Adam Asquith harvests first crop of lo‘i kalo in Kekaha

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    A new lo‘i (taro patch) planted by Adam Asquith in the Poki‘i Valley already has huli (young plants) planted from the Maui lehua harvest in Kekaha.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Corteva Agriscience Hawai‘i Research Lead Mark Stoutemyer, left, learns about the dryland taro produced by Andros as explained by Adam Asquith, in Kekaha.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Adam Asquith prepares a huli (young taro plant) while talking about the lo‘i Maui lehua being grown in Kekaha.

KEKAHA — “It can’t grow anymore,” Adam Asquith said, fingering the corm of a lo‘i Maui lehua Tuesday in Kekaha. “It’s time. I’m harvesting all of the Maui lehua, and put the huli in the lo‘i I created across this one. This is rare. You’re not just watching a kalo harvest. This is the birth of a farm.”

Asquith, of Kaua‘i Taro Company, and Andros, an agricultural company adjacent to Asquith’s parcel, have partnerships with Corteva Agriscience for parcels of land in Kekaha. Here, Asquith started “pushing ground” on the lo‘i kalo that includes the Maui lehua variety that was being harvested.

“This is land where Corteva Agriscience can’t grow corn,” said Laurie Yoshida of Corteva Agriscience. “This is the buffer to the community for purity. Parts of the land were turned into incubation projects for agriculture.”

Under terms of the partnership, Corteva Agriscience provides the land, security — including $60,000 worth of fencing that keeps feral pigs away from crops — and water for the tenants.

“I’ve been looking for kalo lands for more than 25 years,” Asquith said. “This is ideal because, historically, kalo was once grown here. Upland is Poki‘i, and the Na‘umu family grew taro here in 1848. This lease restores the true significance of this place.”

The harvest also brought attention to the other varieties and their characteristics of growing, and the differences in the quality of product when grown in the different regions of the island, many of which are growing in the plains of Kekaha and undergoing “varietal testing.”

“Right now, the farm market price for this Maui lehua is about a dollar a pound, almost the same as grapes in Napa Valley,” Asquith said.

“By the time it’s converted to poi, it’s about $12 a pound. I can pay my bills with that. But the government isn’t going to pay $1 per pound for the food programs like Farm to Table. That’s where Andros comes in, because they have taro growing, too. They have the land taro, which matures to harvest sooner and is less expensive to raise, factors that lessen the price and makes it more suitable to the government money.”

He said they can still make poi from land taro, it’s just not as good as lo‘i taro.

He likened the scenario to Napa Valley, where there are wines that are merlot, and others that go in boxes.

Mark Stoutemyer, the Hawai‘i research lead for Corteva Agriscience, said the goal of the incubator project and the land leases are to help the growers to where they can become eligible to get their own state Agribusiness Development Corporation leases.

“I’m coming back next week,” Stoutemyer told Asquith. “And, I’ll have my tabi, too.”


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