Taro, or kalo as native Hawaiians call it, is making a comeback across the island chain – and not only in rural areas. One taro farmer is trying to break through the concrete in urban O’ahu.
Driving ʻEwa bound along Kamehameha Highway just past Pearlridge Shopping Center, I turn into the road that leads to Sumida Watercress Farms. Hidden at the end of that narrow road is a terrace of taro patches. That’s where I met Anthony Kawika Deluze.
“In the beginning it was just me and my family,” says Deluze.
Heʻs the owner of Kaʻōnohi Farms, a two and a half acre oasis flanked nearly on all ends by the mall. This particular land tract – Kalauao is known for its fresh water springs that fed loʻi kalo, and later rice and now watercress.
“A lot of the westerners at the time when they first started coming in would talk about how sick this land was with food,” says Deluze, “And you look now and its sick with buildings. Concrete all over. And loʻi production is all but stopped almost.”
But not if Deluze can help it. He manages more than two dozen taro patches – some actively being used, some awaiting planting, and others converted to garden plots where he grows a variety of organic fruits and vegetables. He sells what he can and the rest goes to feed his family, which is still quite a lot of food.
“On a good year, probably about 8,000 to 10,000 pounds,” says Deluze, “But we haven’t seen a good year like that for a while.”
Water or the lack of it is a challenge. Since the 1970s, urban development transformed the landscape preventing water from seeping back into the soil. Fortunately, Deluze is able to tap about 45,000 gallons of water per day to feed his crops.
“And it sounds like a big number, but this is about two-and-a-half, three acres,” says Deluze, “A good healthy loʻi system runs 250,000 gallons per day per acre so we have about a third of that.”
Another challenge he says is changing weather pattern and also just trying to farm in an urban setting.
“Its worrisome, because it seems like our conditions are starting to change almost like we’re closer to the equator,” says Deluze, “You know all this kind of building, it creates microclimates and changes wind patterns, heat.”
Deluze’s long-term vision is for his farm to be the first of many in heavily urbanized Kalauao that provide not only food but relief from nearby development.
“You know even in my life time, to be an old man holding my cane and say (mimicking an older man’s voice) ‘Look, all that used to be covered in concrete over there but look get trees going’ Thatʻs probably dreaming but.”
It’s a dream he’s making a reality.