There is a quiet peacefulness as I walk through the dewy farm grass. Roosters crow abruptly, breaking the silence. The mosquitoes are already out in force. I say hi to Charlie the donkey who’s eating breakfast. Beautiful bird songs are being carried along in the slightly humid air. This is Kona. Home of some of the most delicious coffee in the world.
I’m at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm to try to learn about Japanese farm workers, what farm life was like in 1930’s Kona, and how it all ties together with coffee. This isn’t a story to teach you how to harvest coffee. It’s about how the Japanese came to learn to cultivate one of the finest coffees in the world. I made this short video of my time at the coffee farm:
What I love most about traveling is learning. Learning about food, cultures, history- I like to try to imagine or understand how things were. How they are now. How it all comes together. The Uchida story is an interesting one in Hawaii Island history. The farm has been restored to its 1920’s times. Everything inside the farm house is as it was back then. Living History. This farm isn’t a museum though, it’s alive. Coffee is still being produced here today.
Japanese arrived on Hawaii Island to work the sugar plantations. After their contracts were finished some of them came to Kona to establish their independence. Daisuku Uchida was one of those who decided to buy a coffee farm in 1913. His son Masao carried on and the farm remained in the family until the 1990’s when it became part of the Kona Historical Society and was placed on the National Register for Historic Places.
The Uchidas knew the most money to be made came from processed coffee so they built their own coffee mill, powered by a 3 horsepower two cycle John Deere engine. I’ve seen the way this thing worked and I shook my head at coming up with that. Genius.
Coffee cherries are what you see on the trees. When they turn red they are ready to be picked.
This farm grew everything it needed to survive. Veggies and fruits. Chickens were collected and they learned the best way to house them as they went along. Did you know that green papaya is a natural meat tenderizer? The enzyme papain helps soften meat. Make a paste & you’re all set.
This little guy hangs off of the picking basket, or Lauhala.
Everything was reused and recycled. The straps of the coffee picking basket were fashioned from the worn out belts of the mill engine. The rubber reinforcements around the top & bottom were from used tires.
See that wooden hook hanging off the ladder? It’s called a Kagi. Each farmer made his own and it was used to pull the branches down, holding it at the bottom with his foot so that the farmer could use both hands to collect the coffee cherries. The ladder used to pick coffee was also made by the farmer & could be adjusted if the hill was uneven.
Poha berries, also known as Cape Gooseberries, are a favorite in Hawaii & are used to make jam. Who knew?
The tin cans were used by the children to pick coffee cherries from the lower branches & also any that had fallen on the ground. If they filled their cans a certain number of times they could go off to play, which they must have gotten very quick at doing because who doesn’t love playtime as a child?
This is a Dahlia flower. They are heat loving plants and there are hundreds of varieties, all shapes and colors, all on Hawaii Island.
The Uchidas used this stone grinder to grind soybeans. The women provided the meals which were rice based with vegetables, tofu, miso, fish or chicken. The first generation diets were fairly simple and it wasn’t until the second generation that their diets expanded to prepare more American style food.
The Uchida family persevered and learned through trial and error how to produce and profit from some of the finest coffee this planet has to offer. They were simple folk who lived off the land, worked hard, and left a beautiful legacy so that the rest of us might enjoy the history of how some of Kona coffee was cultivated before there was any sort of industrial farming here in Kona. Building their own coffee mill, packing, drying, and storing coffee must have been backbreaking work and I have a lot of respect for those who create something out of nothing. Coffee farming was new to them. The creativity that they showed impressed me.
Who else loves Kona Coffee? Isn’t it interesting to see how back then the now hugely popular sustainable farming was the reality? Living off the land, off the grid. Where in the world have you had the best cup of coffee? Spill the beans in the comments below!
*A huge Thank You to Ku’ulani & everyone over at the Kona Coffee History Living Farm for their warm welcome.