Wailea Agricultural Group

Sustainability Profile: Wailea Agriculture

Those in search of the Garden of Eden need look no further than Wailea Agricultural Group (Wailea Ag). Located in Honomu on the Big Island's Hamakua Coast, Wailea Ag consists of 110 acres of what used to be sugar cane fields for as far as the eye could see. In 1994, partners Michael Crowell and Lesley Hill began working on the land with the idea of establishing a sustainable food forest of sorts. Today, the land is home to lush green land where tons of tropical flowers, plants, fruits, and spices grow in abundance. The cream of the crop is Hawaiian heart of palm, a nutritious and highly prized vegetable harvested from the inner core of palm trees. Wailea Ag supplies many fine dining restaurants and hotels with their abundant hearts of palm and they are currently the largest growers of fresh Hawaiian heart of palm in America averaging an annual harvest of over 15 tons (harvested by hand!).

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

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Wailea Agricultural Group

Wailea Agriculture began in 1994 as a 110-acre food forest. It is currently America’s largest grower of fresh Hawaiian hearts of palm. Owners Michael Crawford and Leslie Hill spent many years clearing the former sugar cane land in order to make room for their food forest. They practice a variety of sustainable farming techniques. One involves leaving trimmings and fallen leaves and fruits around the original plants to help fertilize them over time. They also use plant cuttings for composting, keep an on-site reservoir of water catchment, and allow local hunting of feral pigs on the property so that hunters can eat or sell the animals.

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Wailea Ag By the Numbers

  • 1994 - Year when Wailea Agriculture began.

  • 110 Acres -  encompassing Wailea Ag.

  • 15 Tons of heart of palm are harvested annually. 

  • 20+ Varieties of edible plants grown.

  • 35+ Years of collective farming experience. 

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Wailea Ag was among our first farm stops during the Big Island culinary tour, and while we were expecting to see tons of palm trees on their property, nothing could prepare us for the extensive tour that Michael took us on. He loaded us up in a motorized golf cart and proceeded to drive us around his 110 acres, stopping every few minutes to get out and show us some of the many other tropical fruits and plants they had growing on the property.

In no particular order (and undoubtedly forgetting many things), here is what we saw growing in full force at Wailea Ag: Fresh peach palm, lychee, rambutans, pulasans, longans, Meyer lemons, keffir limes, durian, dragon fruit, avocado, passion fruit, mangosteen, starfruit, jackfruit, soursop, açai, citron, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, bay leaves, and cinnamon, to name a few.

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Next time you visit Wailea Ag, it's almost guaranteed they'll have another fruit or spice to add to the list. That's pretty darn impressive, especially considering that all 110 acres of land started out as sugar cane fields. By the time we were done with the extensive tour, we also had a box to take home that was full of pretty much every fruit we could get our hands on...and of course a freshly harvest heart of palm!

How does Wailea Ag factor in sustainability? Lucky for them, their cash crop is largely sustainable by nature. Heart of palm is a renewable crop in that new shoots constantly replace the ones that have been harvested, meaning no harm is done to the main crop. There are of course many more sustainability measures in place, but you'll have to wait and see the final video when it's ready! In the meantime, get a mini video tour over at She Grows Food. Also, check out the full photo gallery of the visit here.

Wailea Agricultural Group, Inc. P.O. Box 69 Honomu, Hawaii 96728

www.waileaag.com (808) 963-6360

Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Documentary

Hundreds of years ago, Hawaii’s natural resources from the land to the sea sustained a population of over one million ancient Hawaiians. An ancient system known as the ahu’pua’a provided resources for all by giving daily contribution tasks to everyone who lived in the communities. Centuries later, Hawaii’s natural resources no longer provide enough to sustain the vastly growing population of the islands; in fact, the islands only produce 10-15% of the foods consumed by the local population. Most consumable foods and goods are imported from the mainland United States as well as from international countries. As a result, most modern people do not spend any time physically cultivating their own food and may not even know where the food they eat even comes from.

Wow tomato farms Big Island Hawaii
Wow tomato farms Big Island Hawaii

In October 2013, two teachers and five students from Kapolei High School on Oahu spent five days on the Big Island of Hawaii to visit 13 local businesses promoting local farming and ranching. The goal was to produce a 20-minute multimedia documentary that explores how local farmers are helping Hawaii become an agriculturally sustainable state where more locally grown food is produced. During the five days on the Big Island, students and teachers enjoyed not only seeing where food was coming from but also experiencing it in local restaurants. We sampled pancakes and locally made coconut syrup, goat cheese salad, grass-fed all beef burgers, freshly caught island fish, Kona coffee, and fresh fruit salads.

Throughout the experience, it was that there are many challenges and roadblocks to agricultural sustainability in Hawaii, but there are also lots of people who rise to the challenge each day. Here are some of those people.

12 Sustainable Agricultural Programs in Hawaii