Wooten’s Produce, Dow get conservationist nods

LIHUE — John Wooten remembers reading copies of “Organic Gardening” while his mother worked the farm in California.

“I want to dedicate this award to my mother because as a youngster, I read copies of ‘Organic Gardening’ to learn about mulch,” Wooten said. “I piled mulch everywhere and my mom thought it was disgusting. But I told her, ‘your generation created the dust bowl, our generation is going to transform it back to fertile land.’”

Wooten, along with his wife Nandanie Wooten of Wooten’s Produce of Kauai, were announced one of two conservationists of the year by the East and West Soil and Water Conservation Districts Tuesday during an informal gathering at the county’s Department of Water.

Dow Agrosciences was announced the winner of the West Kauai Soil and Water Conservation District by Peter Towsend for its efforts at transforming an aging irrigation system.

“Today’s agricultural land users face the challenge of working with aging infrastructure from Kauai’s former sugar plantations,” Towsend said. “Much of the equipment is useable and farmers often make-do with what is available, despite it being inefficient and old.”

Towsend said this includes the irrigation systems from the sugar cane fields.

“But what if wasting water and low water quality are not acceptable?’ Towsend said. “Wasting water is not only expensive, it can also reduce the available water as well as the quality for both people and the environment.

When Dow Agrosciences opened its doors four years ago, it faced a challenge of fixing 17-year-old filter stations and more than 100 tanks leaking about 30 gallons of water each day.

Leaks in the stations made it difficult to remove sediments, particulates and debris from the water — factors which can plug the irrigation lines used to water their fields.

Keith Horton, Dow Agrosciences project lead for the renovation project, said Dow was pleased to partner with the West Kauai Soil and Water Conservation District to address the problems it faced.

Dow Agrosciences applied nearly $250,000 toward replacing the old water filter stations and water tanks, resulting in saving more than a million gallons of water annually.

“For farming, if the right water practices are not used, plants may not get the right moisture resulting in greatly reduced productivity,” said Ed Kawamura Jr., representing the East Kauai Soil and Water Conservation District, presenting the award to the Wootens. “John and Nandanie of Wooten’s Produce of Kauai face this challenge through their entire operation, using innovative ideas and working with the Natural Resource Conservation Service to create a farm with the best water efficiency, working toward their ultimate goal of creating a ‘naturally harmonious ecosystem.’”

Some of the practices on the Anahola farm include installation of several hundred feet of main water pipeline leading to the farm’s micro-irrigation system which provides water directly to the plants.

• Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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