Kilauea farming project gets legs

KILAUEA — For more than 30 years, plans to create a community agriculture park on 75 acres of undeveloped land bordering Kahili Quarry Road have stalled.

Instead, locals dumped mattresses, washing machines and wrecked cars in the brush between the avocado and papaya trees.

But the dumping ground is no more. Last weekend, more than 30 cars and other rubbish were hauled out of a portion of the property where members of a nonprofit community group are working to clear lots for an up-and-coming generation of North Shore farmers.

It’s Yoshi L’Hote’s hope that the future Kilauea agriculture park grows food, creates jobs, fosters a greater sense of community and morphs the town into a more sustainable place.

“There’s great opportunity to grow food that will feed us all right here,” L’Hote, project director for ‘Aina Ho’okupu O Kilauea, said Tuesday. “The goal is to get farmers with business plans onto the land who are successful and who can make a living from the crops they farm and who can train younger farmers to be self-reliant.”

The first phase of the community-county partnership plan geared at getting the ag park up and running includes clearing 10 acres at the intersection of Kahili Quarry and Kilauea roads. Three-and-a-half of those acres are set to become incubator lots where farmers with business plans will prove their skills before graduating onto a larger plot of land through a license to farm agreement. Priority will be given to Kilauea and North Shore farmers.

The remaining acreage will go toward projects including a community garden and a new location for the Thursday afternoon Sunshine farmers market that now takes place at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center off Keneke Road.

Plans include the construction of public restrooms — right now there are none in the town center — and the building of a hale to serve as a community gathering space as well as an alternate location for the farmers market during inclement weather.

“You can’t be part of this community and not be part of this,” said David Steinmann, a Kilauea resident whose home borders the site of the future park. “It’s just too important to the community.”

Getting the land for the ag park in the hands of the community was a long road. In 1976, the developer of the neighboring Seacliff Plantation residential community was required to dedicate the 75 acres of former sugar cane land bordering the development to the Kilauea community for the purpose of an agricultural park, according to George Costa, director of the county Office of Economic Development.

Costa said he does not know the details about why it took so long for the county to receive the land from the developer.

“It took from 1976 to 2006 for that dedication to take place and when it finally did the Office of Economic Development was charged with creating a plan for developing it as an ag park,” Costa said. “I inherited that project in 2009 and we hired a consultant, did an environmental assessment, spent about $300,000 to finalize the plan, but as it turned out there was no water.”

Turns out the lack of water was an expensive problem. Suddenly the ag park ballooned from an estimated $3 million project to one that looked like it might cost upwards of $8 million. The lack of water, in fact, almost killed the project.

When he delivered that news to the Kilauea community, Costa said many folks feared the plan was dead.

Instead, the county, which owns the land, entered into a stewardship agreement with ‘Aina Ho’okupu O Kilauea, the nonprofit that has taken the plans and gone running with them.

“We put it in the hands of the community,” Costa said. “The key to any project really is you have to find the right leader and Yoshi is definitely the right person for the job. I just have to get out of the way of the guy because he’s so energetic and he gets things done faster with community donations and sweat equity than we ever could.”

How the total acreage will get enough water to support a community farming vision has yet to be decided. But Costa said enough potable county water is accessible to begin the project on a smaller scale while that question gets figured out.

It’s been a long process, but Costa said the pace of progress on the project is picking up.

“It’s taken 30 years to actually get the land from the developer and it’s taken another 10 years to put the plans together and get something in motion and I would say with this group, with Yoshi’s leadership, you’re going to see farming here within the next three years.

“We’re determined to see this happen.”


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