Hawaii diary: Ag, fellowship and football
As we returned home to Indiana from our Thanksgiving trip to Hawaii, rain was falling and turning into snow and ice. It was a rude homecoming!
But it made our Hawaiian adventure seem more like the trip of a lifetime. That was the consensus among the travelers, who got to combine three things we love, agriculture, Purdue fellowship and Purdue football.
Purdue Agriculture and the Purdue Ag Alumni Association organized our tour to the islands Nov. 19-26 in conjunction with the Boilermaker football game with the Rainbow Warriors of the University of Hawaii.
Our tour began on the island of Hawaii, home to one of the world's finest beaches, and a true vacation paradise. But we were here to see the island's vast and diverse agriculture and natural features, and that meant a lot of driving and long days of touring.
We started at the beautiful Hamakua Coast on the island's northeast shore. We stopped at the Waipio Valley overlook and made our own postcards. A woman from Elkhart, Ind., took our group picture. People from Indiana seemed to be everywhere in Hawaii this week!
Hosts Jim and Tracy Reddekopp outdid themselves at the Hawaiian Vanilla Co. Those who were up to the hike took a steep walk to the greenhouse where Jim showed how the vanilla orchids are grown and hand-pollinated to produce vanilla beans. We were bowled over by the views of the ocean from the mountainside.
Those who stayed behind at the headquarters were treated to a vanilla cooking lesson and assisted the chef in preparing our gourmet luncheon. During the lunch, Jim talked about the business of vanilla, and we were fascinated to learn that he ships his beans to St. Louis for the extraction process. Jim has also developed a microgreen business with the restaurant trade to diversify his agricultural operation.
Learning about lychees
From the Reddekopps we traveled to the Wailea Agricultural Group, growers of tropical flowers and fruits. Tracie Matsumoto, PhD '99, arranged this stop for us, as she has a research project in progress at their orchards.
Tracie and Francis Zee from the nearby USDA station gave us a great lesson in lychee production as they talked about their pruning experiments. We had already been enjoying the sweet lychee nuts in local restaurants.
WAG owners Lesley Hill and Mike Crow gave us the grand tour of their orchards, showing us many exotic fruits they've collected from around the world. They clearly love their work, and we were just overwhelmed with all the new things we saw and learned.
We learned that nutmeg and mace come from the same fruit — and we got to see the different parts of the fruit that make each spice. We saw the usual fruits, of course, but we also saw (and smelled) clove trees and picked some of the famous (or infamous) Durian fruits. Some people consider its strong, distinctive odor to be fragrant, but others find it overpowering or offensive. No one in our group was brave enough to try them, though.
WAG's most well-known niche product is fresh Hawaiian Heart of Palm. To complete our tour, Mike gave us a demonstration in harvesting the hearts of palm, and of course he cut them up for us to enjoy — fresh from the orchard! As we drove back over the mountains to the hotel, we were all buzzing about the enthusiasm of the farmers we had met that day and the similarities of their problems to those we face in the Midwest's more traditional crop production.
A short course in chocolate
Tuesday's highlights included the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory, where we got a personal tour from owner/grower Bob Cooper. He showed us every step of the chocolate-making process, from the trees to the finished product. He makes the only chocolate produced from 100 percent U.S.-grown beans.
From there we went to the Natural Energy Lab, where an industrial park of sorts has been built for businesses to use the supercold deep seawater the lab pumps up through a huge pipeline from the ocean floor. We saw how spirolina microalgae neutraceutical products are grown and processed at Cyanotech. And at Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm we learned the challenges of producing seahorses for the aquarium trade.
Many tour participants held a seahorse in the outdoor tanks, including Randy Woodson, Glenn W. Sample Dean of Agriculture at Purdue, who held "Mr. Aloha," the star of Ocean Rider's publications and Web site. Actually, you don't "hold" a seahorse as much as it holds you; it wraps its tail around your finger, and it has no reason to let go.
That night we attended a luau at the neighboring Mauna Kea resort. On the walk back to the shuttle, some folks stopped at Manta Ray Point and were treated to the site of a huge manta ray — we guessed him at an 8- or 9-foot wingspan — gliding through the water and running off the smaller rays.
