Finding ‘Ulutopia’

PUHI — The words could not be contained as they blurted from the lips of Kauai Community College Chancellor Helen Cox.

“Grow well,” Cox threw the words into the breeze Friday. “Grow strong, and make lots of ulu.”

Cox had just finished planting the first of 64 ulu trees in the college’s ulu orchard, affectionately labeled Ulutopia, in an area described as the Upper 40.

“I’m so happy to see the trees in the ground,” Cox said. “This has been a long journey, and involved a lot more than we thought. This is an exciting moment for the college.”

Dr. Sharad Marahatta, an instructor with the college’s agriculture program, said the ulu orchard is the first one of its type in the country. The ulu trees will be used for agroscience monitoring.

KCC students will be monitoring the trees, taking data on their growth and productivity yields based on varying moisture and fertilizer amounts.

“This will be very exciting for the students,” Cox said. “They will be engaged in monitoring a project which will help the National Tropical Botanical Garden Breadfruit Institute and it’s addressing world hunger.”

With a footprint of 26 by 40 yards, the orchard is a little smaller than originally planned.

The ulu plants, which started as tissue cultures bought from California in the summer, are planted 8.5 meters apart in rows separated by 12 meters.

“This was rough,” said Roger Hanks, KCC student and volunteer. “This area was a bog and it took a lot of work to get it to become agriculturally sustainable. The area right outside the fence was a pig wallow when we started. For a while, it looked like nothing was going to grow here.”

Brian Yamamoto, KCC botany instructor, was working with Kawaikini students Nohi Kaauwai and Kilinahe Estrella, the trio making big strides in setting plants into the ground.

“Come back in 10 years,” Yamamoto told the students. “You’ll have no trouble remembering which trees you planted. Just come back to see how big they’ve become.”

Cox said the planting of the orchard is the start of more things to come.

“We are only now putting the plants in the ground,” Cox said. “But already we’ve got people from Palau who are talking with us about sending over their faculty to see what we’re doing with ulu.”

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