm employees Mary, Kevin, and Doc come and we help them harvest, package, and replant the microgreens, greens, and whatever else the restaurants ordered that week. On the other days we work on special projects, such as clearing a bank to deter rat damage, or setting up a new hydro table. The hydro table is a self-sustaining system with a solar-powered pump cycling water past plants sitting on an inclined table. The pump only runs water down the table when the sun is shining, which is the only time it would need watering.
The Dew Drop Inn

After work there is plenty of time for relaxing at the Dew Drop Inn, the solar-powered cabin we are staying in. Like most houses here, the cabin's walls are not actual walls, but screens, since it is Hawaii and "cold" is a foreign concept. The cabin, secluded in the jungle, has a beautifully tropical view; banana trees in the foreground and the ocean in the distance. The view is especially spectacular from the roof, where we enjoy watching the sunset, fiery oranges melting into the Pacific haze.