Getting to know Kona coffee
Wednesday we made a complete circle of the island, stopping at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm to see how one of the island's best-known agricultural products got its start. From there we traveled to the island's remote southern tip, past vivid green pastures and hillsides and desolate fields of black a'a' lava.
To our Midwest farmers, the a'a' looks like rich black soil that's been worked — some said with a plow that hadn't been scoured. We visited Volcanoes National Park, driving around the rim of the Kilauea caldera, the summit of the longest continually erupting volcano in history.
We wrapped up our touring at Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts. After driving through the groves of trees, we visited the labs of ML Macadamia Orchards, the company that grows the nuts for the famous Mauna Loa nut and candy company. We learned about the challenges of growing nuts in thin volcanic soils, and the challenges of harvesting nuts that are produced over a continuous flowering period.
Thursday morning was Thanksgiving, and we were set to transfer from the Big Island to Oahu. Most of us were in the hotel lobby with bags packed when we got the jolt of a lifetime — an earthquake! And not just a little tremor. This one registered 5.0, and it had the hotel lobby shaking.
The noise sounded like a bomb had been dropped. We ran from the hotel lobby to the lawn, and after we gathered our wits, we noticed some new damage to the hotel's structure. We were glad to be leaving the island for something (hopefully) more stable.
Before we left we did make a key contact for Purdue. The grounds supervisor of the Hapuna Beach Prince Resort asked Joe Gerencser if he had contacts for student interns who would want to work on their landscape.
For some reason that we can't figure out, they have problems getting student interns, even though they have rooms at the resort for living quarters. Joe passed along the supervisor's business card to Dean Woodson, who was excited to have an opportunity for Purdue Agriculture students in such an exotic, beautiful location.
When we arrived in Honolulu that afternoon, the contrast with the Big Island was stark. The big city traffic and high-rise hotels on Waikiki just didn't have the same tranquil feeling that we'd gotten used to. But we weren't here to relax, we were here to see some of our nation's history — and, of course, Purdue football.
Paying respects at Pearl Harbor
Friday morning we got up early to get to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. We knew the lines would be long, but I don't think we really understood until we saw it. We ran into many other Purdue fans in line.
Fortunately, the line moved quickly when the doors opened, and we used our waiting time inside the museum to learn more about site and all the artifacts that have been preserved. The visit to the memorial was a solemn experience, made more significant by the impending 65th anniversary of the attack.
After Pearl Harbor, we took a city tour of Honolulu that included a drive through of the National Cemetery of the Pacific and some spectacular scenic overlooks from high above the city.
Saturday it was Boilermaker football, and nothing else. We left for the stadium in plenty of time to sit in the unbelievable traffic. We enjoyed the PAA tailgate party on the stadium grounds before finding our seats high above the field. The game experience was different — 80-degree weather seemed more appropriate for baseball than football.
And we weren't used to a college stadium that served alcohol. It was loud, and just got louder. When Hawaii made a stop, the crowd reacted as though they had won a national title. We held onto hope for a Boiler win, but it just wasn't to be. But, hey, we were in Hawaii. Things could have been a lot worse.
Many of our crew headed back home Sunday, while a few adventurous souls traveled on to Maui. We were located on the Kaanapali Beach, with fabulous views of the island of Lanai and black rock coasts as well as the white sand beach. The mountains of Maui were spectacular, and so lush and green.
The largest mountain is Mt. Haleakala, and we traveled up its slopes on Monday to see fields of lavender at the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm. We saw tropical flowers in addition to the lavender, and we learned how Ali'i has partnered with other businesses — bakeries and confectionery companies to name a couple — to expand the marketing of his lavender products.
The views from the fields were most impressive. We could see the isthmus that joins the major landmasses of Maui, and the ocean on either side of the isthmus. At least we could see it before the clouds settled in on top of us, and the temperature dropped by about 15 degrees.
From Ali'i we visited the Tedeschi Vineyards and Winery, and again it was the scenery that stole the show. On the drive to the vineyard we saw fencerows of 4- to 6-foot-tall poinsettias in full color. Some in our group took individual excursions that were spectacular: A sunrise drive to the summit of Mt. Haleakala, and then a bike ride down the mountain, or driving the road to Hana, one of the most beautiful — and treacherous — drives in the islands.
All in all, an incredible trip that none of us will ever forget.
Contact Lester at email@example.com