Plant it Hawaii

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

By Noris Ledesma

Our first appointment of the day was to visit Bob Hamilton the owner of Plant it Hawaii located in Kurtistown a few miles from Hilo. Bob and his wife have been farming in this area since 1979. Their main crops are rambutan, longan and lychee. 

At the moment, the Hamiltons  are busy picking their rambutans. Rambutan is a colorful crop and delicious fruit. I have good memories of Guatemala and Thailand where I had the opportunity to take pictures of and to pick rambutans ready to eat. 

Bob has different varieties and shared his favorites with us. He believes pruning is an important horticultural practice to maintain his trees, and uses flowering induction to extend the season. After picking, they showed us their packing house and introduced us to some of the actual challenges of the industry. Their principal customer is Costco, which has been very supportive of the growers.

In order to ship fruit from Hawaii to the mainland, the USDA requires a treatment for fruit fly. This increases the price of the fruit and makes them less competitive in the market. Guatemala doesn’t require this treatment and they can therefore produce fruit at a lower cost. 

Plant it Hawaii also has a nursery dedicated to propagating tropical fruit and edible plants. Rambutans, lychees, longan, avocados, bananas, cacao, abiu, passion fruit, carambola, coffee, vainilla and loquats are distributed all over the islands in Hawaii and shipped to the mainland.

With our car full with rambutans, pulasans and mangosteen we visited the only irradiation plant in Hawaii: Calavo. Irradiation is one of the alternatives to treat fruit for fruit fly. Eric Weinert, the general manager of the plant welcomed us. Papayas, potatoes, lychees, longans, star fruits and rambutans are all processed in the Calavo plant. Irradiation exposes fruit to high levels of energy from radioactive isotopes. Low level treatment does not affect food nutritive value or wholesomeness, destroys insects and may extend shelf life. This treatment has been used on many products to get them into the US including mangos. India is one of the examples that use this treatment to bring mangos to our country.

We ended the day enjoing the sunset in the Halema’uma’u Volcano enjoying our rambutans where Pelei the Goddess of the Volcano is said to have dominion over the area.