Hawaii is one of the most ecologically diverse groups of islands on the planet. The lush, mountainous landscape of the island of Kauai makes the region a paradise for visitors who seek to reconnect with nature and experience unparalleled vistas.
For Kauai locals, the gift of the land offers another extraordinary opportunity: agriculture that's kind to the earth. Hawai'i, as an isolated place, has a long history of farming to sustain the population. As the world has become more connected, there's a resurgence of the ideal of sustainable farms on Kauai.
Early Kauai Farming
The island of Kauai was first populated by settlers originating elsewhere in Polynesia. About 1,500 years ago, the first people from the Marquesas Islands came to Kauai, bringing with them the crops they would need to sustain themselves and future generations.
Along with important animals, like pigs and chickens, Kauai's first inhabitants brought taro, sugar cane, banana, coconut, sweet potato, and breadfruit. As the islands had more interactions with populations from other parts of the world, new crops were introduced. Pineapple came to the island in 1817 and coffee soon followed.
Increasing Agricultural Development and Trade
Farming in all of the Hawaiian islands increased in the early 1800s. The mango was introduced to the region in 1824. In the 1830s, coffee, which had become an important crop in the Kona region of the Big Island, became a commercial crop.
During the California Gold Rush, a number of different foodstuffs were shipped from Hawaii across the Pacific. Shortly after, in 1856, the first irrigation system in Hawaii was developed on Kauai's Lihue sugar plantation. Sugarcane production required a substantial amount of water, which was challenging in Kauai's rugged landscape -- despite the fact that the island is surrounded by ocean.
In the early 1900s, sugar, macadamia nuts, rice, and pineapple became some of Hawai'i's most important crops, both for export and for domestic consumption. When Hawaii became a U.S. state in 1959, the islands produced 80 percent of the world's canned pineapple.
Resurgence of Sustainable Farming on Kauai
Although farming has evolved over past 150 years, as it's become subject to market conditions that largely determine what's grown for economic purposes, many Kauai residents are beholden to the industry. That being said, many families are following the tradition of small, sustainable farms that use the natural landscape to support crops.
There's growing interest in Kauai farming techniques that go back thousands of years. These techniques use natural terraces, or slopes of land into a valley, to nourish crops. Allowing the land to exist as it once did makes the crops healthier for the island and for the people who consume food.
A new generation of sustainable farmers in Kauai is carrying on the tradition of growing such crops as taro in the life-giving earth. Following the work of generations of ancestors, they are putting in sometimes back-breaking labor to harvest precious food. By taking care of farming techniques, they preserve and support the land instead of engaging in acts of exploitation.
The history of agriculture on Kauai is one of change. As people came to the island, they brought with them their own crops and ideas of how to sustain themselves financially and feed their families. With a global movement to return to earth-first farming, Kauai locals are honoring their past and building toward the future.