We’re into the final year of sugar cane harvesting on Maui. Yes, this is huge news. HC&S is the last remaining sugar cane farm in the Hawaiian islands with 36,000 acres of sugar cane. Maui boasts the last operational sugar cane factory and also (though not as boast worthy) the last place in Hawai’i where sugar cane is still burned. That’s a few ‘lasts’.
Sugar cane was once big business in the Hawaiian islands. Many say Big Sugar was behind the United States’ annexation of the Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1898 (a handful of American business men wanted to avoid the steep sugar tariffs by having Hawai’i be a part of the US). Many immigrants came to Hawai’i in search of a better life and started that life working in the sugar cane fields. By all accounts that was a difficult life, but it was work and a place to start, I guess. Sugar cane is a huge part of the islands’ history and culture. (For more on the history and production methods, check out the Maui sugar museum).
Sugar cane is also the reason we have a beautifully green valley between Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains, which if not for sugar cane irrigation, would be as brown as the hillsides of Lahaina and Kihei.
Recently I spent a day in Honolulu over on Oahu which with its million+ residents is Hawaii’s most populated island, though it is smaller than Maui by 130 square miles. All those people have to live somewhere and so as you fly into Honolulu airport, you see quite the concrete jungle. After a day in Honolulu’s craziness there is nothing quite as soothing as flying back to Maui and seeing that beautifully lush green valley.
So the question is, what will become of that green valley once sugar cane and sugar cane harvesting is gone? Will landlord HC&S continue to irrigate it to keep the weeds green and the dust down? Economically that makes no sense. What will be planted in sugar cane’s place? THAT is the million dollar question.
There is much speculation (and wishful thinking) that small farmers could buy or lease land and grow crops, but…. as former (dairy) farmers we are skeptical. Farming is capital intensive and we just can’t see the ‘little guy’ being able to afford the start-up costs of buying equipment, land, access to water rights etc. Also, producing food here is expensive (the high cost of living means you have to pay farm workers accordingly)- and while we all love the idea of supporting the local farmer, in the end the food has to be affordable.
So then what? Interestingly a bill to allow industrial hemp sponsored by Kihei’s State Representative Kaniela Ing has just passed from the State House of Representatives to the State Senate. Will this be the answer to keeping the valley green?
Did you know Maui has a hemp house? The house is privately owned and not open to the public, but you can see it from the road, two properties down from our Sugar Beach condo. Here is an article from the paper when the house was being built.
In the mean time, this is our last season of sugar cane harvesting. While we won’t miss the smoke, we are concerned about the future!