Sarah's journey to Hawaii

Sarah’s journey to Hawaii

Aloha, readers! Sarah here on Hawaii Island, writing to tell you about yet another fantastic opportunity that F&ES offers to some lucky students. I write quietly to not disrupt the tempo of the waves crashing against weathered lava rock on the coast close to Ka’u. But I’ll try to share as much as I possibly can before heading to dinner with my industrial ecology team. Menu to follow – read on!

Professor Tom Graedel teaches a course on Industrial Ecology, which has landed me in Hawaii. In a (overgeneralized) nutshell, industrial ecology aims to study the stocks and flows of resources and energy, as influenced by humans, from the perspective of natural resources and the environment. Three of my classmates and I were assigned, with this framework in mind, to study the inputs and outputs of a prospective biofuels production plant in Hawaii Island. We were to then compare this material flows analysis to other possible flows on the same land plot to be used for the biofuels production. I flew to Kona on Saturday night!

After spending the night in at a homestay in Kona, Lynette, Angelo, Jeff and I packed up our stuff and headed down to Ko’a. This part of Hawaii’s Island is absolutely breathtaking. Although I’ve been to Hawaii a few times before this, I’m seeing a side of Hawaii I’ve never seen before. It’s a rural, farming area, transitioning from sugar plantations to more diversified crops: ranching, macadamia nut and coffee harvesting. We got to this plantation this morning, owned by the Olson Trust. The plantation is like taking a step back in history. It reminds me so much of spending time in Charleston, South Carolina, but with tropical nuances. Here there are real pictures of local plantation workers from a century ago. Antiques cover the entire mansion. Julia Neal, a journalist who has been covering the plant permitting and community backlash, hosts us.

After we settle in at the plantation, we set out to talk to some local farmers.

We went first to a local coffee farm and mill. The farm manager told us about the different challenges to farming on lava: from topsoil that reaches only 6-8 inches down, to combining rocks, these challenges are not insignificant. The greatest threat to ag productivity is definitely water. The farmers are using some irrigation where water is available, but in many areas the reservoirs are not available for agriculture. We visited a flower farmer who told us that he is finding coffee more profitable than growing flowers, both because flower imports from Central America keep prices down and because water is such a scarce resource.

The coffee is so interesting! It is harvested when the berries are deep red, and the flavoring and treatment remind me of winemaking.

After sampling locally grown coffee and macadamia nuts, we went to a Tibetan Buddhist Temple. It was so peaceful and beautiful — we were invited to return tomorrow for a meditation. I think I might go for it! There was a hilarious peacock strutting around trying to impress some lady peacocks, too.

After that, we went to more local farms and chatted with the farmers. Although it started to rain, the rain felt relaxing and tropical, not dreaded.

I’ll tell you more about our adventures tomorrow. Until then, I’m off to eat some local produce straight from the farm: bok choy, turnips, carrots, Romaine lettuce, and cabbage!